“Come live with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove.”

That Christopher Marlow quote was printed on my wedding invitation, and I still love it, although it meant something different to me when I got married. It’s love as a noun, as something that is, which is how I perceived it all those years ago.Yet the lines are also active, the way I view love now, as something that you do.

The feeling of love can descend upon us unbidden, beyond our control, the sensation of falling in love. Yet the act of love is always a choice—bestowing a kindness, considering another’s needs or wants, sharing empathy or time or a hug. We choose whether or not to love others in the attention we do or do not give to them.

I was listening to a story this weekend of someone who felt a lot of love in his heart, yet who failed to express that feeling in a way that resonated with the people he loved. They didn’t feel it. Often, this frustrates me. I find myself judging that feeling love without showing it is not really love at all, that without the expression, love doesn’t truly exist, or if it does, it hardly matters.

But that is simplifying something quite complicated. Loving is hard, and people struggle with it for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is fear. It’s scary to express love, to risk rejection, vulnerability, judgment, loss. Lots of people don’t know how, lacking models for how to do it well.

The more relevant point is that this weekend, in this particular story, instead of feeling annoyed, I felt overwhelmingly sad. It’s such a missed opportunity to not show our love when we have the chance. It also occurred to me that when you don’t express your love, you are in it alone. Love for me is about connection, but some people can’t share their love, and that is deeply sad to me, such a loss, so lonely.

ALL I KNOW, my current novel-in-progress, explores this struggle through complicated relationships within families, among friends, and between lovers. My characters experience the joys of loving well and the costs of doing it poorly, as we all do. (Read the first few chapters here: https://betabooks.co/signup/book/k97416)

Love lives in words and actions. Telling people how we feel and showing up for them. When my mom sends me a card, I feel loved. When my kids make me a playlist or invite me to a museum or call to tell me about their day, I feel loved. When my husband cooks dinner and keeps it warm for me when I’m working late, I feel loved. When my friends take me out to lunch to celebrate my birthday, I feel loved. Love isn’t something that is declared once and then assured for all time. It needs to be tended and fed to grow and thrive.

The energy of love is in the doing, not the feeling. The bonus is it feels great too!