THE ROMANCE FACTOR
--By Alan Loy McGinnis
IN DEFENSE OF ROMANCE!
You Can Generate Love.
William Lederer, who writes extensively on love & marriage, says, "Love is not the cause of good relationships, it is the consequence of good relationships." This is a very important point. Ordinarily, we think love must come first, & only then do we set about forming relationships. But Lederer says that it works the other way. An initial attraction may get things started, but the quality of the relationship determines the emotions generated.
A good example of the generation of love is the meeting of actor Robert Redford & Lola Van Wagenen. She was just out of high school, & he had returned from a lonely trip in Italy, where, he says, he had started drinking heavily & begun to feel like "an old man."
"Lola's attitude," he says in retrospect, "was so fresh & responsive. I had so much to say to her that I started talking, sometimes all night long. She was genuinely interested in what I had to say, at a time when I really needed to talk. There were nights when we would walk...down Hollywood Boulevard to Sunset, then up Sunset to the top of the hills, then over to the Hollywood Bowl & back to watch the dawn come up--& we'd still be talking. I had always said I'd never get married before I was 35, but my instincts told me that this was a person I'd like to go through life with."
Later Redford found himself in New York, missing Lola. He called her from a pay phone, & said, "I have $32 in quarters. Let's decide whether we're going to get married or not."
Lola knew how to fan initial interest into a flame. Instead of waiting for love to "happen," she created a relationship, & love was the natural result. They have been married since 1958.
So love is not a gift from Cupid's bow, it is something you create. And when you have learned to create it, you have mastered one of the most important skills we can ever learn.
When Love Grows Cold.
One could make a case that love is one of the great disappointments, perhaps the greatest disappointment of our lives. Most of the 3.6 million Americans who will divorce this year once loved each other & will attest that romance is quite a slippery banana.
But love does not fail. Instead, it is people who fail. And perhaps one reason we fail so frequently is that we enter the wild, dangerous world of male-female relationships unaware & unprepared, urged on by a society that encourages everyone to pair off but that offers almost no instruction in the art of bonding. Yet at no point in life does our ignorance & lack of preparations get us into so much trouble.
You can live without knowing the principles of calculus, but you cannot live without learning how to relate to the opposite sex. Your general happiness & even the success of your career will depend in great part on your ability to create a happy home.
When Love is Rekindled.
The standard line, found in most textbooks on the family & dispensed by most mothers to their daughters, is that one cannot expect the torrid sex or the soaring emotions to continue for long after marriage. According to this point of view, one should be willing to settle down to a less-than-exciting relationship when other things become more important: The children, security, friends.
Although it may be true that the passionate, breathless stage does not last long (none of us could get anything else done if it did), the joys of love can be rekindled, & there are specific things one can do to become more lovable.
HOW TO BE BEAUTIFUL WITHOUT BEING GOOD-LOOKING
This brings us to the question, "Just how important is physical appearance in the mating game?" It would be hypocritical to say, as many of our mothers have said to us, "It's only what's on the inside that counts." For the initial contact, looks are a great boon. If you are a woman with a stunning appearance, you'll get to meet a lot of men who would not say hello otherwise. Which improves your odds.
However, advantages are vastly over-rated. Because great lovers are rarely great lookers, Principle Number One for igniting love is cultivate inner beauty.
As corny & unsophisticated as it may sound, your ability to arouse passion in the opposite sex is determined by inner qualities, not outer shape.
Although certain physical traits may attract initially, in the long run the ability to keep a mate interested is a matter of soul.
Beautiful People Can Make Lousy Lovers.
In fact, one can make a case for physically perfect people being rather poor partners. The divorce rate is higher among startlingly good-looking people, partly because they have more opportunity to attract someone new when they get bored. But there's a more important reason why they fail in relationships: If you get a lot of attention because of the way you happen to be constructed, it is difficult to keep from becoming selfish.
Self-Confidence: The Ultimate Aphrodisiac.
It is a strange phenomenon, but we have all seen it: People with large noses or glaring body defects--but who feel confident & natural--quickly convince us, without saying a word, that they are beautiful.
