I’ve had these thoughts in my head for a long time without sharing them with anyone beyond touting the catchphrase found in this title. With Valentine’s Day coming this Saturday (as little as I’m concerned with the holiday itself) it seems like an appropriate time to share my thoughts with the world.
Modern society seems to think of love as a noun. Some sort of external thing which we can fall into or out of as the fates decide. As a result, modern couples rarely stick together. The divorce rate, slightly better in recent years than it was ten years ago is still unbelievably high and I suspect that the only reason it’s been dropping lately is because so few of my generation have bothered to get married. Some may argue that the higher divorce rate now is due to the fact that in the past, people in unhappy relationships were trapped by archaic societal rules which identified any person who ended their marriage as inherently bad. While this argument may hold some merit, if you look at those couples of the past, trapped by their anachronistic marriages, I think you’ll find that they were generally happier than the modern divorcee. The question is: what made them happier and their marriages more successful?
I believe it’s a function of having a different attitude toward love. I (and I suspect the generation of my great grandparents as well) think of love as an action. Something you have to choose to do, and continue doing day in and day out. Historians, looking into the personal effects of prominent men and women of a few generations ago, can tell you it’s common to find love letters written twenty or even fifty years into arranged marriages that show the same enthusiasm and far more dedication than you’ll find six months into a new marriage where the couple chose one another. While I’m certainly not inclined to argue in favor of arranged marriages, I will argue in favor of what I think made those marriages work so well despite the people involved having no concern for one another in the beginning. That thing which did so much for marriages of the past was, in my estimation, the action of love.
Bear in mind, love doesn’t require grand gestures. Flowers and jewelry, while certainly nice, do a poor job of defining a relationship. What it really takes is a conscious decision and desire to make your partner happy, combined with their reciprocation. If both parties contribute to the intention of a happy relationship and home, that is what they’ll have. After all, if you genuinely live to make another happy, and you’re successful in that, you can’t be unhappy.
As I learned from a recent series on the Art of Manliness, Winston Churchill, who may very well have been the most powerful man of his time (certainly in the top five), famously never strayed from his marital bonds despite all the opportunities such position and fame afforded him. While his was not the arranged marriage common to a generation before him and he certainly experienced enough of life to know what he wanted out of it before marrying at age thirty four, to think that such a man, with so many opportunities and an infamous reputation as a drinker could have maintained a happy marriage until his death at ninety shows that the average man or woman should have no trouble maintaining that level of dedication which held the Churchill’s together without fail for fifty six years despite the hardships of the office, during the worst war Europe has faced.
The Churchill’s are just one family to look at for this dedication which kept love alive. If you look back at others, even the letters and diaries of generations past in your own family if you have access to them, you’ll find something similar. A youthful love, conscientiously maintained over decades, which kept a family happy despite the hardships they faced.
The formula I gave above, desire and decision to make the other happy, isn’t magic. It also isn’t something that only people who are now all dead or dying were capable of. You can do it, too. All it takes is changing your attitude toward love. Don’t look toward Romeo and Juliet (a teenage double suicide being a poor model for romance for other, more obvious reasons) for you example. Look at the elderly couples who, after years upon years of boring existence, are still staying by one another, overwhelmed with happiness every time they meet for those who aren’t able to physically stay together in the home. This should be your goal. Real life isn’t exciting. It’s filled with boring people having boring relationships. The good ones, the epic romances, only differ from the rest in that the people involved have made this choice.
If you have a special someone in your life, sit down today and write that person a letter (the value of a handwritten letter being another thing I’ve recently learned from AoM) telling them what you love about them and how you plan to keep them happy in the coming years. If you don’t think that someone special deserves such a letter, figure out why. You may find that it has more to do with you than them.
I have loved four women in my life. Had any one of them made the decision to love me as I had with them rather than simply abiding the whims of their temporary emotions (the thing that people think love is now) I would probably still be in a happy relationship with that person. The only difference in success and failure in this regard is the effort made. In the interest of not playing the victim in the game of love, I’ll point out that there is at least one woman who’s loved me while I contributed far less to the relationship’s continuance. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, to the women I’ve loved and those who’ve loved me: I’m sorry, I don’t hold it against you, and remember these words in your current or next relationship.
Love is a verb.