healthy living, Humility is important, wife stuff

Mortality is an admonition and invitation to love harder.

Over in my Reading Room is an introduction to a series of posts on an insightful book discussing modern romance. It is written by a comedian, but it’s proving to be an good book. Early on was a quote from an author and relationship counselor I’d never heard of, Ester Peler. A short bit of reconnaissance led to an excerpt from her book on the subject of a supposed dichotomy between passion and security which she claims is inherent in marriage.

You can find the excerpt from her book here.

Peler’s overall assertion is that the very nature of marriage is designed to short-circuit passion and connection. Most people, she notes, are just not able to stay engaged in a satisfying way over several years of marriage. She describes what happened when she dared reveal publicly, at a party, what she was writing a book about:

As often happens in a public discussion, the most complex issues tend to polarize in a flash, and nuance is replaced with caricature. Hence the division between the romantics and the realists.

The romantics refuse a life without passion; they swear that they’ll never give up on true love. They are the perennial seekers, looking for the person with whom desire will never fizzle. Every time desire does wane, they conclude that love is gone. If eros is in decline, love must be on its deathbed. They mourn the loss of excitement and fear settling down.

At the opposite extreme are the realists. They say that enduring love is more important than hot sex, and that passion makes people do stupid things. It’s dangerous, it creates havoc, and it’s a weak foundation for marriage. In the immortal words of Marge Simpson, “Passion is for teenagers and foreigners.” For the realists, maturity prevails. The initial excitement grows into something else—deep love, mutual respect, shared history, and companionship. Diminishing desire is inescapable. You are expected to tough it out and grow up.

I couldn’t identify with the extremes her two camps fell into. Why you can’t have both? You may not have both 100% of the time, but certainly you could a lot of the time. Finally there was something later in the excerpt to which I could relate:
For a lucky few, this is barely a challenge. These couples can easily integrate cleaning the garage with rubbing each other’s back.
For them, there is no dissonance between commitment and excitement, responsibility and playfulness. They can buy a home and be naughty in it, too.
They can be parents and still be lovers. In short, they’re able to seamlessly meld the ordinary and the uncanny.

While contemplating how we got to be this way (since I don’t believe it’s because I’m a perfect wife nor my husband necessarily an alpha stud), I was suddenly reminded of what Paul wrote to the Romans (chapter 15) about the things recorded from before being written for our learning.

Depending on your perspective this might seem morbid, but we have been -ever since we’ve known each other-  intimately connected to the fact of our mortality. It is said that the young don’t believe they can die, but that was not true of us. My mother died when she was 31 (I never knew her). My mother-in-law passed away at 44 (I barely knew her). My husband had a strong sense as a young man that because of where he was culturally and geographically, he was as likely to be cut down young as old.

Our kids have experienced a lot of loss as well.. This may be a part of life when you hail from very large families on both sides, but when you’re paying attention, it can inform your sense of what’s important.

It is not at all uncommon for a knock down drag out fight to be concluded swiftly with one sibling making up with another before parting ways because they don’t want to part on that note. The Dictator and I are far from perfect, but we can really piss each other off, say our peace, go right to bed, and wrap tight around each other. The next morning it’s as if nothing ever happened.

I used to think this is what most couples do: Keep short accounts, expect that your spouse will be irritating sometimes, or that mundane routine might kick in, but knowing that you’d miss all of that if it were suddenly not there anymore. This is the kind of thing that keeps you turning toward your mate with a love, energy, and gratitude that can’t help but keep a spark there.

Peler did offer an example of one couple whose marriage floated on their understanding that life is fleeting, but their understanding did not produce much in the way of good fruit, which brings me to the point of this ramble.

Embracing rather than ignoring the reality of our mortality can make all our relationships better, starting with our marriages but certainly not ending there. The fatal mistake is believing the lie that we should do whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it because “we only live once.”

Understanding that this life is not all there is provides the missing link needed to distinguish between choosing to love your mate with abandon versus choosing to shower all that “love” on yourself.