Rasputin, the monk who lived during the reign of Nicholas II of Russia, had such power over people & was such a womaniser that people assumed he had in his pale blue eyes some hypnotic powers that women could not resist. He was fiercely ugly, but his self-confidence more than compensated for his looks.
The better you feel about yourself, the better your relationships. As Elaine Walster says in "A New Look at Love": "Our ideas about ourselves--& the World--are contagious. When we are feeling good & are convinced that we are unbeatable, we somehow manage to convince everyone else as well."
Relaxing Makes You More Popular.
If anything will make an evening with a new person go sour, it is anxiety & tenseness. A woman who primps hard before a date, & thus tightens herself up before the encounter, will be less than her genial best. A person who is relaxed & easygoing around the opposite sex will always be more attractive.
Psychologists have found that good looks, money, & personality all influence the romance market, but none of them ranks as high as the ability to be at ease.
Techniques Employed by Confident Lovers.
When a person gains confidence, this inner beauty expresses itself in certain ways that are, in fact, physical.
1. Confident lovers use their eyes to attract. Watch any pair of lovers in a restaurant. There can be an awesome exchange of energy with the use of their eyes. "You have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes," the Song of Solomon cried thousands of years ago.
2. Confident lovers turn up their energy level. Anyone who has good results with the other sex knows how this approach works. A woman explained how she attracts men: "I'm not brazen about it, but if I want to get a man interested in me, I don't try to parade in front of him, or do any of the preening rituals that some people try. I just turn up the energy level. And I focus on him. I forget how I may be coming across to him. In fact, I stop thinking about myself altogether."
3. Confident lovers touch freely. Wonderful amounts of sexuality can be communicated with a light caress or a brush against someone's hair. Many men complain that their wives are no longer sexy; but if they resensitised their fingers & began to caress the way they did while courting, they might turn their women into veritable courtesans.
4. Confident lovers seduce with talk. Skill at the witty line is not especially useful. Those who have become successful at meeting attractive strangers say that the single most important thing is to talk. Talk about anything. Do not try to think up some clever remark, but let the talk start as innocuously as most conversations do. Say, "Hello, are you having a good time?" If it is someone in the elevator, you can say, "Hi, do you work in this building?"
The Old Testament invites us to "look to the Lord & be radiant," & it has long been known that there is a correlation between spirituality & the magnetism you exert on those around you.
When the editors of Redbook magazine published a questionnaire on female sexuality in October 1974, they had no idea what an overwhelmingly large response they would get. Over 100,000 married women (an unprecedented number of respondents for any sex survey) eagerly & honestly described how they felt about sex. One of the startling findings was that the more religious a woman described herself, the happier she was with her sex life & her marriage. This trend held for women of all ages--under 25, 25-35, over 35. Strongly religious women said they were happier than moderately religious women, who in turn were happier than non-religious women. The most religious women were consistently more likely to describe their marriages & their sex lives as good, to be satisfied with the frequency of intercourse, to discuss sex freely with their husbands, & even to be more orgasmic.
It should not be so surprising that Christians would enjoy sex more & feel better about their bodies, because the presence of God can effect wonderful changes.
BUILDING A ROMANTIC PERSONALITY
"For the past eight years I have started each day in the same manner," said cellist Pablo Casals at age 93. "It is not a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano, & I play two preludes & fugues of Bach. It is a rediscovery of the World of which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being. The music is never the same for me, never. Each day it is something new, fantastic, & unbelievable."
That daily gesture reveals a man deeply committed to the life of emotion. He is a man of feeling & passion, intent on discovering the wonders about him. And such a person, turning his attention to a woman, would be irresistible.
People sometimes need to expand their capacity for feeling.
In Defense of Sentiment.
Somehow we males have been terribly misled on this matter. We have the mistaken notion that it is the cool emotionless hero, such as John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, who is most attractive to women. But the movie stars that women like best now are men like Michael Caine or Dustin Hoffman. And the thing they like best about them is their vulnerability. Perhaps women once looked for some Rock of Gibraltar on which they could lean, but they are now able to take care of themselves, thank you, & they're finding it hard to love a rock. Webster's Dictionary says that sentiment is "tender susceptibility." And if by that definition a man is sentimental, then under no circumstances should he try to hide it.
Reaching Back for the Child Within You.
