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.
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.
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.