I remember an episode of Modern Family not too long ago where the gay couple was having an argument. At one point, one of them goes into the bathroom to shave his beard because the other one says he doesn't like it. So the one with the beard says something to the effect of "The man that I love doesn't like the beard, so the beard is gone." Now, yeah, it was a funny moment in the show (and he ended up not having to shave his beard), but it stuck with me. To me, that act, at its core, demonstrates what I think love is and should be - that you're willing to be, do, become and achieve what the other person wants and expects out of you. Love is a conscious decision you make to give yourself to another person.
What are the benefits of such an action? You get to be with and impress the person you admire everyday for the rest of your life.
Plus you get to have sex with them.
There's a lot of trust involved in giving yourself to another person. You have to trust that the other person won't abuse the love shared between you to make you do or become something completely warped and twisted. That's where the vulnerability of love comes in, and that's why it's such a terrifying thing to me. Letting someone have that kind of control over me makes me feel paranoid - especially when it's the kind of thing that is supposed to be decided upon silently. How can you truly trust a person to the point where you're willing to be molded by them?
I've only loved one person in my life and I literally was willing to do anything for that person. I remember the exact moment that I realized (and decided) that I was in love with her (and it turns out that it was that exact same moment she realized that she loved me). We were both really sick with the same illness. We both kept tripping over each other and telling the person to sit down and rest - both of us trying to take care of the other person when we weren't even really in a position to be taking care of ourselves. It was a hilarious dance of trying to obey the other person to keep them happy, while trying to take care of them while letting them take care of the other. It was like a game of "Standing, Sitting, Lying Down." It was a little redundant; why couldn't we just take care of ourselves? I think we realized that we were in love because we were quite literally trying to give ourselves to each other, even when we needed to focus on ourselves.
When things didn't work out a little more than a year later, I pulled my head out of my proverbial ass, looked around, and realized that I had become a person completely different from the person I was when I first started dating her. It disturbed me at first - that someone had so much control over me that they were able to change everything about me. I didn't know what to act like; do I act like the old me or the new me? Which one do I like more? Years later, I settled for a mixture of the two - the good parts of both.
Facebook recently suggested that we be friends (again) today. I sat and stared at her picture for probably 5 minutes. It was weird to look at someone that I had previously dedicated myself to and realize that we most likely have nothing in common anymore. I still look at her and feel that emotion that goes along with looking at people you care about. But if I saw her today, I wouldn't even know how to talk to her. Even though that emotion exists to some degree, we are not in love.
Love is much more than a strong emotion. Love is a decision. Ideally, the two go hand-in-hand, but it's the decision that will stand the test of time - not the strong emotion. From what I hear, that strong emotion changes over time from that "teenager-heartbeat-gonna-die-right-now" feeling to more of a feeling of close companionship. That "honeymoon phase" feeling isn't what's going to hold it together after that. It's the decision to love that will.
A close friend of mine described love as Alchemy and not Chemistry. Chemistry between two people is great and a lot of fun, but when the chemical reaction dies down, all that's left are the ashes of a good time. Alchemy is changing one thing into another - creating something new out of old ingredients; building and creating new things together. It's far more difficult and doesn't sound nearly as glamorous, but it's what I want and expect. Alchemy is when you go to build or create something and you can trust that the other person won't only support you, but will improve you as well.
So how do I trust someone like that again? I have no idea.