Becoming a more feeling person who can keep an old relationship alive is not all that difficult. One way is to reach back to our early years & recapture some of the abandoned emotionality of childhood. Jesus urged again & again that we become more like children. "No child is born with a really cold heart," wrote Lin Yutang. And, although we have learned to snuff out some of that warmth as we've grown to maturity, the embers are still there.
Putting Emotions into Words.
The ability to discuss feelings & to talk about your emotions is common to all good lovers, because talk, not sex, constitutes most of the intercourse between a man & a woman.
A woman whom I've seen for several years, & who has lost 80 pounds with the hope of becoming attractive to men, has found that it isn't working. She is now quite pretty, but something within her that would normally attract men is evidently shutting down. So I pressed to know what she did when she meets a man she likes. "Well, I never tell him I like him," she said. "That's the way I've always been. When I like a guy, I go to any length necessary to hide it."
"Why on Earth would you hide it?" I asked.
"Oh, partly because I'm afraid it would scare him if I declared my love," she replied. Then she looked a little embarrassed. "Also, I guess I'm scared too. Scared of being rejected."
Those two reasons explain why many people keep silent about their affection. And so many love affairs never catch fire: Two people who are interested in each other are afraid to expose themselves, & they wander away, neither ever knowing that something electric was about to happen.
My friend is partly correct in her first point--men do scare easily. But my observation is that they are scared by questions like, "When will I see you again?" but they are charmed by questions like, "Do you know it's been a long time since I've met anyone I was so attracted to so fast?" The first is pressure. The second is warmth.
People who expose themselves by saying that they care will always build relationships. Which is not to say that it will happen every time you express admiration. But if you make it a habit to express positive regard for another whenever you feel it, you may be surprised at the amount of love coming back.
Brevity may be the soul of wit, but not when someone's saying, "I love you." When someone's saying "I love you," he always ought to give a lot of details like, "Why does he love you?" & "How much does he love you?" & "When & where did he first begin to love you?" Favourable comparisons with all the other women he ever loved also are welcome, & even though he insists it would take forever to count the ways, you wouldn't want to discourage him from counting!
Lovers who still have fire between them are in the habit of discussing their relationship, talking about how their love was born, reliving the times of intimacy, & sharing with each other what they feel.
CREATING THE CONDITIONS FOR ECSTACY
Peak experiences are indeed a slippery topic & there can be no doubt that emotional highs are temporary. However, psychologists have done some fascinating investigation of the phenomena of peak experiences & have dug up some data that just might help us in the art of igniting love or in restoring joy to an old love relationship: Create the conditions for ecstasy.
To a large extent, love is something you do, as well as something you feel. And if two people who once had happy times together stop planning to have fun, they quickly get into trouble.
Couples often say, "How in the World did we have all that time & money to eat out & have fun before we were married? Now we can't afford to go out for a hamburger." The answer to that one is simple: Before you got married, you put a high priority on having fun. And some of us would be well advised to do a little more of that now.
I suggest that you catalog the things that could bring back romance for you.
I talked to one wife who was disillusioned with her marriage because she & her husband had become so "serious" about life & hadn't had any real fun since the children had been born. Her husband claimed that he couldn't afford expensive trips. When I talked to them together, I asked them to write down the things that they had enjoyed most when they were dating. They were: Bike riding, cuddling up when it's raining, picnics, talking about happy memories, window-shopping at night, having a special dinner by candlelight.--None of which were very expensive!
The little things count, all right, & often their only cost is a little planning & some expenditure of time.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES
An attorney & his wife had been coming for counselling for several weeks, & I decided to try a private session with him. The chemistry between them was terrible, but I couldn't get a grip on just what was wrong. When the lawyer was alone & began to talk, the difficulty quickly became apparent.
"If you ever quote me on this, I'll deny it," he said, "but I've always believed that women are inferior, & my wife more than proves the point. If it weren't that I wanted a son so badly, I would have never married. In fact, when the kids are gone, I may leave too. I'd probably have to have some woman for sex, but I sure wouldn't get married again. If it's companionship I need, I'll take men any time."
My training is to be patient with such people & to look for underlying causes of such prejudice. But this time I couldn't contain my dismay.
