I know a married couple who met during a spring break mission trip to Mexico. Building houses or playing with orphans or something. It was one of those extended conversations long into the night, long after the campfire had gone cold, where neither of them realized what was going on. Neither had been looking for love and it seems so odd that a couple so perfect together would have met each other by such a contingent set of events.
There is nothing unique about this story. In fact, I know multiple couples whose story would fit the same plot-line as I just described. Broaden the story a bit and we all can think of at least someone who fell in love unexpectedly. Change Mexico to another place, anywhere from Congo to Orlando or maybe even closer to home. Or instead of a “mission trip” it can be “working at summer camp” or maybe even the more vacation-ey classic spring break trip (although it seems trips of service tend to be better long-term matchmakers than trips of pleasure).
Not all the time does it involve another person. There are those people who take a week off from work or school or life as otherwise usual and take a little dose of adventure. Again, could be anywhere from Juneau to Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo to the neighborhood on the other side of town. And what ends up happening is that they become enchanted by the place. It somehow resonates within some hollow part of their soul. And so a desire to come back, becomes a promise to come back, becomes a decision to relocate there permanently.
I was searching for a word to describe this, and eventually settled upon accession. In political speak, accession is a means for joining a treaty by a party that did not take part in negotiating the terms of the treaty (see Article 15 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties). Falling in love, I suppose, is a lot like this, where you join into something that your own wishes did not define.
I am not saying all of this is always good. It often is, but there is such a thing as misplaced infatuation. But that is another subject.
My question, rather, is why is it that so many people access to falling in love during a break from the routine?
(I suppose there is room to be even more personal here, but there are a few certain discussions that shouldn’t be allowed to roam freely among the wide open internets. Insert winky-face emoticon here.)
The lesson many of us have been taught, by religious teachers or otherwise wise people, is that love is an action, not an emotion; love is something you choose, not something that just happens; love is a commitment, not an accident. All of these are important distinctions and I believe in their truth.
But there is something missing here. There is a profound problem with conceiving love as something we control. Love defined solely as our own decision tempts us to become masters of own destiny, impervious to transformation. Change, or at least meaningful change, is not something decided beforehand. We can foster maturity or development or virtue, but we cannot chart out change the way we like change because the point of change is that we are so changed that the ways in which we want to change are changed. And this all is part of a larger problem where we are led to believe we are entitled to be kings of our own little worlds instead of responsible citizens of the larger world.
We can choose to not fall in love. I have succeeded many a time at this, thinking I was living a more noble kind of love by avoiding the silly kind of love. But after choosing against those extended conversations into the night, in addition to not returning to places and people I have previously enjoyed the presence of, I have begun to slowly realize that this abstinent refusal does not feed the hungry or speak up for the voiceless or anything.
One lives out the noble kind of love by living out the noble kind of love. The silly kind of love doesn’t get in the way. To speak in metaphor, one doesn’t take the train by taking the car – one takes the train by taking the train, and sometimes one takes the car to get to the station.
Not liking to fall in love is a bit of a pride issue for me. Choosing love on my own terms guarantees that love stays safe. It won’t ask questions nor challenge decisions I have made in the past. I become a bit like a snake clinging tightly to the safety of skin that should be shed.
I don’t think I am the only one of us like this, and I think this is why people fall in love during breaks from the routine.
Our breaks are ultimately breaks from our priorities, from the identities we have assumed out of force of habit. On trips to nearby and faraway places, some of my best friends have disclosed more about themselves to me than they ever had before, and it seems to just be because we were somewhere else. With routines and patterns being different, somehow these friends I thought I knew so well had their thoughts shaken and their guard down. These were not “falling in love” moments, but we were both changed by the experience. I can imagine how this same phenomenon, of vulnerability and personal discovery, that comes with taking a break, can catalyze the “falling in love” process.
There is a reason for having guarded hearts. Human passion and compassion can get stretched thin or even hurt. So it may be that some of us have separated the possibility of falling in love from our routines, because the neat thing about routines are that they make us productive and give us a sense of daily stability, and falling in love tends to disrupt that.
But, unless we succumb to the cult of the regular and mundane, we need to admit that along the way that we must make room to be compelled by something outside of ourselves and our own sense of reason. We slice and dice everything down to “I just feel this way because of this cause” but eventually this turns into a lame cynicism that refuses to take the risk of enchantment. But if press pause on our everyday habit-filled selves, the space is created for us to be compelled by something outside ourselves.
Can we choose to make breaks from commitment a regular commitment? Not just as something we need to reenergize, a nap-time for the sake of returning to the daily grind. But to create space for unexpected things, places and people to enter into our lives and perhaps so grab a hold of us. Before we think we are ready, before our imaginations have caught up to the possibility.
Perhaps, then, we learn that the simple accession of falling in love is not quite as foolish as we feared.