life lessons

L-o-v-e, Not L-u-v

If my parents were still alive, they would celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary tomorrow.  My sister and I would send gifts, make plans to see them soon and sing a Happy Anniversary song (don’t ask).  I can almost hear my mom yelling “Jack, pick up the phone!” – no one would want to hear us repeat this ditty twice.  I’d want to know what mom got from dad, because he was the most creative and generous gift-giver I’ve ever known.  A couple of those surprises come to mind – the book made out of poster board with pictures of European cities which mom leafed through with some disbelief and disappointment until she reached the last page.  Taped to it were an itinerary, two tickets and a gold airplane charm for her bracelet.  Or the elegant box of mink pelts selected carefully so she could work with a furrier to design her own coat (No disrespect to PETA intended – this was long ago).  Mom would write a loving card; dad would give her one of those rhyming ones with a pop-up inside which definitely tickled him more than her.   In fact, he gave her the same card more than once, which just drove her crazy.  I think he did it intentionally because he thought it was funny.

My in-laws have been married for upwards of 60 years and their love prevails.  I find such tenure unfathomable, laudable, fantastic.  It’s a legacy to which I can lay no claim, for I had to commit to marriage a few times before getting it right.

Margaret Mead said that everyone should marry three times – once to leave home, once to have children and once for companionship.  She also held that any institution with a requirement that the male and female of the species co-exist under one roof, is doomed to fail.  Well Madge, we’re still here, still celebrating and/or seeking love connections.  What is it exactly that we’re hoping for?

At wedding ceremonies one will often hear the words from Corinthians.  The reading is magnificent in its hopefulness and anticipation of ideal love.  I wonder though if the passage is reflective of the true marital narrative  (full disclosure – I read these words in a secular sense.  I can’t bear the idea of blasphemy being added to my list of faults).

“Love is patient…love is kind” – Really?  Always??  What about when it isn’t?  I love my husband and I’m pretty damn sure he loves me.  Are we always kind?  No.  There have been times which can only be described as mean-spirited.  And there are times when patience is tested beyond that which seems reasonable.  The little things – ask me how I feel in the morning when the pots from last night’s dinner are left in the sink (ostensibly to ‘soak’  until I get up) or how he responds when he feels I am not focused on what he’s saying.  These are just benign examples.  Over twenty years there have been far more painful moments and memories than these, when kindness was not the primary motivation in either of our minds.  This in no way negates the moments of indescribable joy that we experience together, nor how hard we can make each other laugh.  I think we make a terrific pair – and yet, we are not always kind.

Presuming that spouses are the closest of friends and the most ardent of lovers, love is not static.  It morphs and moves, shrinks and swells and often eludes you when you want to hold onto it more than anything.  Couples can be more emotionally removed from each other than they are with anyone else.  They can flippantly subvert trust, not thinking about short or long term damage.  People don’t always fight fair and they trade on a false security that love is sturdy in all ways.  It seems to me that love assumes an awful lot, when perhaps a more considered amount should be taken for granted with your life partner.  How often do we speak to a stranger with more grace than we do our significant other?

“Love does not take into account a wrong suffered” – is that possible?  All things?  Can someone define that in a bit more detail for me?  Are there caveats to forgiveness (my mom often said, “I’ve forgiven but I will never forget!” – somehow I don’t think that’s what forgiveness really means)?  Would we be better partners if we were able to apologize meaningfully when we are wrong and not assume forgiveness?  Can we accept that the ways in which we need to be loved continually change and shift, and as such we always remain exposed.  Isn’t the healthiest love that which can bend and stretch to provide protection from and support for the vagaries of life?

“Love never fails” – Never is a long time.  I challenge anyone who has loved more than one person in his/her life to diminish those experiences.  If love never fails, then perhaps we fail love.  We do so many wondrous things in its name; we do so much harm too.  And with a nod to the therapists out there, if we don’t love ourselves, it is highly likely we will struggle when loving another.  This too presents an interesting paradox, for I have yet to meet the person who can affirmatively state that s/he has always been self-loving and true.

With all of this said, I think love does abide.  As I write this, my husband sits next to me working on his computer, lost in his thoughts.  I love that he is here – that I can reach out and touch him and he’ll look up and give me a goofy smile.  Did my parents love each other for all the years they were together?  I would like to think so, even though I am aware that time brings greater complexity and complications along with shared history.  Sometimes love is found in that history alone.  Sometimes love is best viewed as a practice, an emotional skill to develop as opposed to an end result.  If we practice  loving with the same intensity with which we wish for it, maybe we’ll get it right.