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21 thoughts on “Mortality is an admonition and invitation to love harder.”

  1. This comment is actually from Hearthie. She left it at the other blog and I copied and pasted it here for her. That’s why it has her name but my pic.

    I’ve been on both sides of that fence, more the good side – and it’s choice.

    And good example, IMO. Like you, I am baffled by people who live their marital lives without that joy. I thought they were a myth or a sad exception for the longest time. And I … well, call me names if you will, but I’m not going to try to understand it. It’s a horrible grey place, and i’m not going there. You can’t make me.

    However, I’m game to try to explain the joy of living with someone you love and fostering that love if anyone would like. 🙂 But y’all here already know. 😀

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  2. I don’t think you can make a case for a “realistic” marriage with the Bible. Aren’t women given to men for joy and solace? A good wife above rubies? I know it doesn’t work out that way all the time, but that’s the design.

    IME, it has been less about the knowledge of mortality and more about the expectations given from your own family of origin. Both DH and I came from families where the mom and dad *loved* one another. The knowledge of mortality, if anything, might have kept DH from proposing.

    I stand by my statement (on your other blog) that a life painted in grey is no life at all.

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  3. What I love about you (and I know you’re not the only one) is that you chose this. We chose it too, of course. We certainly could have chosen the YOLO route and ran roughshod over each other.

    I just don’t really know if we would have had such a joyful, passionate marriage for so long without the experiences from our youth which informed the way we view how important it is to offer the ones you love more than lip service love.

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  4. We had mixed examples of marriage from our parents. My dad and stepmother loved each other a lot, but it was a much more subdued love.

    Our is overt, brash. We -well really HE- is gonna have a good time, and I can join him or watch. It’s just easier and more fun to join him in it.

    My in laws were a roller coaster, When it was good, it was really good and it was bad it was really bad but they stayed together until death parted them.

    Were it not for the new life he’d created, mortality might surely kept SAM from proposing to me too.

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  5. DH’s parents were more enthusiastic and mine are more steady. That has a lot to do with the character of the husbands in each case. The amount of demonstrative intensity in my marriage has more to do with DH than it does me, although I’m definitely a touchy wife. (Er. A wife who touches. Eh. That sounds bad too. I’m a limpet. We’ll go with that, k?)

    My problems in marriage have been more towards idolatry than anything else.

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  6. My problems in marriage have been more towards idolatry than anything else.

    Me too. The pedestal around here is more likely to be held up the wife, not the husband. He does an excellent job of expecting and receiving the respect while offering reciprocal love and admonition to keep our eyes on the prize of the mark of the high calling, which he is NOT.

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  7. I should add one more thought here, lest I am misunderstood.

    I *get* (as Hearth has demonstrated) that one can choose good, and life in color without having had to endure a lot of pain to get there. It happens, and thank God that it does.

    I stand by my statement (on your other blog) that a life painted in grey is no life at all.

    You sound like my husband, although he wouldn’t say it quite so girly. He’d just say “life is too short not to…”

    I don’t know that he would have lived any way other than in color, but his core principles have certainly been informed by his experiences. But gray really is the default for many people. Including me, so thank heavens he added some color to my life.

    My ability to embrace that rather than resist if is absolutely shaped by these experiences. The way SAM lives, it (what’s the word I want here?)…frees me to relax and let go with him. He taught me that you can live and love passionately and still pay the mortgage, save money, educate the kids, love the Lord, keep your vows and keep the grass cut.

    It’s not either or the way Esther Peler (and apparently most of the people she interviewed for her book) seem to think.

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  8. Yes, and they live in what I consider a nightmare. You stop learning when you leave college (or HS, whichever). You watch hours of TV every night. You don’t have sex very often. You think that the skills that other people have are “too hard’ for you to acquire. You don’t have real friends, but you have lots of acquaintances. You don’t go out of your way for anyone. You don’t go outside very often. You eat processed food. You talk only on the surface, never deep things. You stop dreaming.

    That, insofar as I am concerned, is a life of horror. Twilight zone. It’s insulating yourself away from anything that matters. What did CS Lewis say?