"You poor guy," I said. "You're missing out on half the pleasure of life. Women just happen to be the finest idea that God ever had!" In ensuing sessions, I managed to be less scolding, & my patient managed to summon more appreciation for the opposite sex. He took a second look at his wife, & when his attitude began to relax, she began to change.
If a man expects women to be inferior, or mean, or unaccepting, they probably will be. If he trusts them & expects them to like him, they probably will do that. Believe the best about the opposite sex!
INDEPENDENCE AS A VIRTUE
Many people think that self-depreciation is a fine, old-fashioned virtue, & that it makes for good relationships. but the good lovers are not the Caspar Milquetoasts of the World. Rather they are the self-starting & self-assured people who have many sources of pleasure, are wide-eyed to the wonders of the World, & are glad to share that life with you.
Living by Principles.
One should not sacrifice everything for their personal family. I want a lover who has a line beyond which she will not go. I do not want a wife who will do "anything" for me, because I'm not always entirely stable, & at those times I want her allegiance to be to higher truths than my own fickle perceptions of reality. It is what brings me back to my senses.
"Dwindling" into a Wife.
Not only must one enter a love relationship with good identity formation; it is also essential to maintain one's individuality. This has been easier for men than for women, given our society's expectation that a woman is built to be dependent. Although she may have been functioning as an independent, self-starting person before the marriage, she is often expected to "dwindle" into a wife.
We see women who are quite able to take care of themselves before marriage but who have become helpless after 15 or 20 years of marriage. Dependency is one thing. Helplessness & over-dependence is quite another.
The Dangers of Stagnation.
In other words, we all owe our mates as well as ourselves the promise that we will try not to stagnate. We hope that our partners will not wake up in 20 years & find that we have not changed except to acquire wrinkles. Benjamin Jowett, the great British preacher, once remarked, "I hate to meet a man whom I have known 10 years ago & find that he is at precisely the same point, neither moderated nor quickened nor experienced, but simply stiffened."
I once knew a university professor who was the soul of loyalty & who had always adhered to traditional values despite the fact that he wore jeans & pastel sweaters to class & always had a flock of young women who gazed at him with adulation while he lectured. Then, after being straight arrow for all those years, he suddenly found himself in love with a student & carrying on a torrid affair with her. When he came to see me, he was fighting to get out of the cauldron & to rebuild something with his wife.
Here was a man who jogged & played baseball, took classes in sculpting, & worked hard at his profession. In short, he had stayed alert & alive. His wife, however, had not kept up. She had gained 20 pounds & had neglected her clothing & her appearance. The children had moved out on their own, & she was bored with herself.
It was a terrible jolt for her to discover that her husband had taken a lover. At first it only made her withdraw more, feel sorry for herself, & cry most of the day. When she came in to see me, she was a mess.
I talked later that night to the husband. Was the new woman really that much better than his wife?
"Well, no," he said. "They are both beautiful women. They have different shapes, one is blond & the other is brunette, & of course Jill (the student) is younger, but they are both terrific. I am a fortunate guy to have two wonderful women interested in me. The only real difference is that Jill is more alive. My wife used to be wide awake & liked to do things. She is bright, & really I still love her. It's just that she has not taken care of herself, intellectually, physically, any way. She drinks two or three glasses of wine & is in a stupor every evening."
It's wonderful what resources people can draw on when their domain is threatened. Two weeks later I saw the wife, & she was a transformed woman. She had lost seven pounds, had a new hairstyle, & said to me, "I realise now that if I'm going to stay attractive for Bill I've got to develop myself. I don't know what got into me, but I've fallen asleep these last two years. It was not that I had stopped loving Bill. I had stopped respecting myself! It's a great big beautiful World out there, & there's a lot to see & do."
Obviously a wife who gets interested in life again becomes interesting. My friend the professor fell in love all over again, dropped the student, & is quite happily married now.
THE DANGERS OF LOOKING OUT FOR NUMBER ONE
One reason love grows dim with the years is simple indifference. To make matters worse, an increasing self-centeredness sometimes accompanies that indifference. For example, Art Sueltz has satirised a common marriage problem by chronicling the stages of the common cold in seven years of marriage:
First year: "Sugar, I'm worried about my little baby girl. You've got a bad sniffle. I want to put you in the hospital for a complete checkup. I know the food is lousy, but I've arranged for your meals to be sent up from Rossini's."
