There is a very excellent reason why most “romance” novels and movies END with a marriage instead of beginning with one; while the process of courtship and falling in love can often feel magical, matrimony itself most often does not. Being married is not about fun dates and romantic gestures and hot sex (although they can all still be in the mix!); marriage is a partnership, complete with bills, taxes and property management. Marriage, or any kind of committed partnership, is a job.
I know, bummer. Dating versus marriage is like the difference between being a kid and being an adult; when you’re a kid, life is mostly bubbles, ice cream, and fantasy, and when you are an adult it’s more housing bubbles, middle-aged spread and fantasizing about getting enough sleep. But you get to drive (fun!) and you don’t have to justify your purchases to your parents anymore (hopefully), so there are some perks.
Truthfully, I think the whole wedding racket (my opinion) is a scam designed to trick us into believing on some level that marriage is a big dress-up party with horse-drawn carriages and champagne toasts. But traditional marriage, which has only been about “love” in its more modern incarnation, has always really been about stability; a strategic alliance to promote a culture, financial security and/or a family line. In other words, no matter how much you believe you “love” your spouse, the other pieces of that puzzle need to fit together pretty precisely in order to ensure the longevity of your union.
I know, bummer. But the historical precedence of matrimony as a union between families in order to ensure the well-being of the maximum number of people is actually not a horrible model when you think about it. Most (not all, I know) great marriages are not just about the two spouses; the benefits to the extended family strengthen and solidify that bond and provide a rich template for raising children, if that is the mutual choice.
Okay, but love is still important, right?
Well, yes, of course. And also: no. What I mean by that is that we may have been culturally conditioned to have some pretty wacky ideas about love—those movies and books that end in marriage, for example—rather than having a mature, evolved, unselfish view of it.
If you’ve ever fallen “madly in love”, you know for a fact that the “madly” part is the game-changer. Every single thing about your beloved is precious, incomparable! You would step in front of a speeding bullet, travel to the ends of the earth, climb every mountain!
If you’ve never had that experience, I am so sorry. Being in love makes you feel like you have super-powers, like you could literally fly! But eventually you are going to have to come back down to earth, and earth is full of petty annoyances and daily grinds and even heart wrenching tragedies.
And sometimes, unfortunately, even our experience of “love” is born of dysfunction instead of mental health—we may feel passionately attracted to people who make us feel like we don’t quite measure up, because that is what our parents did to us. Or we may look for someone to enable our weaknesses rather than encouraging our strengths if we lacked a nurturing upbringing. We may even mistake abuse for passion, if that is what was modeled for us.
“True love is unconditional” may sound like an unattainable ideal, but all it really means is that true love doesn’t manipulate, scheme, grasp or demand; true love allows the other to be. But if how the other is “being” is undermining you, your well-being or your sense of security, that is when you don’t have a partnership worth maintaining. If you need your partner to change who they are in order for you to feel safe and loved, you have the wrong partner.
I know, bummer.
Look, love IS grand and all that, but there has been a critical misunderstanding of the idea that love isn’t “selfish”. Love requires healthy compromise, without a doubt; but that “compromise” should never be your goals, dreams, self-worth, and well-being. Unselfish love is NOT about giving up on what you want; it is about accepting and encouraging your partner’s goals and dreams as they do yours.
There can certainly be times in a marriage or partnership when one partner temporarily puts their own plans on hold to support the other in pursuing a degree, promotion, or artistic aspiration. In fact, that may be the definition of partnership—the ability to work symbiotically for the greater good. Just make sure there are clear agreements and timetables laid out so the partner who is doing the “sacrificing” does not feel taken advantage of; resentment is the number one killer of otherwise good relationships.
Also, there must be reciprocity; one hand washes the other, so to speak. If you ask your partner to make a temporary sacrifice to support your personal goals, be prepared to respond in kind. Actually, best to have that plan in place to begin with, if possible.
Love should be unconditional: I see you, flaws and foibles and messy parts included and I love and accept how you are today, not at some future point when you are wholly pleasing to me.
Partnership should not: there need to be agreements and plans and compromises in place that benefit the whole in a way that leaves no one “behind”.
Unselfish love is not love that gives up on itself in favor of another; unselfish love is two people 100% committed to the highest and greatest good of each other, NO MATTER WHAT THAT MEANS. Even if it means your partner is not always available to you. Even if it means ultimately, you go your separate ways.
True love, at the end of the day, is all about freedom. Freedom to pursue your highest and greatest good with someone at your side cheering you on all the way. True love is the highest art form utilized by humanity.
You can have a solid partnership without love; you can have love with someone incompatible for partnership. But when you have both, THAT is magic, in spite of bills, taxes and property management. When you have both, you can be one of the lucky few who actually enjoys a “happily ever after.”
“Happily ever after” is two people who laugh at petty annoyances, work together to make the daily grind as smooth as possible and support each other completely in heartbreak and grief. “Happily ever after” is two whole, complete people who accept the other “as is”. “Happily ever after” is a job, but the benefits are absolutely awesome.
Are you going to live happily ever after?
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