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Sep 2, 2020

Is Love Really Just a Choice?

Isabella Bruno

“I choose you.”

No longer just a snappy line from Pokemon, these words now shoot me back to the time of my best friend’s unraveling—when the truth of how he felt about me struck him with insight so clear and force so powerful that it led him to offer his life and his love to me right then and there in the middle of my living room.

Unsurprisingly, such an impulsive pseudo-proposal didn’t last. Within a day, he backtracked, and before I knew it, he was gone. Out of the city. Out of the country. Out of my life.

But his parting words still beg the question, can we really choose who to love? Does love ultimately boil down to a simple choice?

Often, as far as God’s concerned, the answer to a question isn’t either yes or no, but rather, both yes and no. Love is a choice. And … it also isn’t.

A Grave Misunderstanding

Let’s first consider the negative—that love is not a choice. Such a statement flies in the face of conventional wisdom. It seems that all over the Catholic blogosphere, well-meaning individuals are reciting this well-worn refrain: “Love is a choice, not a feeling.”

Long before I met the man who would love and leave me, I took this message on choosing love to heart. But I misunderstood what that choice was all about, and it yielded terrible results. The kind of results that kept me in a relationship devoid of affection, turned initial respect into eventual hostility and led me to the disturbing yet inevitable conclusion that love—the kind of awe-inspiring love that we see portrayed in movies, novels, and music, the kind of divinely animated love that we all desire, having been born of the One who is love—doesn’t really exist.

As disappointing as this erroneous belief was, when confronted with the deceptive half-truth, I obediently bowed my head and accepted the burdensome yoke, wanting to follow God even at the expense of my deepest desires. As a result, I chose a good man, he chose me, and we fought tooth and nail to make it work. But it didn’t. Nor could it ever. Because, as much as we might have wanted to love one another and prove that love is a choice, shunning any suggestion of fate or the existence of—gasp!—soulmates in the process, the simple truth is, we just didn’t love each other. We so desired divine love, and were so fooled by this seemingly divine axiom of choice, that we were willing to seek it anywhere, with anyone. But this is one area of life where the old adage, “fake it ‘till you make it” just does not apply.

Loving Like Christ

In his book, Three to Get Married, Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen makes a similar point:

“The mystery of all love is that it actually precedes every act of choice; one chooses because he loves, he does not love because he chooses. The youth loves the maiden not because he chooses her from among maidens, but rather he elects and selects her as unique because he loves her. As St. Thomas puts it: ‘All other passions and appetites presuppose love as their first root.’”

Sheen, 40 

The fact of the matter was, though my ex and I were both good people, and though we both sincerely desired to love each other as husband and wife, nothing in the world was going to change the fact that we didn’t have the innate capability to do so. Once we finally realized and accepted that fact, we called off our unintentional charade, and I began to pray in earnest that I might know what it means to love—to really love as Christ does.

A Beautiful Correction

With my stubborn insistence on my own will and my mistaken understanding now subdued, God wasted no time in answering my prayer. In fact, his plan had already been set in motion, long before I reached that point of complete surrender. But God being God, he must have seen it coming. It seems that he was quietly at work, just waiting for me to ask in order that he might finally respond.

My best friend entered my life through circumstances that should, by all human accounts, have never come to be. From the first moment of my seeing him, I had the strangest sense that I knew him, a feeling that at first, admittedly, I resisted. It seemed insane to say such a thing about a total stranger, after all! But as time went on, it became abundantly clear that there was something almost tangible linking us together—a connection that we had felt for all our lives and that was only beginning to make sense now that we had finally met; a connection so obvious that complete strangers would stop and call us out on it, even though we weren’t a couple!

How different this was from my earlier experiences! Whereas I had struggled to understand my ex and fought to manufacture some counterfeit semblance of love for him, with my best friend, everything came effortlessly. Far past the point of natural affection, what I felt for him seemed to have sprung up from an eternal source: always flowing, ever new, and without end. Loving him was as effortless as breathing, and just as necessary. I didn’t love him for what he did or didn’t do. I didn’t even love him for who he is. I loved him because he is. As it is with God, whom we ought to love simply because he exists, so it is with the man I love. He exists, therefore, I love him.

