“From Disney movies to my favorite shows like “The Office” to practically every pop song released, love is constantly sold as an emotion we have before we’re married. An emotion that, once had, somehow magically stays within a marriage forever. I can’t imagine a bigger lie. And I’m saddened to think about how much those messages bounced around in my head for so long. And how much I’m sure those messages are bouncing around in other people’s heads as well. I think that might be a big part of the reason the divorce rate is so high in this country. Imagine a whole nation of people constantly chasing the emotions they had when they were dating. A country of people trying to live a Disney movie.” ~Pop Chassid, “I Didn’t Love My Wife When We Got Married”
The quote above comes from a post from blogger Pop Chassid that has gone viral in the last few days. The post, which you can get to from the link above, is worthy of the attention it’s received, and from what I saw of the rest of his posts, his work is consistently thoughtful and engaging. I definitely recommend reading his post before reading this one– it’s short, and it’s well worth the read– and I’d strongly suggest taking a look at his other posts as well. Some of my favorites are “When Activism Makes You Weak,” “4 Lessons Science and Religion Taught Me,” and “9 Songs to Get You Excited About Jewish Music Again.”
I think the point he makes in this article is crucial, and I’ve discussed the idea in previous posts; as he puts it, love is not an emotion, it’s a verb. It’s not a feeling you’re struck with, it’s a relationship you build over time that requires endless work and constant attention. And he’s right that the tempting notion of happily ever after isn’t actually an ending like in the movies, it’s a beginning. I agree that this misguided notion makes the tough moments that much more of a shocker to people in relationships, especially if they haven’t seen a healthy relationship modeled in those moments.
Still, part of me is concerned about overcompensation. Isn’t romance just as important as the daily grind? Yes, the definition of romance changes over time, and yes, help with the housework or willingness to pick me up at the airport in the middle of the night have definitely become bigger turn-ons than I ever thought possible– but am I childish for still wanting the occasional box of chocolates or giddy, goofy walk-in-the-park date? I don’t think so. It would be horribly unrealistic to expect every day to be a fairy tale, but love also has the power to bring a little bit of magic into daily life. If love is a verb, and it’s expressed through actions, then shouldn’t these kinds of small gestures of affection carry weight, too? Not as much as the day-to-day compromises, maybe, but I think loss of romance is a big factor in the deterioration of relationships, and not just because the expectation of romance has exploded into an unachievable fantasy.
There’s something that makes a romantic relationship different from a friendship, but the more I think about it, the harder it becomes to pin it down. There’s a component of partnership, a sense that you’re in this together, which might be stronger than a friendship, but I have friends who feel like family on whom I could depend just as reliably. And obviously, sex is a major difference between my relationship with my boyfriend and with close friends, but I’d be lying boldly if I said that’s the only difference. For me, the trickiest thing to consider, and probably the grey area where my answer lies, is in the balance between mutual dependence and independence. The relationships I’ve seen with the most success are two individual people, comfortable in their own skin, who choose to build a life with the other person as a central component. Neither one needs the other for survival, but each recognizes the importance of the other in creating the life they both want to live.
Finding someone like that and building that kind of relationship absolutely takes endless work, and to expect otherwise would be expecting a Disney life that would only end in disappointment. However, I think it’s also crucial never to lose sight of how lucky you are to have that person in your life–especially when you’re ready to wring his neck for whatever reason. In that way, washing the dishes without being asked is a romantic gesture, but it’s equally important to take him out to his favorite steakhouse or send her flowers just because. The former kinds of actions make a person feel supported, serving as a reminder that you’re not in it alone; but the latter are a reminder that you’re special, and that of all the people your partner could be building a relationship with, they still want to be with you. A strong relationship, I think, needs both kinds of love in balance.