Love is a Decision of the Will – Really?

It was 1981. I’d stopped in to see a friend, a strong, smart woman who had been married long enough to have three children – the oldest was four. She was large with striking looks, double the size of her husband, and she wore the pants. He was a sweetheart, mild-mannered, jovial, engaging. He adored her and took her bossing with a good-natured wink.

On this particular day our conversation turned to intimate themes. I can’t remember what triggered her statement, but I’ll never forget what she said.

“Sherry, love is a decision of the will.”

I felt as though I’d been gut-punched. I didn’t want to believe it. How cold. How unromantic. How, how, how…true?

I thought about the two of them, what an unlikely match they appeared to be. Was it a struggle for her? Was her morning mantra, I will love him today? Did she make that choice every single day, deliberately? Or was her comment in response to something I’d said? I hadn’t married the man of my dreams, but I didn’t want anyone to know that. It was all about the show, like my mother and our perfect family. But I felt safe with my friend. I might have let it slip that he was a disappointment – perhaps going so far as to say I no longer loved him.

Love is a decision of the will.

“You can’t mean that. Where’s the magic? What wife wants to have to will herself to love her husband? It shouldn’t be that hard.” At that time I was still trying to believe in happily-ever-after.

She didn’t smile. It was more of a raised eyebrow, you-poor-ignorant-child kind of look as she slowly nodded her head and sighed.

I ‘willed it’ with that husband for fifteen more years, long after any feelings of affection, any modicum of respect, any hope of change had withered. Her words gripped me with a force that commanded obedience and I obeyed.

Then one morning I woke up and chose not to love anymore.

There are two lessons here:

  • Words are powerful – what we say can change the trajectory of a person’s life, impact them emotionally for their betterment or their detriment, enhance or endanger their self-esteem, reverberate in their head forever
  • Strong statements must be tested – don’t swallow them whole even if someone you admire speaks them

Is love a decision of the will?

Forty years later, I’ve come to the conclusion that love is not one-size-fits-all.

For instance, there is nothing my girls could do that would ever stop my loving them. It isn’t possible. No matter what their feelings for me, no matter what their choices, no matter what, I will always love them. It’s unconditional. a response as involuntary as my heartbeat. It isn’t something I decided.

For everyone else, my love has an IF attached.

I’ll love a good friend IF they respect me, reciprocate my affection, and don’t misuse me.

Love for family members used to be automatic. I have to love you, you’re family. I no longer aspire to that belief. It takes a lot, but IF a relative won’t associate with me for whatever reason, I may choose not to love that person.

A partner?

Tricky, tricky, tricky. But I think I’ve learned a bit in my old age. Love cannot be based on a feeling. Romantic love is an illusion – a pleasant one – but an illusion nonetheless. It’s 70% hormones and 30% imagination and it’s unsustainable. Some of us can manipulate those percentages masterfully so imagination approaches 100%. It’s a story we tell ourselves to make believe things are better than they really are. It’s easier than admitting to a dysfunctional relationship. Easier than leaving.

We have to know ourselves well enough to understand what works for us and what doesn’t then negotiate the terms with our partner. There are those who have said:

I can love you IF we maintain separate homes. It works for them.

I can love you IF you will allow me the freedom to see other people.

I can love you IF I can spend one week a month away.

I can love you IF you give me $1000/week for whatever I want (Trust me – it happens.)

I can love you IF…

Then there are those precious ones who are so good to us that whatever they do that could be cause for annoyance is quickly forgiven and forgotten. Affection deepens with time. Trust grows. Love is easy. IF you are that good to me…

Love, then, is a compromise.

There’s more softness there. It suggests working together for the common good rather than one person’s steely-minded commitment not to hate. To me, a decision of the will says I will tolerate you, and that’s a beggarly substitute for love.

I don’t believe we can force ourselves to love. There has to be some element of love-ability which can be totally in the eye of the beholder and not visible to another soul, but it must exist.

These are my personal conclusions from a life lived with an abundance of misunderstanding around love. I very much enjoy deep philosophical discussions. Is love a decision of the will is a question ripe for exploration. You may wholeheartedly disagree with my point of view, and that’s wonderful. Let me hear your juiciest thoughts. Then I’ll decide whether or not I love you!