Second year: "Listen, Honey, I don't like the sound of that cough. I've called Dr. Miller & he's going to rush right over. Now will you go to bed like a good girl just for me, please?"
Third year: "Maybe you'd better lie down, Honey. Nothing like a little rest if you're feeling bad. I'll bring you something to eat. Have we got any soup in the house?"
Fourth year: "Look, Dear. Be sensible. After you've fed the kids & washed the dishes, you'd better hit the sack."
Fifth year: "Why don't you just take a couple of aspirin?"
Sixth year: "If you'd just gargle or something instead of sitting around barking like a seal."
Seventh year: "For Heaven's sake, stop sneezing. What are you trying to do, give me pneumonia?"
It may seem an oversimplification, but many marriages fail simply because one or both of the lovers are too self-centered. We can see around us many wounded "refugees" who not long ago announced to their families & to the World, "I'm going to start taking care of me for a change." Then they discovered rather quickly that such preoccupation with the self can leave one very lonely, & that we were evidently made for something higher than inspecting our own navels.
Adjusting to Shifts in Needs.
Most marriages are based on a group of assumptions about what two people want from each other. Perhaps such information was quite accurate for the early years, but it is a mistake to assume that your mate's needs today are the same as they were ten years ago.
When two people fall in love, they usually do so because a large chunk of their needs are being met by the other person. At first they feel so good when they're with each other. Their sexual needs are being filled, they feel happier than ever before. It's wonderful.
But now let's say they are eight years into the marriage. He still loves his wife, but he's not happy. The job is frustrating, & he'd like to move to Oregon. She doesn't like rain, & the idea of selling the house & gambling on a new future scares her. Besides, she's attached to her parents, who live nearby.
What we have now is two need systems starting on a collision course. The plot thickens when we learn that she'd like to have children & he says that they can't afford a family yet. She does not say so when the Oregon subject comes up, but part of her reluctance to pull up stakes is that she assumes it would entail postponing a family. Oregon becomes a subject they can't discuss.
He dreads going to work more & more, & on the way home he's now stopping for a few beers. When he gets home he has a few more & falls asleep on the floor while watching television. Sometimes she wakes him up to go to bed. At other times, she lets him lie there & wanders into the bedroom alone. Their sex life, which at one time was terrific, is now less passionate & less frequent. He has gained weight & feels self-conscious about his belly hanging over her when they make love. Because he is ignoring her sexually, she, in turn, feels unattractive.
So the system deteriorates.
A marriage counsellor troubleshooting the matter ought to be able to see that the Oregon question is a mess & that many of the underlying difficulties & resentments occurred because of misunderstandings there. The amazing thing is that the Oregon matter was never fully discussed to see if some compromise were possible. Instead, he half-heartedly talked about it, not revealing how much he hated his job. And when he talked about it, she laughed a little & changed the subject. He, in turn, pulled back, hurt. And she went her way, never realising how much he was dreaming of making a move. Strangely, when the topic was raised when friends were visiting, he displayed harsh anger.
How do we solve such conflicts? By negotiation & compromise. In this case, for instance, it may be that she would be very happy to move if he would be willing to start a family as soon as they're settled. Or perhaps he would be happy to stay where they are if he could change jobs but has hesitated to bring that topic up for fear that she will think him a quitter.
Simple solutions are not available for every marital disagreement. But it is imperative that two people acquire the habit of regularly sharing their dreams & their frustrations with each other, listening carefully to the changes going on in their mates, & sitting down to do some serious problem solving.
Many of us are opposed to divorce as a matter of religious principle, but more & more experts who work with remarriages every day are opposing it for pragmatic reasons. Changing partners simply does not eliminate the problems. Dr. Irene Kassorla, author of "Nice Girls Do," certainly not a religious moralist, is very down on divorce. She has two daughters & is divorced herself, but she says, "I really feel that marriage is an ideal human state & divorce is a waste of time. You just find the old partner with a new head." All of us in this business have talked to hundreds of people who are having trouble in their second marriages & who say, "If I'd known then what I know now, I would have worked harder to keep that first marriage going. It wasn't all that bad."
