I’ve been mulling over this for a few weeks now. And it seems a time has come for me to attempt to articulate my musings. It started in Virginia. The housemate of a friend offered the idea that love is not to be viewed as an obligation, but as a privilege. Something you choose to do. Something you feel compelled to do for the joy it provides. As with other privileges, love is something that can be freely given and taken away. The most recent prompting arrived in my inbox this morning, containing the following words: “…that they would not confuse care with worry nor love with obligation”.
I think these guys are onto something. It seems a bit twisted to be forced to love someone, as would be implied by being obligated to love. In my quest for some sort of insight, I started examining the etymology of the word “obligation” (nerdy – yes, I know. I shouldn’t admit it so freely.). The root of the word comes from the Latin obligare – meaning “to bind to”. Modern day definitions of the word maintain the sense of entanglement: a binding contract, promise or sense of duty; feeling a debt of gratitude; something one is bound to do out of a sense of duty or responsibility. You get the picture. Words and phrases used to define love have a warm and fuzzy feel to them: strong affection rising out of kinship; attraction and tenderness; affection based on admiration, benevolence or common interests; warm attachment, enthusiasm or devotion.
My hypothesis is that obligation may be a side effect of the privilege that is love. In effect, obligation should not precede love nor replace it. The sense of duty and responsibility that define obligation may grow to be love but should not to be seen as equivalent to it. This may simply be my romanticized view, but I would hope that love would come to include the sentiments of obligation through the recognition of the privilege and mutual joy of the love itself. Ultimate love is binding and comes with a sense of responsibility and duty toward the one with whom the love is shared.
Maybe it’s just me…but I don’t think people want to feel like an obligation first, loved second. Relationships that provide a sense of love and encouragement seem authentic only when rooted in a mutual desire, interest and compassion toward the other person. If it becomes an obligation, an item on a weekly “to do” list, overcome with a sense of duty while being bound and shackled, the affection, tenderness and enthusiasm of love is lost. We want to be known by others, and to know them as well; to serve as a witness to their life, and to have them be a witness to our own life.