I’m taking some time off to refill my well. Life gets too much with you sometimes and you just need to regroup.
Thirty years ago this weekend, the love of my life and I eloped. I thought I’d revisit a column I wrote seven years ago–as we were celebrating our 23rd anniversary. Seems in this age of harder-than-ever-to-get-and-keep relationships, this message is as relevant, if not more, than it was nearly a decade ago.
Ron and I are celebrating our 23rd anniversary today. We had vague plans to go out this evening for an upscale dinner. Since our special day has graciously fallen on a Saturday, we have had the luxury of moving in slow motion and without much motive to be productive. It’s been an odds and ends day. Between lingering in front of the fire after breakfast, doing a little online research, a little laundry and a little leaf blowing, we both managed to squander the morning quite nicely. By 1:00ish we had both concluded that getting dressed up, driving to a restaurant, eating and then driving back home seemed somehow excessive and completely unnecessary.
We didn’t really have to even declare this. Knowing each other so well, we just knew it and I simply went into the kitchen, put a chocolate bundt cake in the oven and decided on beef stroganoff for dinner.
This is true love, I don’t care how anyone else defines it.
Too many people marry for the wrong reason. First they erroneously equate physical attraction for love, and then they hang on to a toxic relationship in the name of loyalty to love long after the reality of the absence of love becomes obvious and marry anyway hoping the state of being married will force love to appear. Sometimes both men and women simply fear being alone and thus won’t let go of a dead-end, unfruitful alliance and marry believing that anything is better than being solitary. Some marry knowing the relationship is doomed but gamble that it might work. That is a contributing factor to the current fifty per cent divorce rate. Girls often misinterpret falling in love with love as the real deal. But in the clinches, loving the idea of love can never be the lifeboat of genuine love when the murky waters of living begin to rise and swell into engulfing waves.
I have lived long enough to know exactly what I am talking about, both from personal experience and from watching from the sidelines as dear friends and family have made unfortunate mating choices for all the wrong reasons. There’s an old adage my mother used to quote, “marry in haste, repent in leisure”. Adage or not, it gets to the point. I know of at least four young women, in my life, who have confessed to crying themselves to sleep on their wedding night. Imagine that. All but one of those four marriages did not survive.
I wish that I had asked each one why she married if she knew it wasn’t right but I didn’t so I can only guess based on what I knew of each of their experiences. Two of the four were rebound marriages. Their hearts really belonged to others but married the first one to come along who asked. One of the four married because she was approaching the forty mark and was afraid she would never get to marry and have a family. The fourth girl married because she wasn’t sure how she would survive on her own. She compromised for security. All the wrong reasons to take vows to love, honor and cherish, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. Easy words to say in the romantic scenario of a wedding day, much harder to actually abide by when health fails, and jobs disappear, annoying habits grate on fraying nerves and tempers flash. Hardship is difficult enough to navigate even with a foundation of love, much less without it.
An old friend of mine had an interesting approach. She said starry-eyed girls make the mistake of creating a list of the things they want in a husband. Even in this egalitarian, liberated woman era most girls still come into this life hardwired to want to have a husband, home and family. The list begins at a very early age. But my friend maintained that smart girls, while making the top ten want list, should really be focused on the top five things they absolutely cannot live with in a mate. This makes perfect sense but is incredibly hard to do when you are glazed over with loving all things about love. You can’t really want to think about negative things.
Everyone's list will be different. Since my friend posed the concept, over the years I have considered what would be on my list, not for myself, having no need for it for the past twenty-three years, but, instead, for some young women I know who have married for the wrong reasons. If I had to make my list now, it would be influenced by the criteria of their failed unions plus my own failures and near misses. It would be:
• No addictions - including tobacco
• Not a narcissist or ego-maniac or control freak (is that 3 things?)
• Not a liar or exaggerator
• Not on the same page with me spiritually
• Not on the same page with me spiritually
• Finds it difficult to impossible to rearrange his life to accommodate me
That last one could easily be the first in the list but to be effective the list cannot be compromised anyway so it doesn’t really matter about the order. The problem with negative list making, especially when the list maker is already in a deeply dug hole of a relationship, justifying comes way too easy. Even a true and honest list can be fogged over in an instant with excuses–-the most common one being, “I can change him” or “he will mature” or “it doesn’t matter, he has other good qualities”.
To these I say, “Shut up and run!”
And frankly, this advice is not just for girls. Guys marry for the wrong reasons too.
The easy comeback is always, “Well, you know, everyone has to make their own mistakes.” But as you get older and more bruised and battered by personal experience, you get smarter about how you learn your lessons. You’ll just have to trust me on this, observation is much less painful.
What is true about true love is that it never needs rationalization, it never needs excuses and it always feeds and nourishes instead of drains, shrinks and diminishes. True love is all about respect and desire to see the other person prosper emotionally. For years my own philosophy about the test of love is that, it’s not someone saying, “I love you” but someone being willing to love you in the way you need to feel loved.
This is always different in different people, some are high maintenance others are low to no maintenance, the revelation of really true love is the willingness to define the need and accept the degree of difficulty to meet it. Whatever it is, can you see yourself doing it for decades? If not, the key ingredient to the recipe is missing at the get go. This test works in the reverse as well. If your needs, whether high or low, are not being met, then, once again, the recipe can’t work without that one important element–true love.
So, true love doesn’t need fancy dinners out or wrapped gifts - it is the ultimate gift that keeps giving every day. There is nothing better but make no mistake there is nothing worse than to find you settled for much less than the real deal, especially on your wedding night.