Unless you live on a tiny island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, you've probably heard the platitude "Love is a choice." Here's how it goes: "True love isn't about your feelings -- it's a deliberate decision to commit yourself to another person. If you truly care for someone, you will stay with them no matter how rough life gets."
What a load of crap. I'm sorry, but this has got to be one of the most damaging myths in the history of relationships.
Love is certainly a choice, but so is robbing a convenience store. That doesn't mean it's a good choice, or that you should get points in heaven for doing it. We all know plenty of people who choose partners who are real sickos. Stick your head into any domestic abuse survivors meeting or Al-Anon group, and you will quickly learn that staying with some people is the least healthy choice you can make -- for you or your kids.
Many of these victims -- and I've been one of them -- are trapped in situations where they feel powerless. In some cases, they take comfort in the belief that they are taking the moral high road. But mostly they're just terrified. There's a point where the sickness in "sickness and health" becomes just too sick. When you get there, it's okay to leave.
But let's say the object of your love isn't abusive, a drug addict, sleeping with your sister and/or stealing your paycheck. Suppose they're your basic, imperfect but theoretically plausible partner. Should you stay with them no matter what?
I think the answer is "maybe." Are they as committed to your imperfect self as you are to theirs? Is there mutual respect? Do you enrich each other's lives in some way -- not every way, and not all the time -- but sometimes?
I've been in relationships where the answer was no. So I left. I spent nearly 10 years alone, raised my kids and worked at my career. Does that make me a failure at love?
I am now privileged to be married to a wonderful man. He's got plenty of faults (although perhaps fewer than I do), and there are times when I want to strangle him. But divorce him? No way. I can't wait to see what happens next.
I choose to love him for the same reason he chooses to love me -- because it's good for both of us. Not always easy, but good.
If that ever changes -- and I'm as sure as a human being can be that it won't -- I hope we'd have the strength to move on. Life is too short to be unhappy. And love may be a choice, but it's not the only one.