Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Some Thoughts on True Love

I had another thought about wanting to change people this morning. The awful truth, as I see it, is that even when this succeeds (and you manage to change your partner to be closer to some ideal you value and s/he doesn't), the result is bad. You become more set in your ways, more attached to unrealistic fantasies (not just those that relate to your spouse). You become more fragile, more liable to be upset when life upsets your fairytale applecart. Victory in this context is actually worse than defeat.

Looking at my own close relationships, I see great value in commitment.  There is particularly great potential for person growth in a long-term romantic relationship ("marriage"): if you approach marriage honestly, with humility and openness (starting well before the ceremony) and commitment (especially afterward), it can teach you so much about yourself (individually) and human nature (generally).  You learn to adjust your expectations to match reality.  You become more open to other people (not just your spouse: being intimate with another person makes it easier to relate to non-intimates, I think, in that it teaches you to read and anticipate human nature in new ways).  You "grow up" in ways that you could never anticipate or mimic (as far as I can see) in a life-path without that kind of intimacy. Such has been my experience.

But I also see (in the lives of some unfortunate people around me) the opposite as well. Some people retreat into marriage instead of advancing into it boldly. They "settle" for one another passively rather than choosing each other for better or worse. And their marriage makes them weaker, less open (to each other and the outside world), less capable (of anticipating and providing for their own needs, let alone anyone else's). They become nags and cheats--small, mean souls fighting constantly over little stuff that real people would scorn as beneath their notice. They look back fondly on the puppy love of their youth as though it were some great thing, some immense purity that they lost. They try over and over to recapture it instead of moving on to the higher ground, the love beyond romance which many of them don't even know exists. 

The naive simply don't see that intimacy is more than lust or romance. The rush of hormones behind puppy love is great, of course, but to get the really good stuff from life's loving-cup you have to drain it to the dregs--all the way to the last, bitterest drop. That is when you see that true love is as bitter as it is sweet, and you realize that there is no sweetness you would trade for such exquisite bitterness. A really good lover isn't just someone you were once infatuated with. A really good lover is someone you would follow into heaven or hell without counting the difference--and you prove this to yourself when she opens that door, either one of them, and you march blithely in.  No second thoughts.  No regrets.  Total commitment.

I know too many people willing to make their spouses suffer, and not enough willing to suffer joyfully with their spouses (though this latter category contains a lot more people than the most cynical among us might expect: for some reason, the real lovers never get much publicity; if you rely on Hollywood and Disney for your romantic education, you might not even know that they exist).

Many young people think that love is about getting what you want and giving whatever comes naturally. Marriage done right teaches us to educate our desires (so that we don't want impossible things) and give gifts so wonderful we never even conceived that they could exist. Marriage done right shows us that we all want to give more than to receive (anyone can take stuff, but it takes a real person to give something worth having), and that our capacity for giving is much greater than we ever dreamed (much too great for the kind of meanness that comes out as spite or jealousy or any covetous lust for control: we want to give each other little moments in heaven, freely and with no obligation, not squabble over whose turn it is to do the laundry or what kind of paper towels to buy with whose money). But it requires absolute integrity (from both participants) in order to work. Like any really great thing, it is not accomplished on an adolescent whim (not even when a prophet of God invokes the sealing power: that power is just a feeble rhetorical sign-post that means nothing without our blood, sweat, and tears).

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