A popular song. For a long time, I believe that the lyrics of that song were unquestionably true. I wanted to believe so badly that love was all you needed to make the world a better place. I wanted to believe that, when things were bad, having love in your heart was all you needed.
I want to be clear that I’m not trying to be negative when I say this, but it’s just not true. Love is not always enough. If it was, divorce would not be on the rise. Family relationships would not break down. People would not fall apart, fall out and drift away. Strap in, because I’ve got a lot to say on this.
If all you needed was love, then the problems of the world would be borne away by the overwhelming goodwill of kind-hearted people. There wouldn’t be discrimination, there wouldn’t be separation. No, love is not all there is. Love itself isn’t enough.
Now, this might be a strange thing for people of just about any theistic tradition. Many religions have a great focus and emphasis on love and how it is the first, foremost and greatest force in the world. You need more than that, though. This of course begs the question: If love isn’t what everyone makes it out to be, then what IS the greatest force in the world?
I recently finished Camp NaNoWriMo again, which stands for National Novel Writing Month (the ‘camps’ act as a practice event for the real deal in November). Instead of writing a novel-length piece as I usually would, however, I decided to focus on fifty thousand words of short stories. It’s something I had never attempted before – short stories aren’t really my thing.
It was hell. I was busy some days, tired and miserable the others, and these all meant that I very quickly snowballed into falling behind (a common theme for me participating in this event). Several people I talked to about it noticed how stressed it was making me and said “why don’t you just give up?” or “is it really that important?”
I would like to say that love of writing kept me going, but there were several moments in which I just wanted it over. I certainly didn’t enjoy all of the time I was writing, either. What kept me going, then? What kept me writing when I was miles behind, uninspired, exhausted and a little under the weather? It was willpower. I told myself it would be done. I told myself I could do it and, somehow, in a little daze about four hours before midnight, I did finish.
I’m not saying it was a masterpiece by the end, or that I was in a good mindset for quality writing, but I did it. Now, love does keep me going in some small way, too. I do have a deep love of writing, of my stories and of my characters. I do have a love for the art, for the hope that I will one day be able to share it with people the world over. Love is nothing without will, though.
It’s the will to continue that allows us to have difficult conversations with people we care about, to stick it out in a low-paying job that we need, to do something good for someone else when we have a day off. We say that the reason we do these things is because of love, but it’s really love backed by a WILL.
People don’t stick it out in difficult times because of soft love, but because their love is something they want to strive for, to fight for, and to keep at all costs. If I’m playing a good computer game and it becomes a bit difficult, I will proceed in one of two ways – give up if there’s really no chance or (and this is the most likely) rage and fight until I’ve won. I love computer gaming. I love to win. To succeed and win in a game, even one you enjoy, there is bound to be a lot of frustration and difficulty before you get to the end.
So why do people give up on love? They lose the will. They can no longer push themselves through the difficulty, through the pain. It no longer feels worth it. Love doesn’t give up on people, they give up on it.
You can have all the love in the world, but if you don’t will it to continue, then it won’t. You need that willpower to push past the difficulty that inevitably arises in sharing your life with another person. You need to be able to give of yourself even in the times when it’s difficult. It wasn’t just love that kept me going, but the will to keep loving.
Love is a choice as much as an emotion. We control it as much as it controls us – you choose whether or not to stay after a terrible argument. You choose whether or not to forgive someone that has deeply wronged you. You choose whether or not the distance between you can be fixed. It isn’t entirely out of your hands. It’s about how badly you want it. It’s not about whether or not something just happens. The question is: do you have the willpower for it?