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Staying in love means choosing to be vulnerable

Too late, you realize you’re in love.

But then, by the time you fall in love, it’s always too late. Because no one ever decides to fall in love. Love has a mind of its own. Love moves and breathes apart from our will and sensibility. Love submits to no rules. No agreed-upon decorum. Love cares not about plans, timing, context or readiness.

By the time you fall in love, it’s too late. Too late to save your heart.

But see, that’s the thing. When you fall in love, you’re heart isn’t trying to save itself. Rather, your heart is doing what it was meant to do — live! Express itself. Pour itself out in reckless abandon. Expand and grow. Your heart knows what dawns late (if ever) to your ego: To be a truly human being, you must love someone more than your desire to protect yourself.

Falling in love is what happens when your heart shakes off its fetters, jumps the fence and is free. This is your heart’s most sublime joy. And its great vulnerability. You know, somewhere inside of you, this joy must include suffering. But, in the moment, this makes perfect sense. Which is why your heart almost always jumps the fence when you’re not looking. If you were ever-vigilant, ever-logical and careful, you might never open the gate of your own accord.

In the movie “Love Actually” (2003), a widow is concerned for his young son who is withdrawn, troubled and moody. The boy won’t talk about it. Finally, the father succeeds in getting the boy to talk. “See, the thing is, I’m in love.” The father stumbles over words. “I’m relieved,” he says. “I thought it was something much worse.”

“What could be worse than falling in love,” the boy says, with pained incredulity.

“Oh, yes,” says the father, almost obediently. “I see your point.”

Falling in love is easy. But living into great love is, sooner or later, a war with the ego. The ego finally catches up with the heart and demands, “What the hell are you doing?! Don’t you see the danger? Think!”

It reminds me of an oft-repeated scene in the Warner Bros. Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, wherein the roadrunner leads the chase off a cliff into midair, then suddenly stops to face the pursuing coyote. Wile E. Coyote stops, surprised. The dust and clouds clear, showing them both suspended over the abyss. As the coyote reaches to grab his prize, the roadrunner points down. The coyote looks below. Only then does he panic and fall.

“Great romance and great sex have to wear off, you know,” is the clucking, admonishing saying not first of cynics, but of frightened people. Because it’s a lie. Romance and sex never “wear off.” Rather, they are abandoned and starved to death through some combination of laziness (forgetting to pay attention) and cowardice (the slow, mostly unconscious move to create a safe distance between your heart and its sore vulnerability).

Or, as author/therapist David Schnarch says it, “Intimacy is difficult to achieve. And, once achieved, even harder to tolerate.”

If I was the devil, I’d begin each day whispering in the ear of every husband, every wife, every committed life partner, “Wanted to remind you that nothing is more important today in this love affair but that you should guard and protect your heart.”

Back to “Love Actually.” At the end of the movie, the father and the boy are at the airport, where they have sped in hopes of giving the boy a chance to say goodbye to the young girl who has stolen his heart. But it appears they are too late. The boy is crushed. He concedes his hopes. But the father confronts him. He tells the boy that, every day, he wishes he’d said “I love you” more often to his departed mate. He says that the boy has to take the risk, otherwise he will always regret it.

“OK, Dad,” says the boy, jaw set, shoulders square. “Let’s go get the (expletive) kicked out of us by love!” He opens the gate, and his heart runs free.

Every day in great love, we have a choice. We can either find the courage to be vulnerable or we can decide that our most important life’s work is guarding and protecting our heart.

And, each day, in every moment, we decide. We choose.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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