"What my marriage taught me is that real love is only what you give. That's all. Love is not "out there," waiting for you. It is in you. In your own heart, in what you are willing to give of it. We are all capable of love, but few of us have the courage to do it properly. You can take a person's love and waste it. But you are the fool. When you give love, it grows and flowers inside you like a carefully pruned rose. Love is joy. Those who love, no matter what indignities, what burdens they carry, are always full of joy." - from Recipes for a Perfect Marriage, p. 281When people find my work it's often because they're on the threshold of leaving a great relationship. They're about to get engaged or married and are consumed with the question of, "Do I love him/her enough?" They've exhausted the Internet searching for an answer to their anxiety-provoking question and when they dare broach the topic with friends or family they're usually met with, "Doubt means don't." Since they intuitively know that this is faulty advice, they keep searching until they find their way, sleep-deprived, malnourished, and barely functioning, to my virtual doorstep.
Love is as love does. Love is an act of will -- namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love. By stating that it is when a couple falls out of love that they may begin to really love I am also implying that real love does not have its roots in a feeling of love. To the contrary, 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.And as my favorite fiction writer on real love, Kate Kerrigan (author of a must-read for every engaged and newlywed couple, "Recipes for a Perfect Marriage"), writes in her fabulous essay, Marriage Myths:
You don't have to encourage it, or welcome it, but you better learn to suck it up from time to time. We have mythologized love to such an extent that people are no longer prepared for the realities of long-term relationships. We are taught that it is good not to compromise, not to put up with anything we don't like, not to sacrifice our own beliefs for anyone or anything. Yet compromise and sacrifice are the cornerstones of marital love. No matter what way you dress it up, the best thing you can bring to a marriage is not the feeling of 'being in love', but romance's poor relation: tolerance. Add to that enough maturity to be able to fulfil your own needs and you have some hope. Optimism and chemistry, which seem to be the bedrock of the modern marriage, just don't cut it, folks. And while I am pontificating, one more tip for the ladies: Try to find a man who has that most underrated of qualities: character. I did and so far my Oscar hasn't bothered him. Although I am still waiting for my cooked breakfast...Sound pessimistic? It's reality, not a welcome word in a culture addicted to fantasy. But here's the good news: when the initial infatuation feeling fades and you do the real work of learning how to love and be loved, something infinitely richer and sustaining than flimsy infatuation flowers in the garden of your marriage. Over time, these plants grow roots that are sturdy and strong. They are nourished by soil that is well-worked as you've sat beside each other and yanked out the weeds of intolerance, impatience, frustration, and fear. It's work that can and must be cultivated over a lifetime, and yet we expect to enter marriage with a perfect, rose-filled garden. Again, this is the fantasy that our culture propagates and throws many young people into despair when their fledging relationship fails to measure up to these unrealistic and damaging expectations.