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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:

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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