In the late 1950’s, a man was stirred by the soul of a woman in his ward. He couldn’t get this woman off his mind. He discussed the matter with his Bishop. He had only spoken to her once. The story winds and meanders for a couple of months, and ends with the boy and the girl sitting in the Bishop’s office. The boy still hadn’t had a proper conversation with the girl.
The Bishop told them to get married.
Three weeks later, they were husband and wife.
Still happily married.
It’s the early 1960’s, a girl is beginning her freshman year at University. Visiting home one weekend, her father has a young man at dinner with the family. “He’s in medical school. He’s Catholic. He’s Italian. It’s settled.” The arrangement is not well veiled in this list of his attributes.
One month later, they wed.
Still happily married.
There is a heavy value in today’s society placed on romance. We sing about it, write about it, make movies about it. We herald it as a cause worthy of death. We spend billions of dollars watching movies that involve woo-ing. The romance novel industry is another billion dollar enterprise. It would seem we all want to know and believe that romance is alive and well, that a kind of love still exists that makes your tie flap, your knees weak, and your head woozy.
I remember well the “drunken state” I found myself in when I first met my husband. I almost lost my job, I became unable to coherently string together words in his presence. I buttoned my shirts up wrong.
But it, of course, didn’t last. And I might say emphatically how glad I am that it didn’t. Now, instead of my blood pressure rising in happiness at seeing my husband, my blood pressure drops. My heart has stopped skipping beats, but instead slows down in peace and calm when he is around.
I listened to a teacher recently refer to marriage as a mission. Our mission being to see that the other partner become a Queen or King in Heaven.
That doesn’t sound very romantic. It actually sounds like a lot of work. It’s a work I am privileged and happy to undertake. But it’s a work, nonetheless.
And watching the two marriages from the stories above, I’ve seen that it doesn’t actually take romance to make it work. It takes commitment. It takes dedication. It takes duty. Those aren’t very sexy words, but they’ve filled me with more satisfaction and happiness than romance ever ever could.
I think I was sold a lie about romance.
The message I remember from popular culture was clear – romance was the goal. I was always looking for ‘True Love’, but my conception of what True Love was… it involved a lot of flower bouquets and long periods of staring into someone’s eyes. It involved smoldering kisses and romantic getaways.
Romance is certainly nice – but the last twenty years have taught me that hard work is nicer. Working together with my spouse to take care of each other, to push each other, to wade through hard times together, it means more to me than every single rose petal and longing glance.
And now, I see friends passing up worthy and upright relationships because he doesn’t make them weak in the knees. I don’t know how to feel about this. No Bishop in his right head would ever – in this decade – tell two people to get married. And yet I see wonderful people waiting for the magical feeling that movies portray, waiting for the fairy dust to descend over them. Waiting and waiting and waiting, and never finding true happiness. I also see marriages ending because the flutters of early love waned. Spouses chasing that ever elusive feeling of ‘new romance’, and leaving their families in shambles in the wake of their quest.
I know I waited for it and expected it. Which really gives me no license to talk about it, I know. I know in many ways I got lucky. Women ten times more amazing and competent than me are still waiting. But it makes me sad.
I’m certainly not advocating arranged marriage. But I think if we understood that marriage is a mission, a work, a labor of happiness, maybe we could enter marriage with smarter eyes. And maybe we’d stick it out a little longer.
Because for me, laboring for happiness makes it sweeter and more enduring than any bestowal of happiness ever could have. And there’s probably no marriage on earth that doesn’t have to work for it. Sending the message that ‘True Love’ somehow makes it easy is a dangerous road to walk. We all see the fallout of that message around us.
So, help me out. I know romance isn’t wrong. But how do I teach my own children to value ‘working’ relationships. To see that enduring love is a labor of love, not a constant candle-lit dinner? And can we influence the adult world around us? Is it appropriate to somehow show that romance is hollow? I just can’t stand to watch any more friends’ marriages fail. I can’t stand the thought of watching one more man leave his wife in search of Molly Ringwald.