There is no such thing as safely falling in love.
Love changes you. Deeply connecting with another human being is a huge risk to everything you know about yourself and the world around you.
That’s the point, isn’t it? Love expands our ability to understand the human condition because it connects us to another instance of the human condition and gives us a reason to want to deeply understand their experience and perspective. It allows us to become mirrors for each other - to reflect back the good we see in another person, and to bask in the reflection they show back to us.
Love gives us a bulwark against the pain and difficulty of daily life. It gives us a sense that, no matter what happens, we have a safe set of arms to return to, and deep assurance that we’re worthy of love. Love can give us the courage to allow ourselves to be deeply seen and understood, even the parts we are afraid are so deeply flawed that they make us unlovable. Sharing those parts of ourselves with someone else and learning that they love us despite or even because of who we really are is uniquely powerful.
Falling in love is terrifying, because at every step you wonder if you’re alone in your feelings. That terror, and the exquisite relief of discovering that your feelings are reciprocated, is part of the joy of the whole thing.
Being in love never stops being terrifying, if you think about it. You’ve given your heart to someone else and are asking them to keep it safe for you. And you have no control over whether they can or will do that.
There is no escaping the danger and terror of falling in love. Safe love where you get to dictate the terms of your connection isn’t compatible with the sort of deep connection that overtakes your heart and your mind and your life in ways you can’t predict. Those sorts of connections are fundamentally unpredictable and uncontrollable.
And so completely worth the risk.
Even though it is likely to mean you are going to get your heart smashed into a million pieces in the process. Because every time your heart shatters you have the chance to see it in a new configuration, and you have a chance to learn about yourself in the process.
If you believe that, to some extent, the purpose of life is to understand yourself and the universe as well as possible, to connect with other humans and with that energy that some people call God, then love is a broad, bright pathway to that experience. If you believe that joy is a valuable part of life, then love is an unmatched source of pure joy. If you believe that building communities that care for what Matthew 25 called “the least of these” is important, then love is a source of powerful energy for social good. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, all of the teachers who talk about social justice talk about the importance of love to fuel this work.
If you believe, instead, that the purpose of life is to die with the most toys, or to never look like a fool, or to have the sort of power we define as being able to hurt people without consequence, then you should avoid love at all costs, because it might cause you to lose the game based on those rules.
Those rules are pretty crappy, though. The research on happiness tells us that experiences are more powerful than things for creating satisfaction and joy. Anyone who’s watched kids open toys on their birthday, tearing through everything they said and believed they wanted only to be bored with all of it a few hours later has had an experience that can help them understand what’s lacking with an approach that focuses on what you have instead of how you feel.
Love is always dangerous, though. So as you think about the sort of relationships you want to have, it makes sense to discard the idea that you can always hold on to your ideas about yourself and the world around you as you fall in love. Love will change you, and that’s a feature, not a bug.
This doesn’t mean that love gives you license to abandon your principles or responsibilities. Mature adults have to manage real-world situations, even when it’s sometimes inconvenient or otherwise bothersome. Love, powerful as it is, does not erase those things. But like every other paradigm shifting experience, love does have the potential to change the way you see the world such that your priorities change and you are no longer willing to take on the same responsibilities. You’ll have new ones, but not the same ones.
What’s important here, though, is that you stop trying to make love safe. All of the rules and guidelines and boundaries and plans you can make do not eliminate the chance that love is going to come in and rewrite something in your life or in your heart or in your brain. All you can do is evaluate those changes in light of who you are and want to be in the world, and make decisions that allow you to align those things.
But limiting human connection because it could change you is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Not only won’t it work, it abandons the best part of the whole thing.