Truly, I had loved him before we’d even met, with a love that had been hiding in my heart for as long as I can remember. Such love does, of course, come with its fair share of emotion, but it’s a feeling so sure, so enduring, and so insistent that it quickly grows and matures into conviction. It would perhaps be more helpful, then, to say that love is not just a feeling. It is indeed crowned by the flower of emotion; but just as a flower can’t bloom apart from its stem, that kind of emotion can’t blossom unless it remains rooted in and nourished by unchanging truth.

Once we come face-to-face with all of the humbling beauty and greatness of love personified, we do still have a choice to make.

We Are Born to Love

To be human is to be made in the image and likeness of God, who exists in a life-giving communion of love. In order to live, therefore, we must love, for Love itself is the source of our life!

But there exist two crucial differences between the image and the reality:

  1. God is, in a sense, bound to love. Since God is incapable of change, when he loves, he loves forever. Once his love is given, it is never revoked.
  1. God is incapable of holding back love for himself. God is all or nothing. Within his very nature, love is constantly flowing, being poured out and offered between the persons of the Trinity. Neither the Father, Son, nor Spirit are able to hold back, to reserve even an ounce of love for themselves. And even if they could, they wouldn’t want to. God just loves, and love just gives—always—and in all circumstances.

This is the kind of love that God intends for us as well, but we, having been blessed with the gift of free will, are not bound as he is to give and to love at all times. Still, as God loves completely, and as we are made in his image, so we too have been made incapable of loving in parts. To once more quote the Venerable Archbishop Sheen:

“Each person has only one heart, and as he cannot eat his cake and have it, so he cannot give his heart away and keep it.”

Sheen, 113

Who Will It Be?

God wants us to love like he does, as attested by The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“God who created man out of love also calls him to love – the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.”

CCC 1604

But despite this, he still gives us a choice, because one of the necessary qualities of love is that it is free. No one can be forced to love.

When at last love becomes incarnate in our lives, it is then that love’s choice is revealed. That choice has nothing to do with potential partners, but everything to do with the perennial struggle between love and fear.

“In authentic love, the other is accepted not as a god, but as a gift of God. As a gift of God, the other is unique and irreplaceable, a sacred trust, a mission to be fulfilled.”

Sheen, 50

The choice that love presents to us, then, is whether or not we will accept this mission—whether we will lean into this vocation, accepting it despite the potential risks that come with such complete self-sacrifice and vulnerability, or whether we will refuse God’s invitation in order to protect ourselves from potential hurt.

So, whom will we love? To whom will we offer our all? Will it be the unique, unrepeatable person through whom God chooses to reveal the truth of his love for us? Or will it be ourselves?

A Risk Worth Taking

Love is God’s plan for our lives. But we live in a fallen world, where loving without reserve or regard for ourselves is a very difficult thing to do. It requires that we be open and vulnerable. It requires that we give of ourselves without limits. And it also comes without the guarantee of reciprocity. But despite the risks, still we are called to love.

When it came right down to it, well-intentioned though he may have been, the man I love ultimately chose to love himself. But despite the hurt that his decision has caused, I don’t regret my choice to love, nor will I ever revoke it, because it’s brought me so much closer to Christ, arms outstretched on the Cross, love pouring forth in an undeniable torrent. It’s a scene that once confounded me, but that now makes perfect sense.

“If this is what it takes,” Jesus seems to say, his words echoing those whispered by my own pierced heart, “Then this is what I’ll do. I have no choice. This is how much I love you.”

The completeness and freedom with which Jesus loves us leaves him incapable of choosing any alternative other than giving us his entire self. In so doing, he entrusts to us the supreme example of what love is. It is at once choice and obligation. It is both a free gift and a sweet constraint. It is passion. It is a sacrifice. And it is, above all, a risk worth taking.

You May Also Like:

No Greater Love: A Biblical Walk Through Christ’s Passion [Study Program]

If You’re Not Feeling Loved [Fr. Mike Podcast]

Pier Giorgio Frassati and Living in Love

Find Out If You’re Really in Love [Jackie & Bobby Angel Video]

Isabella Bruno is a Catholic writer, blogger, and speaker who is head-over-heels in love with the Catholic Faith. You can find her online at, where she shares inspirational love stories, highlights people pursuing their passions, and opens up about her own journey to love.