Lake Imagination…30 miles from nowhere


Frozen Lake Imagination

You’re right. It’s not a lake. It’s a hay field covered with snow. And if it appears to be barren, bleak, and cold, in the winter it is. But someone once-upon-a-time had the romantic notion that it looked like a frozen body of water and Lake Imagination was born. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west here, as it does everywhere on earth. It’s just that it does it more quickly in the winter, leaving only about 8 hours of chilly daylight.


The climate isn’t conducive to comfort and ease. People here have to pay attention just to survive. If you step outside without the necessary insulation surrounding your body it won’t take long before your extremities freeze solid. I’ll be kind and refrain from saying anything about the questionable intelligence of life-forms who choose to live in this isolated place. After all, it was my home for many years and I have a healthy respect for anyone who thrives under these circumstances.


View of Lake Imagination through the Christmas Tree


Indoor hanging gardens at ‘the lake’

But there is a warmth of heart that radiates love when family and friends gather in this place, 30 miles from nowhere, to celebrate rituals and pay homage to the passing of time. My sister lives here and swears allegiance to her Scandinavian roots buried deep in the permafrost. And her husband, though he grew up in southern climes, swears too, although not always allegiance!


Gwen, the consummate hostess, shakes a stick of Gula Kelapa, coconut palm sugar, threateningly as she prepares Norwegian/Balinese fusion.

Gwen, my sister, had offered to let me make a Balinese meal for the yearly Christmas Open House that happens at their place. I knew better! Balinese cuisine isn’t fast food. I could see myself spending an entire day shopping for unavailable ingredients, and another day up to my eyeballs in food prep. That is NOT my idea of “all is calm…all is bright!” So she settled for Norwegian lefse stuffed with Balinese palm sugar and Bali Kopi along with other, more traditional fare.


Gwen’s home made, hand decorated, amazing holiday cookies.

You see, Gwen thinks nothing of spending weeks making these unbelievable confections. She and her hubby, ‘W’ (not to be confused with the former pres of the U.S., George W) are kitchen wizards.  They imagine that everyone can pull off a gourmet meal at the drop of a hat. I’ve been telling them for years I can’t cook. But Gwen refuses to believe that the same gene pool that spawned her could possibly yield up anything less than a domestic Wonderwoman. I do other things well, I tell myself, and try to remember what those things are.


Mr. Kitchen Wizard

Actually, I know one thing I do better than some. I play a pretty mean game of Scrabble. Just the night before, after losing all three games of Cribbage to Gwen, I beat her at three games of Scrabble. Then, high on the adrenaline rush of victory, I ate the rest of a jar of caramel corn that W had made. The following morning he got up, noted the empty jar, and promptly popped more corn, made the syrup, and presto! The jar that is sitting on the bar right in front of him was full again.


Playing ‘Texas Mean’ with the family…mom looks angelic all in white!

One of the highlights of any family get-together is playing ‘Texas Mean.’ Mom and Dad brought the game home with them after visiting our snowbird relatives in southern Texas. In his woodworking shop, Dad copied the wooden board. Over the years he made dozens of Texas Mean Games, passing them out to family and friends. Now, at 90 years old, he still wins almost every time.  He’s sitting on my left. On this day we were playing partners and, true to form, Dad and his partner were undefeated.


Jessa and her Grandpa.

After the games, Dad relaxed with Jessa, enjoying the sunshine reflecting off Lake Imagination. Several neighbors stopped by to visit. Anyone who lives within a 30 mile radius is neighbor potential since that totals a whopping 12 people. The conversation was a far cry from what I remember from my youth. Back then…waaaay back then…the men sat in the living room and talked farming while the women clustered in the kitchen swapping recipes and neighborhood gossip.

On this day, however, neighbor Kent Lorentzen, was telling about e-publishing his Favorite Farmers Market Recipes cookbook on Amazon. Another couple said they would stop to visit me in Bali on their trip around the world next year. Mom and Dad sat listening, smiling, nodding as though nothing had changed at all, even though as young newlyweds television hadn’t been invented, let alone the world wide web.

I suddenly felt disoriented. Walking to the wall of windows I gazed out over crystalline stillness. Lake Imagination is a place where you are only limited by what you dare to dream. For a minute I saw little Sherry, all those years ago, trying to step in her father’s muddy footprints as she followed him to the milking barn. Her stubby legs strained to reach his stride. Her dream then was to make him proud. And if I’m 100% honest with myself, it really hasn’t changed much.

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