The story I posted yesterday (about Taylor Morris & Danielle Kelly) led me to reflect on (and to write about) the nature of love—and life—as well as character, commitment, devotion, for better or worse, and what it means to really love another person.
For me, there were two big takeaways from the thinking and writing I did yesterday that essentially reinforced what I have already concluded and try to live by.
1. Life is Capricious.
This is just a brute fact of life. We’re here today, gone tomorrow. We’re each “written on the wind” (a line from a Stevie Winwood song). If you are lucky enough to find someone decent who loves you and whom you love, then it would seem wise not to take that person or your time with him or her for granted. The fundamental nature of life is that it is unpredictable, uncertain, even deadly, eventually deadly. We never know when things might change or turn bad. Health is changeable, youth and strength are fleeting; life is what happens to us when we are busy making our own plans. Life can change dramatically in a split second—a car accident, a plane crash (http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/10009405/michigan-wolverines-recruit-austin-hatch-speaks-publicly-first-second-plane-crash), a lump, a stroke or aneurysm.
These are all truisms that we nod our head in agreement with, but that we usually quickly try to put out of mind and stop thinking about (not to mention acting in accordance with) because they’re just too paralyzing and worrisome and fretful. Life’s capriciousness and unpredictability just causes us stress, makes us nervous and anxious. And we don’t like feeling that way—feeling out of control or panicked, so we opt to live in denial and not face the brute facts of our existence and deal honestly with our own and other peoples’ mortality and work through the anxiety and even panic and make the necessary changes that will allow us to live and love and act better and with greater force and clarity and less regret.
Most of what couples argue about, if seen on a long enough timeline, is small stuff—ridiculously small petty insignificant stuff. Couples argue so often over silly things. Why? Because we’re all basically egos in skin bags. We might aspire to more and have a few inklings of something more, but basically the vast majority of us wake up each day in denial, still asleep, and start going about our day as if life goes on forever and as if we have all the time in the world for our daily task and pet ego projects. And moreover most people tend to behave in ways that suggest that life is about them and their own comfort and momentary gratification and indulgence. Many of us live as children—we want, want, want, we spend, spend, spend, we’re very suggestible and distracted. We make our concerns many and our perspective small. We want comfort, indulgence, security, excitement, pampering, to be entertained, titillated, et cetera. We want escape—escape from what?—from work, effort, from anxiety, uncertainty, from having to think about loss and our own and others’ mortality. We don’t wake up and reflect on life’s fleetingness and capriciousness, how vast and unfathomable the cosmos is, how little we really know about this incredible mystery (life) that we are partaking in or that is experiencing itself through us, how odd it is to find ourselves here in this time and place and with this face and body. We don’t wake up and remind ourselves that someday—perhaps today—all of this will come to end, that we will die, that what we fear most and would like to avoid is inevitable, that someday we will get the bad news from our doctor. And that not only will it happen to us, it will happen to our partner, our parents, our friends, our children, to acquaintances, strangers, even enemies. And we don’t pause to remind ourselves of all of this at points throughout the day—especially when we’re having a difference of opinion with our partner.
2. Real Love Really Is About For Better AND For Worse.
Real love is not just about a strong feeling or an overwhelming euphoric emotion; it’s equally if not more so (ok, definitely more so) about character, commitment, conscience. The best long term relationships and marriages take place when two people deep down not only Love and are attracted to each other, *but* also really like and appreciate each other, when they enjoy each other’s company and companionship (are friends, not only lovers), *and* when have they both have the character traits—i.e., the loyalty, patience, focus, resolve, appreciation, generosity, respect, compassion, empathy, steadfastness, integrity, honor, responsibility, et cetera—necessary to care well for all of that attraction and interest and nurture it and make their relationship stable and lasting.
For love to last, it requires more than just an intense beginning. It requires that both people have good character and that they both actually care about their character and developing it in a noble and decent way and not just letting it go or ignoring it (which is what many people do—pay little to no conscious attention to their own character development, seemingly not even consider it in their decision-making—“what kind of person am I becoming by choosing to do this or not do this?”).
The intensity or “rightness” of a relationship —how right a relationship feels—in the beginning really has no bearing whatsoever on whether a relationship will last or not. The intensity and attraction and fireworks in the beginning are only one part—and arguably a non-essential part—of what it takes for a relationship to thrive and last. The more important and crucial part is the level of character development and integrity and emotional maturity of the two people. All the heat and attraction imaginable can befall two people of not very good character, and the temptations of this world and the vicissitudes of life will rip their relationship apart. In order for their relationship to survive they will have to be kept sheltered from the real world and temptation, trial, tribulation, hardship, and misfortune.
But give two people of sound character a decent dose of attraction and mutual interest and compatibility and their relationship stands an infinitely better chance of passing the test of time and of providing them each with years of happiness and satisfaction and enjoyment (as well as ample opportunities for growth and self-improvement).
This is what making a commitment to another person (and even what the marriage vows) are all about—a personal declaration / mission statement of what we’re about—i.e., we’re not just emotionally reactive creatures (Stephen Covey, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”), playthings of circumstance (Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”), falling leaves (Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha”); and we’re not just social climbers or egos in a skin bag here for our own emotional and psycho-sexual gratification and to emotionally strip-mine others and then callously and calculatingly move on when the other person no longer serves us or has outgrown their usefulness to us or has fallen on hard times. We’re better than that. When we make a commitment or declare the marriage vows, that’s what we’re saying: we’re better than mere emotional reactivity, we’re more than just our moods and feelings, we’re more than just some epiphenomenalistic/deterministic plaything of circumstance.
When we make a commitment to another person (or take the wedding vows) we’re saying this relationship is no longer just about “love,” but about love *and* character, love + character, love and attraction augmented and stabilized by *what’s best in us*; this is not just about our own gratification and happiness, but about another human being and his or her well-being, growth, happiness; we are declaring to the other person (as well as ourselves) that we will not be ruled just by the heart, by love the feeling or love the emotion, but a type of Love made much more durable and stable than the fickleness and flimsiness and fleetingness of mere emotion and feeling; we are going to become devotees and practitioners of Love the choice, Love the commitment, Love the action, Love the verb.
“I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you and cherish you all the days of my life, till death do us part. . . .”
I promise to do certain things and act a certain way and show up a certain way each day to our relationship. I promise not just to feel love for you, but act in ways that speak love to you—and speak it in your love language (not mine), I promise to behave around you and towards you in ways that demonstrate my love for you. And I will do this not just when it’s convenient or easy or when I am feeling like it or when I am sexually motivated to, but I will do so when I don’t feel like it, or when it’s inconvenient, or when it requires effort, or when life gets difficult, or when you are ill or wounded or poor. I’m not just going to use you for my own personal enjoyment and gratification while you are healthy and can give me things; I am going to actually love you for the long haul and care deeply about you as a human being and type of person we both become. And I am going to cherish you—not treat you as if life goes on forever and as if we have all the time in the world, because that’s not cherishing another, that’s taking him or her for granted; instead I am going appreciate you, act with gratitude and generosity towards you, be good to you and good for you.
When you really love someone, you don’t take them for granted, and you care not just about them and their happiness, but about their character—as well as your own.