Featured photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

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  • I don’t know. I think we have to exercise some constraint before giving our heart to another human being…. Scripture says we should guard our hearts.

    Just because you feel super attracted to someone doesn’t mean you belong with them period. And if that person isn’t even dating you, you should be exercising real constraint it’s a real way to waste ones life waiting for someone.

    Plus it’s often an idea of a person rather than an actual person. A real dating relationship with a human being.

    Yes you absolutely have to like being with someone of course. But even if you like being with them and even are dating them. It doesn’t mean they are someone your going to be able to rely on. And one’s heart should be given to the person who shows you that they will be there for you and let’s you be there for them.

    A secular dating person recommends investing heart in piecemeal he is right.

    • I guess my concern here is comparing and actual dating relationship with someone you never dated and then saying the non dating relationship was easy.

      Here is the thing the I like you and you like me that’s the easy part.

      If guy isn’t stepping up to date you I don’t think God wants you to be given him your heart in a romantic relationship way. I think you might like the person and there cannot be helped but we can chose to control our emotions.

      Our hearts have to have value and be precious and we shouldn’t be giving it to someone who isn’t showing us with their actions that they want it.

      • Hi Becca,

        Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this article. To address some of your points:

        1) I am by both nature and nurture a very guarded, distrustful person. It’s not a fun way to live, but I get what you’re saying. My heart was very much guarded for the vast majority of our time together, but there came a point when I couldn’t keep denying something that was clearly meant as a gift from God just to spare myself the possibility of getting hurt. I felt that would not only be disrespectful to God, who desired to give us both something beautiful, but also very stupid and selfish on my part.

        2) In this particular situation, there were a couple of rather unique external factors that prevented my best friend and I from pursuing a romantic relationship. I don’t go into detail because it’s his story, not mine, and it’s tangential to the point I was trying to make, but suffice it to say, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill boy meets girl kind of love story.

        3) This wasn’t ever about being super attracted to each other. In fact, I never even considered this man as a potential romantic partner, thanks to his backstory. What drew us to each other was a recognition that took place on a supernatural level. It’s likely an impossible reality to explain, but that’s about as close as I can come.

        4) This man never tried to string me along or keep me waiting for him. He was no more looking for a relationship than I was.

        5) Trust me, this is not mere idea or fantasy. Understandably, you don’t know me personally and therefore can’t know that I am an exceptionally grounded, realistic, and even borderline cynical person. I didn’t believe in love at all until God revealed it, and Himself, through my best friend.

        6) Love isn’t blind. Far from it. Love is the only thing that has 20/20 vision. Regarding my friend specifically, I came to know the ins and outs of this man’s life, all the good and all the terribly bad. I know him for who he is, exactly as he is, and I love him all the more for it.

        7) If you can cut your heart into pieces, cudos, but I just don’t play that way. I also personally wouldn’t be thrilled with an offer of 25% of a person’s heart at a time. It helps to wait until you’re certain of what you’re doing when offering your heart, sure, but even then, there are no guarantees. That’s just life. It involves risk. But we have to at least try. And even though it wasn’t the result I might have hoped for, I don’t regret offering my heart for an instant. I was certain in what I was doing, and I wasn’t wrong. It’s the most perfect, Christ-like thing I’ve ever done.

        8) There actually wasn’t anything particularly easy about our friendship, so perhaps that was a mistake on my part in how I communicated. Things with this man were effortless, but not easy. Things that I couldn’t accomplish on my own became manifest without the slightest effort on my part. I became a better person. We both did. There was an inward movement that I attribute to the Holy Spirit inviting me to step forward courageously, and in yielding to that, things just seemed to fall into place in a way far more beautiful than anything we ever could have dreamed up ourselves.

        9) Overall, yes, I would agree. Don’t give your heart to someone who doesn’t want it. This particular story, however, is very specific and thus, pretty non-conventional. It wasn’t an issue of wanting or not wanting something, but more of an inability to move beyond a damaged past. Strangely, this man’s leaving me was something that he considered an act of love, freeing me to be pursued by someone better able to love me. I vehemently disagree with his assessment, but it is what it is.

