I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
I was blown away when I read this proverb in The Good Book by A.C. Grayling: “Fear is stronger than love.” It’s not a pretty, cheery, Valentine’s-candy-heart saying at all; it’s not an optimistic mantra like the ones I doodle on my notebooks. But it’s true—solemnly true. And in its own way, it is a positive rule to live by.
Think about it: fear is stronger than love. It is woefully easy to let a perfectly healthy relationship be torn down by fear and all its manifestations—such as jealousy, suspicion, insecurity, and pretenses—while it is truly difficult to persistently choose love and its own manifestations, such as trust, honesty, kindness, and romance.
After the initial infatuation period of “falling in love” (which can have its own trials that require choosing love over fear, though fear also serves an important purpose during this phase of slowing us down and making us cautious about giving away our hearts), the deeper and more settled love of everyday-life companions requires vigilant protection.
We must fight for our love to protect it from the termites-like destruction of fear, silent and unnoticeable at first, but devastating if left untreated. We must continually protect our love by choosing open communication and honesty over the accumulation of little hurts, worries, and irritations; by choosing words that are true but restrained, kind, and loving over the stinging barbs we want to throw when we’re tired or threatened; and by choosing romance and a bit of mystery over the encroaching monotony and contempt-breeding-familiarity of everyday life. Choices like these are armor to our love, fortifying it against the forces of fear.
Reading Anna Karenina was a sobering warning about this principle that “fear is stronger than love.” Anna’s lover was faithful to her and tried to reassure her of his constant love, but her fear of losing him (in part because they weren’t married) was just too strong. Rather than choosing to trust him, which would make her vulnerable but would also reward her with the sweetness of love, she took the easier route of letting destructive fear have its way.
Her story is so sad to me that I keep trying to work out a way to express it in a poem (see an early attempt here). Right now it’s a haiku, though it doesn’t capture all I want it to say…
Bare foot on a rose—
wounded, wounding—just like the
fear that crushes love.
May you choose the harder but happier path—as I’m trying to in my own marriage—of constantly protecting your love from the destructiveness of fear, rather than fearfully, destructively protecting your heart from hurt. “Fear is stronger than love”—so don’t let it win.
And for a positive example:
“I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.”
– from Allegiant by Veronica Roth, Chapter 36