Husband & Wife Articles


More than a Feeling

Love is a choice that is meant to last

By Chris Mooney

Growing up, I learned about romantic love almost entirely from the excessive romanticism of our American culture. Love, I thought, was most true when it was most spontaneous, most uncontrolled, most unplanned, and most involuntary. You can’t cultivate or seek true romantic love, whether in looking for a relationship or while already in one. According to the popular culture in music, movies and TV, authentic love happens at the expense of, or even in opposition to, your intentions and better judgment.

But after I converted to Christianity my freshman year at Georgetown University, from a background of agnosticism and deism, and fell in love with Christ and his Gospel, I slowly came to see that this understanding of love was distorted. My conversion started with reading Scripture and Christian writers like St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis. The fact that the greatest human love possible was love of God, which could be commanded, made me realize that the highest form of love must be something chosen, not the spontaneous romantic love I had grown up seeking.

As I learned more about my new faith, I realized that my youthful view of love was no more than what Scripture and the Church Fathers call a passion, something before which we are powerless and passive. Indeed, the words “passion” and “passivity” have the same origin for a reason! Real love, instead, is a virtue that can be cultivated, chosen, and reasoned through, since the object it seeks is that which is good.

My newfound realization about love radically altered my view of courtship and marriage. When I started dating the woman whom I would marry just a week after graduation, it was often difficult to shake off my former expectations of what love and romance should look and feel like.

Thinking rightly about love requires intentionality, or else we will find ourselves inheriting a mixture of conflicting ideas. Perhaps the most important consequence of seeing love as fundamentally an act of the will is that we value good, healthy relationships over those built on hormones and helpless passion. Romanticism despises and shuns thinking reasonably about relationships, holding that rational thought diminishes their authenticity. But there is nothing authentic or admirable about a relationship built on passing passions that collapse when faced with trials or the changes of time.

This is not to say that our affections, emotions and feelings are unimportant. God has given them as great gifts that communicate to us, as creatures who experience the world through sense and emotion, how good love is. My friendship with my wife, Julia, first formed because we loved talking with each other for hours on end, could constantly joke with each other, enjoyed the same activities, and just plain liked being with each other! Just because we knew that love was something one had to choose didn’t mean were not influenced or impelled by strong emotions.

At the same time, we looked to what was most important for the foundation of our relationship: our shared faith. Faith is often treated as a secondary matter in relationships, but the person we choose to marry is not only going to be the most significant voice throughout our entire lives in decisions about children, careers, or fundamental values. Our spouse is also the one who will form us through daily encouragements and advice that influence and shape the person we become. To make faith secondary in marriage is to make it secondary in all of life. I wanted to marry someone who would teach our children—and me—the love of the Lord every day.

Equally important, I knew that her supreme love for God meant that I had the surest foundation to trust her judgment as my wife. I often said to people while we were dating that what I loved most about her was that she loved the right things in the right way. I have always deeply admired the way she thinks through her entire life from, in, and to God. And in each of the major changes we’ve gone through since our wedding—the unexpected blessing of our son, our conversion to Catholicism, her changing jobs and my busy student schedule—I’ve always been thankful that my wife and I can think in a united way and that we can trust each other to make good decisions because of our shared love of God.

Though we’ve been married for only two years, we have regularly remarked to each other that we feel like we’ve been married for far longer because we know one another so well, and our life together has been filled with so many joys and shared experiences. And I know that when I tell my wife that I will always love her, it is not a gamble on my future passions, but a promise built on a choice and commitment to do so.

Chris Mooney received a Classics degree from Georgetown in 2013 and is currently a student at Yale Divinity School, studying Patristic and Medieval theology. He lives in New Haven with his wife, Julia, and their son, Christopher.