        10) We can’t try to imagine that we know how God works. As long as something isn’t inherently immoral, who says that God can’t ask us for something that seems crazy by worldly estimation? Parents like St. Monica hold out hope for wayward children for years, even decades. It would be more prudent from a worldly perspective to accept the loss and focus their prayers on other things, but any parent in such a situation would revolt at this suggestion. In the romantic sphere, I’ll reference Emily Stimpson Chapman, who met her husband and was asked to wait for him for a whopping 10 years. Internal conviction and spiritual direction kept her hopeful, and now the two are married. Are those situations ideal? No. But my point is, God asks some crazy things of us sometimes, and really, we might speculate out of care and concern for others, but the only person who can know for certain whether a conviction is God-given is the person holding it.

        11) Our hearts do have value, which is what makes them such a powerful gift. As with all of God’s gifts, they’re not meant for us to hold on to forever, but given away in love. Wait for the right person, yes. But don’t hold back out of fear. That’s all I was trying to say.

        At the end of the day, though, this is just my story, and it’s not one that’s easily judged. By all means, I encourage everyone to do what they feel is right, to yield to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. What I wanted to make clear in this article was that love is real and that it is a gift, not something that we can conjure by sheer force of will. I wish you well in your own faith journey. God bless.

    • Where are you getting your reference from Scripture to “guard our hearts”? This is frequently stated and just as frequently misquoted. If you are thinking of the most common one from Proverbs 4:23 “With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.” (NAB) I would implore you to read the rest of the passage, when you do, it will become clear that the author is speaking of the pursuit of Wisdom to the degradation of evil. To drive this point home the author lists other ‘body parts’ and their role in shunning evil ie. “Let your eyes look straight ahead (v. 25a) …keep your foot far from evil (v. 27b)”. This is in fact an allegory of us a the ‘body of Christ’ fighting to keep ourselves true to His nature. Though being ‘Christ-like’ definitely involves eros love (in conjunction with the other types) this verse is so widely misquoted and misunderstood, and in order to be Christ-followers and Truth-pursuers we must be diligent in our reading and understanding of the Scriptures. I therefore put this to you; if we are aiming to be Christ-like in all things then in this instance; Christ risked all to love us as we are (despite rejection), and if our lives and hearts are aligned with Him and He leads us to love someone in this way (There are no examples of “a little love” with God) then that is our calling… simple but true.

  • First of, I will pray something maybe changes and things work out. I am not saying you did anything immoral.
    But I am saying I think giving one’s heart when the other person isn’t even sure about a relationship. Needs to have a whole lot of caution… If the door isn’t opened there maybe a reason for it.

    Part of this is my own life experience talking thinking something was God and it not working out and realizing I ignored a whole lot of signs of it not being right because I wanted it to be right.

    And I think its kind of easy to waste a lot of years with that. And there may be that one experience where it worked out their are other experiences where it didn’t.

    Of course their are outliers but…. They are the real exception to the norm.

    As for investing 25 percent I am not saying offer 25 if the other person is offering 100. But more saying you invest a little and the see how the person responds and then invest more. Relationships have to be built together in order for it to work. Both parties have to want to make it work.

    • Becca I think you missed the whole point of this article, I have read through all your comments and I am honestly amazed you are still fixated on this. Having these types of “debates” about someone’s personal life over the internet is superfluous in its nature. Isabella doesn’t know you and you don’t know her, how can you offer “advice” if this is true?

      You also say “I think” a lot… does this mean you are just offering your personal opinion? In which case it’s a mute point. There is a difference from saying “I think” to “The Church teaches”

      To the point “Scripture says we should guard our hearts.” I think you need to go back and read Proverbs 4 over again and gather the whole context of this passage. There is a real danger when we start slinging bible verses around and apply them out of context for our benefit, this is one of the reasons the church is in the state it is today.

      I apologize if this comes across as harsh, I know you probably mean well, but as Cristians we must be careful about what we say as our words have a real effect on how people perceive The Bride of Christ.

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