    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

    I will not NOT not live without love.

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  9. I don’t know if it’s luck that I found my husband but we’re exactly this way. Rubbing backs while taking out trash…that’s a simple and astute way to put it. We take care of practical matters to leave time for fun.

    I do have many, many moments, though, where I have to choose to put on a smile and listen for the sake of being polite, when I’d really rather go off and be alone, in silence. Yesterday was like that. It was along, busy, hot day. I’d offered to help a friend by watching her daughter, who is one of my girls schoolmates. We ended up going out strawberry picking, and playing, etc. It was pleasant but loud and exhausting. When Husband got home from work, he wanted to talk about nothing in particular and my brain was shot…but I love him and I am fearful of life without him and I want his years here to be full of love. So I made us coffee and we sat with each other.

    It was nice. My initial apprehension had everything to do with me, not him, and I’m glad I didn’t struggle against it. This is but one example of stuff I have to do daily. With him, the kids, people in general. I like my solitude and have to fight myself to not take off on a long walk 5-7 times a day.

    Growing up, I had a good model. Ups and downs, surely, but my parents are still together and they get a lot of pleasure from the grandkids and all that. We both knew we wanted that out of life, and we work on making it happen. Various hardships in our childhoods taught us it’s not magic. Romeo and Juliet were dumb. But we were both in long relationships with other people before we met, and neither of our previous paramours understood that it isn’t magic. It’s choice, work, compromise as often as its joy, passion, and unbridled affection. His GF, my BF, they expected us to be the compromisers, and the magic makers. When things went south, his old GF blamed him for everything! Every little thing, even her drinking problem, which was set even before they met but it took him awhile to notice…sorry. Back to it.

    Joy is a choice we don’t know we can make. I’m only recently figuring this out! Relationships of any sort don’t always work with everyone you meet, but when you’ve got great raw materials, it’s up to you to keep refining the sculpture.

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  10. Growing up, I had a good model.

    My parents were good role models also. They got along well, and being the generations they were from, they were certainly people who more of the mind that life is more about responsibility and duty. Fun was for kids. That’s not to say that they didn’t enjoy life. Although my dad was surely the driver for their lighter moments.

    My dad -much like my husband in fact- was a people person. One of his expressed mottos was “people first”. People loved him, he liked to laugh, but he was just from an era where *fun* was a luxury he didn’t waste time with. He and my stepmom got along great but it was definitely more “grown up” expression of marriage than the expression between my husband and I, which can oftentimes -though not ALWAYS- be reminiscent of what most people identify with a less “grown up” expression of love.

    Ooh, ooh, ooh. This reminds me of something and I’m gonna go all off topic, but still. It sort of relates to this a bit.

    Over the weekend as we were doing a lot of house stuff, my husband suddenly got in the mood for 80’s R&B as the background music. Once we filtered out the risque stuff (oh my word the stuff we listened to without even blinking!) most of it was so sappy, upbeat, lacking depth. So I said the 80’s produced some “crappy music”, and my husband suggested I re-analyze the way I thought about it. The music of the 60’s and 70’s was full of angst and emotion because the times were trying. Civil rights, Vietnam, Watergate, economic turmoil and gas shortages, etc.

    The 80’s were marked by hope and optimism. Reagan and his rhetoric, economic boom, no real wars (the Cold War but you know what I mean)… So the music expressed that, which is why songs like Eddie Murphy’s “My girl wants to party all the time” managed to be a hit, LOL.

    To bring it back round to the subject we’re discussing (the expressions of love and joy in marriage), I think those of us who have been so blessed to be having fun alongside the responsibility and back rubs after cleaning the garage (we threw away 400 pounds of stuff from our garage and attic this weekend, by the way which is party worthy all its own). We came of age during a brief blip of time when the opportunity for anxiety and fretfulness was at a low level.

    There is something else interesting to note here as well. In all three of our cases, it has been said that the fun, heightened affection factor is husband driven. The question for the “average” wife, who from what I have heard, read and learned, is why is it so hard for so many to get on board with, embrace that and so recapture the joy of marriage? The way the three of us have (I know how that sounds to snarkers but it’s still true).

