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Can You Really Not Control Who You Love?

They say we can't control who we love, but how true is that...really?

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OK, so here's a fun fact. If any of you caught the piece that I wrote about turning 45 a couple of months ago, you might recall the part where it said that I've been out of church as long as I've been abstinent (which is almost 13 years now). This doesn't mean that I'm "anti-church"; it just means that my journey is different. It's as simple and as layered as that. Anyway, before I made my transition out, the last official pastor that I had was a man by the name of Calvin Roberson. If his name rings a bell to you, it may be because he is currently known as "Pastor Cal" on Lifetime's Married at First Sight (life is a trip, ain't it?).

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Sometimes, it really does trip me out that he's on there, so the combination of him being an expert and the social experiment approach of the show overall, will sometimes pull me in to check out an episode. Recently, I caught one where Calvin—sorry, Pastor Cal—was talking to a guy by the name of Greg (who actually seems to be really cool) about how things were progressing with his new wife, Deonna. As Greg was in the midst of expressing the belief that he felt that he could someday "fall in love" with her, Pastor Cal interjected and said, "I don't believe people 'fall in love'; you grow in love." Hmph. That goes right in line with a quote by Albert Einstein that is on the front of one of my shirts—"Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love."

I chuckled to myself when I reflected on the fact that clearly Pastor Cal—oh, and Mr. Einstein—are not big fans of the phrase "fall in love". The reason why that stood out is because I aggressively purse my lips whenever I hear people use "make love" to define the act of sex. Chile, I know some people who don't even know their partner's middle name or sexual health status who say they "make love" to them. Honestly, I think them playing that phrase on repeat can cause it to go into their psyche and result in them ultimately becoming disillusioned by their partner and by sex. Sex is and does a lot of things. The oxytocin that's in it even helps you to feel closer to your partner (it's scientifically proven). But assuming that giving somebody some is gonna make them love you…to fall in love with you? If you really and truly believe that, I believe, with everything in me, that you are in for quite the emotional roller coaster ride; one that I'm pretty sure will cause all sorts of emotion sickness. No doubt about it, turned out and in love are not synonymous. I promise you that.

So, why is it that so many people subscribe to the mindset that love is something that we fall into, sex is something that makes love transpire and/or that the love experience, overall, is something that we cannot control? I blame Disney. And Hollyweird. And Barbie and Ken dolls. And us listening to love songs while we sleep. And so much of church leadership—including the married couples in them—trying to act like they are perfect when they are anything but. And us listening to our friends more than our mentors. And many of our parents not being forthcoming about how they gave their virginity away (because no one "loses" it; we all know where our virginity went), their first love experience and what made them choose one another to make us with.

Facades. Fantasies. Straight-up lies. They all play a role in what has caused so many of us to believe that love is purely emotional (as if it has no logic or common sense attached to it); that we couldn't do anything about how we feel if we tried (and really, how many of us actually do try?).

Am I saying that we can control basic level attraction or interest? It depends on what you mean by "control". I see people—not all of the time but fairly enough—who I wink at (in my head). But as far as feeding into that attraction or interest? I can control that. I can decide if I want to approach them or not. Or, if we happen to strike up a conversation, I can control if I want them to be able to reach me after that exchange. The initial appeal doesn't have me so seduced that I can't think straight.

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Or, if I go on a date with someone. I am a huge supporter of knowing what you want and what you don't want before going out with someone. I also believe that the first and second dates can help you figure out if an individual fits the bill or not (which is why I'm not an advocate of movie-going on the first couple of outings). No matter how much chemistry a guy and I may have, no matter how much charm he may turn on, since I know I'm interested in something long-term, and since I also I know at this point what will complement my life (or not), I can control how much time, effort and energy that I will pour into "him".

So, if I can control what to do with surface level attraction and even the beginning stages of a dating dynamic, why can't I control who I love? I can. And should. And do. Love comes after these things. What I do on the front end determines if I come to love someone. Or not.

There is an author by the name of Michael R. French who once said, "Falling in love is more than infatuation. It is the need to feel whole, to feel safe, to be healed, to join together with someone, heart and soul." If this resonates with you, on any level, then there is some part of you who believes that you can indeed control who you love as well. Why do I say that? Because if love to you is more than "foolish or all-absorbing passion" (which is what infatuation is), if you honor the purpose and power of love in your life and the life of those around you, if you do indeed believe that the Most High is the Source of Love ("God is love"—I John 4:7-16)—then love is so much more than a feeling.

Attraction and interest may ignite something within you, but in order to feel whole, safe and healed—that takes time. That requires commitment. That means you have to choose to remain in the presence and company of someone long enough to determine if you love them…and if they love you. And it's within that choice—a daily series of choices, actually—that you are able to utilize your control.

That's why, whenever folks tell me that they can't control who they love, they get the total and complete eye roll. To me, it sounds like a scapegoat approach to whatever decisions they are about to make (or are currently making). I'll cheat on my spouse because I can't control who I love. I will stay in a relationship that is totally beneath me because I can't control who I love. I'll make all sorts of reckless and irresponsible decisions that will put my heart and body in jeopardy because I can't control who I love. To believe that, to really and truly believe that, it is a total affront to love itself.

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Love—real, genuine and pure love—has a divine calling. It is designed to cultivate you into your best self. It is totally devoted to protecting and nurturing you. It is not just physical but spiritual; not just something that makes us feel good, but something that matures us as well.

And here's the irony to all of this. When we love ourselves, we know that we can control who we love, because self-love teaches us how to. Self-love sends us red flags. Self-love reminds us that if our mind, body and soul are not in sync, something is unhealthy and imbalanced. Self-love ushers us into a knowing that if what I'm feeling doesn't teach me how to be greater than who I was before the feeling came along, no matter how subtle it may be, something counterfeit is transpiring. Self-love gives us the assurance of this because it echoes, on repeat, that love loves you and me too much to bring hurt, harm or danger our way. In fact, real love repels those things.

So, yes. I am firmly opposed to the belief that we can't control who we love because love is a choice. No matter what our eyes, hormones or innate desires may beckon us to give into, should we choose to move past initial attraction and interest, love tell us that we determine if we want to move forward or to totally pump the breaks. It expresses that because love is so powerful, sacred and purpose-filled, our temperance, intellect and acumen definitely get a vote on who we decide to love. All we need to do is give them a voice—and a vote.

So, if someone were to walk up to me right now and ask me, "Can you control who you love?" I would nod my head to convey an emphatic yes. So should you.

Love doesn't force itself upon you. It gives you permission to love who you want to love.

Now that you know this, please choose—to love—wisely.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

Why I'll Never Call Someone A 'Boyfriend' Again

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If You're Not In Love With Being Single, Ask Yourself These 6 Questions

How To Own The Power Of Your Single Season

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

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And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

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