Ralph B. Schroeder believes nearly everything of value in life is cumulative in nature, and love is no exception.
You have to breathe. You have to eat. You need your sleep. You need shelter. More importantly, (or at least it would seem at times) you need relations with your fellow humans. And this is not just true of our species; the whole earth is covered with living things whose primary goal is sharing their genes with their neighbor. Trees do it, bees do it, the ugliest creatures at the bottom of the seas do it. If you follow Darwin, it is how we got to where we are now. If youʼre a creationist, it was the plan in those first seven days.
Humans, of course, donʼt just “do it.” Because we have been given the gift—or burden—of the awareness of time and our place in it, we have taken all of lifeʼs elemental needs and examined, discussed, dissected, debated over, destroyed and rebuilt them over and over again. Religions have formed around them, poetry was born from them, great art sought to document them, catastrophic wars have begun over them… especially over the sexual needs. It would seem that humans have a little too much time on our hands, and we use some of it to overcomplicate everything.
As members of Team Human, we go through years of adapting to society. We watch and learn, for better or worse, by observing those around us, and in this process pick up often good, and sometimes bad, methods to carry on. This is especially true when it comes to love, which is the driving force. We are so completely immersed in the process of finding love that it is nearly impossible to examine it objectively, thereby making humans crazy (and psychologists wealthy).
To this confusion about building real love, not just romance, I would like to humbly offer my two cents worth of opinion on keeping love alive, earned by a lifetime of experimentation, failure and rebuilding:
First, the obvious:
Love as desire: the basic chemical, hormonal drive to connect with a mate. It involves all kinds of lower brain reactions that take over all other functions of the logical brain above it. This is a wonderful time when normally reasonable and logical behaviors are completely overthrown and replaced by pure joy and exaltation. It is a natural high, at its best, and so, of course, it can lead to deep feelings of self-doubt, depression, jealousy and rejection at its worst.
The problem arises in what follows. It is not illogical for us to want to maintain the initial level of joy, excitement and exaltation of desire. But reality rears its ugly head when differences begin to appear and the object of our desire becomes human in our eyes, as do we in theirs. What may have been charming alternatives in behavior might easily become irritants in another light.
If we believe in the myth of “True Love”, this moment of disillusionment can easily lead us to believe that what we had was not the real thing, and that we need to continue our search for that ideal. We hope that after we finally find it, everything will be smooth sailing. While I believe some of this search is good and a part of gaining maturity, it can lead to a life of dissatisfaction, which leads to my next point.
Second, the less-than obvious:
This is a rule that I wish I had understood more thoroughly earlier in my life: nearly everything of value in life is cumulative in nature. Musical talent is important, but it is the twenty thousand hours of practice that leads to virtuosity and “genius” performances. Truly great paintings are a combination of artistic insight and an arduously trained hand and eye.
We are enamored with natural genius like Mozartʼs, and it is not such an uncommon daydream that somewhere there might be something hidden in ourselves. It does us a great disservice, however, if we believe that the only way to achieve great goals is by lightening bolts of natural talent and not years of dedicated commitment.
What if this is also true when it comes to love? Can it be “true love” if we have to work at it? The wonderful secret is that there can be satisfaction, pleasure, even joy in this dedication and concentration, this hard work.
Letʼs say our love relationship is the house we are building. Letʼs say that initial passion is the foundation, and we know itʼs strong. We start to frame it in, putting walls and floors and windows where we think they should be. We base it on our theories, our experience and the constant conferences we have with our partner in this project: the person we love.
Our house might be cool if we were on our own, but the combination of our two energies makes it even better. And yet, due to the nature of combining energies, there will be disagreement. Fights. Anger. Total frustration, even. The test is when we walk away, catch our breath, think about how the foundation got laid, and why we started this project in the first place. Maybe we think about other things we did all our own way and how stanky they turned out to be.
We think about how much more interesting it is with those crazy touches our partner has added. We think about how our combined energy has carried us over the times when, on our own, we’ve given up in the past. So we disagree, but work it out is a dialectic, a combination of two that is stronger than either on its own. A hybrid. Our house becomes the product of conflict resolved as well as a product great affection and passion. It is dynamic, sturdy, and it is interesting.
It is the true product of two personalities, fought out in love. It can carry the two occupants and many others in it travels. It offers the hope of new things to follow it. Because of all of this, it is worth the effort the patience, the forbearance.
A relationship that is tested, broken and repaired makes for the strongest house.
—Photo ken ratcliff/Flickr