    I know the standard lines (housework, kids, bills, etc) but our men have pressures too that they rise above. Just a long rambly response my spaghetti brain came up with in response to your comment.

    Speaking of housework, laundry calls.

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  11. I forget where I heard it, probably some otherwise uninspiring pastor doing some marriage seminar, but it stuck with me… “One day, one of you is going to be looking at the other in a coffin.” Whoa… Wakey wakey!

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  12. “One day, one of you is going to be looking at the other in a coffin.”

    That is a true saying, and worthy of remembering.

    I hesitated to even *go* here because so many American Christians are so heavily invested in the Smilin’ Joel Osteen brand of theology where everything is “happy happy joy joy”. The kind where thoughts of anything real are just “so sad” and “how horrible it is that you have to think of life without your mate to help you love them which should just come naturally. That is so sad!”

    No, it’s not. It’s real. If you’re cognizant of that reality, how likely are you to miss out on the chance to make love to them because you’re too tired? How likely are they to disregard your desires, feelings and needs (we don’t always like what need for those who misinterpret by default)?

    I can answer that because I’m living it: not very likely. The juxtaposition of being real about death inspiring a joyfully lived life and marriage is actually kind of cool when you think about it. The truth is most believers go on and on about heaven while at the same time being afraid to think about death. It’s absurd, isn’t it?

    “otherwise uninspiring pastor”

    I LOL’d. (Well, I smiled to myself a little bit but you know what I mean)

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  13. I’ve always found our culture’s unwillingness to really look death in the face a bit strange. I’ll refrain from going into the details of the death industry, but I don’t like it much. Find the poem by William Carlos Williams, Tract, for some thoughts on that.

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  14. And lol at “saaaaaad”. Stoics advocate meditating on your own death. It’s not necessarily morbid!

    I don’t know if meditating on it is necessarily morbid, but seizing on its reality and predictability to inform the way we live and love others is actually the antithesis or morbid.

    I checked out that poem. I like it! Of course, I don’t know if his suggested alterations to the way we ceremonially send off our loved ones would fly for most people, including me. But I do get what he means.

    Morbid fact: Our oldest has said in no uncertain terms that she wishes to be buried in a simple pine box.It can be polished. None of that steel and aluminum cushioned stuff that we spend thousands on to make our loved ones “comfortable”. I told her she needs to write these things down for her own future husband and kids since we hope not to be around for that day.

    I know my father would have felt the same way had he thought to tell us ahead of time. That kid is the walking embodiment of the views of her dad and mine.

    Yes, we talk about all kinds of stuff in this house.

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  15. I knew I liked that girl. Funeral arrangements after my own heart.

    Would you like some reality, in that vein? Here you go. BOTH of DH’s parents died in their mid-50s. MIL was a widowed a couple of years younger than I am now.

    No, that doesn’t make me love on him more, but it does impart a wistful melancholy to my thoughts…

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  16. I suspect my choice of words (love harder) has been misunderstood, although I think I stand by them.

    I don’t know if it’s possible that I would have loved my husband any less (or that he could possibly love me any less) if we hadn’t experienced the losses we have.

    My point is that our frame of reference gives us a certain visceral understanding of how foolish it would be to think, “There’s always time later” to say the things or do the things that we could do today.

    It’s not as if even I couldn’t fall prey to it. My father knew I loved him and of that I had no doubt. All his kids gave him high honor and respected him.

    But I was oh-so-certain he would live at least until 90, and so put off a few things that I should not have.

    For instance the 85 birthday party I was planning for last December since I failed to pull off a party when he turned 80. Never got to throw it.

    It’s just an example to make a point. I’m okay.

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  17. No no, I get you. I get you. I thought I had time to get to know MIL properly and then she fell over dead. And I’ve felt that, “best get things said” impetus with other folks. Just not DH. Usually with DH I can’t stop talking anyway. 😀

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