Our culture discourages real relationships. In fact, the dominant culture actively encourages us to abandon relationships and people at the first sign of things getting real. Somehow, this abandonment is supposed to propel us forward on our journey towards personal honesty and authenticity.
The level of cognitive dissonance inherent in this approach to life should be obvious to the most educated populace in human history, but somehow the folly of it eludes most of us. This is an attempt on my part, however small and seemingly insignificant, to inject some sanity of thinking into the madness that seems to have taken hold today. I am going to offer some experience, and yes my opinion, on the beauty of relationships which last long enough to get real.
Not long ago I ran across a quote from psychotherapist, relationship researcher and author Esther Perel. I didn’t know much about her before I encountered this particular quote from her book, and what I learned after reading her quote did not inspire me to get more acquainted with her. However, this particular quote was a strong one, standing well on a foundation of truth:
So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide:
Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.
Give me comfort, give me edge.
Give me novelty, give me familiarity.
Give me predictability, give me surprise.
And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.
Whatever my thoughts about her answer to these dilemmas (I passionately disagree with her), her statement of the problem is more eloquently accurate than anything else I’ve read to date.
To put it succinctly, we’re being trained to search for and demand relationships which are not real.
Surely, intuitively, we understand that no mere human can feed every desire of our soul; that no mere man can satisfy every need and longing we might ever face. Nevertheless, we buy into the idea that this is what marriage is supposed to do for us; that it is the culmination of the Great Search for the one person that will make us whole.
When reality inevitably comes knocking, or more accurately kicks in the door of our imaginary fortress of love, we’re told it means we miscalculated. We chose the wrong person. We need to correct our mistake lest we live out the rest of our lives in misery and regret.
We women are notorious for mistaking fantasy for reality. It’s not that men don’t harbor unrealistic expectations, but they generally regroup and adapt to reality more quickly. They accept an ending of passion in married life as a part of what marriage is. Women however, when the inevitable happens -even minor ebbs and flows- assume a problem in their particular marriage, that somehow another one will be better. The good news is that both of these assumptions, when embraced as if they are the conclusion of the matter, are wrong.
It is possible to hold the passion of early marriage in one hand as the other reaches out in gratitude to grasp the increasing security and familiarity that envelopes a relationship. Marriages can joyfully withstand and even thrive in the midst of the mundane stuff of life; the things that increase as responsibilities and routines of family life stress you in ways that kept your most ungracious tendencies at bay when the two of you are living on love. But first, you must shut out the cacophony of voices telling you there’s something better out there so that you can be thankful for what you have, and get real.
Love is not defined by perpetual sexual excitement, frequent declarations of love, and repeated grand romantic gestures. All of that stuff is great, and it certainly feels wonderful, but it’s not the essence of love.
Love is patient. When it wants to yell and argue, it stops ever so briefly to consider the other person’s point of view. Love is kind. It sacrifices what it wants to give to its object. It doesn’t envy. It celebrates the victories of the beloved and trusts in their commitment to the relationship. It doesn’t boast or lord over its object when the temptation to do so is presented.
Love doesn’t seek its own. Love understands that it is not on its own anymore. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Rather, it keeps very short accounts. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love that transcends our fickle and temporary feelings. This love, the genuine article, never fails.
A person we greatly respect and admire recently lost their spouse, and this was the admonition offered to those of us blessed enough wake up next to our spouses this morning:
Lover harder, laugh longer, and forgive faster than you ever have before.
This is profound and true.
I hope very soon to put a finer point on this issue of real relationships. Namely, how do we even begin to understand the proper way to feed all the facets of our minds, hearts, and being without putting an unreal burden on our spouses; expecting marriage to do and be something it could never possibly do or be?