"From Age to Age"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
Today my wife and I celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary and the occasion has given me an opportunity to do some thinking about what “love” is really all about. It seems to me that while the word love is used in everyday culture, my guess is that when people talk about love they may often mean some very different things than what I believe love really means.
Every day we hear love songs, we watch movies about love, we even see TV commercials in which love plays a prominent role in selling a product. For the most part, love is something you “fall into”- a nice, intimate, comfortable feeling that you get, and when you get it you want to keep it. Of course when you lose that loving feeling you sadly have “fallen out” of love and the love is gone.
While I sincerely believe that love is often accompanied by tenderness and intimacy, I think genuine love is far more than that loving feeling.
Many years ago in his very popular book, The Road Less Traveled, the psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck, articulated what I consider to be one of the best definitions of love that I have ever come across:
Love is not a feeling,
genuine love is a courageous activity
by which we extend ourselves for the nurture and welfare of another.
Real love often occurs in a context in which the feeling of love is lacking.
When we act lovingly despite the fact that we don’t feel loving, we are really loving.
The fairy tale story about two people falling madly in love and living happily ever after is just that, it is a fairy tale. In any relationship that lasts long enough, the “honeymoon” will inevitably come to an end. While there will be feelings of tenderness and intimacy from time to time, all relationships always encounter conflicts and as human beings we will inevitably disappoint one another. That the loving feeling isn’t something that endures into “happily ever after; but since love is more than a feeling, and because love is a “courageous activity,” we can even love the people who we don’t always like at times.
There is a popular myth that all good relationships are a 50-50 proposition. In other words if you expect a relationship to last, the people involved in the relationship must be willing to do good for the other, but each should also expect to receive just as much in return. In some ways this is a formula for disaster- a 50-50 relationship is more like a business deal than a relationship of love.
A "50-50 proposition” pushes people into their separated and even narcissistic corners where each of the parties involved is always evaluating whether or not they are “getting” as much as they have put into the relationship - are they getting good value for their investment? If not, the deal is off.
As I see it, there are many circumstances in which people “should” terminate relationships and go their separate ways, but my guess is that far too often, “the parting of the ways” is often a first resort. People give up on one another if they believe they have lost the loving feeling or if they conclude that one or the other hasn’t met their end of the “50-50” deal.
Interestingly enough, much of the research about why marriages fail and why they last has suggested that relationships remain strong and endure for the long-term not because people have adopted a “50-50 proposition” in their union, but rather because they have each made a 100% commitment to one another - both people committing themselves to the “courageous activity” of nurturing each other’s welfare 100% of the time.
I really like thinking about love as a courageous activity rather than a loving feeling. In fact when I think about it this way, love becomes much more of a real possibility when the honeymoon comes to an end.
The Dalai Lama once said:
Remember that the best relationship is one in which
your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
After 37 years of marriage, I say “Amen” to that.