Believe That It Can Get Better.
"Love hopes all things," wrote the Apostle Paul in his great hymn to love, & I notice that successful lovers are usually optimists about their relationship. It may not be going well at the moment, but they reach back to remember the good times, & they tenaciously hold on to the belief that it can get better again.
"Love does not insist on its own way," says 1Corinthians 13. Some husbands & wives are so caught up in being right all the time that they not only disagree with their mates, they annihilate them. That over-reaction may be due to a fear of losing control, a fear of being shown to be wrong. If so, that fear had best be eradicated as early as possible, for if you can never be wrong, you can never sustain love.
At a dinner party one night Lady Churchill was seated across the table from Sir Winston, who kept making his hand walk up & down--two fingers bent at the knuckles. The fingers appeared to be walking toward Lady Churchill. Finally, her dinner partner asked, "Why is Sir Winston looking at you wistfully, & whatever is he doing with those two knuckles on the table?"
"That's simple," she replied. "We had a mild quarrel before we left home, & he is indicating it's his fault & he's on his knees to me in abject apology."
Movies may succeed with the idea that love is never having to say you're sorry, but I've never known of a marriage to succeed on that premise. Most lovers have to say, "I'm sorry" a great deal.
My wife, Diane, & I were once watching a television program about straying husbands; wives were being interviewed about what they would do if they learned that their husbands were philandering. My ordinarily easygoing wife turned to me & said, "I know what I'd do: I'd fight for you!" I do not plan to test her on that, but I was flattered to the core that she loves me that much. And every man I know feels the same way. So, to the extent that jealousy is an expression of love, it may not be all bad.
Suggestions for Hanging on to Your Mate.
Step up your sex life. A fascinating pattern emerges when a woman learns that her husband is seeing another woman. There are usually tears & lots of anger & hostility, of course, but in 99% of the cases there also is an increase in their sex life. Why? Simple. She instinctively knows that's how to get her man back.
Avoid prolonged absences. Many women who look for other men while their husbands are working overtime are actually looking for conversation more than caresses. As psychiatrist David Reuben says, "After wrestling with children, housework, shopping, dogs & cats, door-to-door salesmen & leaking washing machines from 7 a.m. to dark--& eating a solitary dinner--she begins to suffer from chronic emotional malnutrition." An ounce of prevention on the part of a husband at this juncture is worth a lot.
As Jack explains, "When I found out Ellen was going out with another man, I fell apart. Finally, I went to see our minister to ask him to take care of the kids after I left. I don't know how he did it, but he explained to me what was really going on. He said that Ellen's infidelity was really a desperate cry for help. He said she didn't want another man--she just wanted the man she married. That made sense to me--I was pushing so hard to get ahead that I hadn't been home one night out of ten for months. We're back together again now, & I'm giving her all of me she can stand. That was four years ago, & so far I haven't heard any complaints."
The Growth of Love.
C.S. Lewis advocates love as an act of the will. Do not waste time wondering whether you "love" another, he suggests, act as if you do. "As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him." Lewis goes on to explain that the process works equally in reverse: "If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less."
The reader might well protest that I have been promoting the joy of passionate & ecstatic love, & now I am saying that feelings are unimportant, that love is a matter of commitment & exercise of the will. But I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that your feelings will come & go, & that commitment will give your relationship the momentum to carry you through the rough places.
The Choice to Endure.
As couples continue to make their way to church altars & make promises to cherish one another "in sickness & in health, in plenty & in want," the phrases may sound old & antiquated to the liberated woman & the urban man-about-town who are only interested in taking care of themselves. But anyone with any sense of history knows that there will be times when those liberated & urban people will be sick. Sometime they will need someone who loves them not because he or she is attractive but because they are committed to one another.
Many years ago, when I was a pastor, my telephone rang early one morning. The man on the other end apologised for calling so early, but told me that his wife, who was in the hospital, had been asking for me during the night. He wondered if I could drop by during the morning. I dressed hurriedly & went immediately, because it was my cherished friend, David Leek, & I knew that, diffident as he was by nature, if he called, it was urgent. His wife Betty had been dying of cancer for most of the four years I had known those two people. They were romantics at heart, & I had witnessed their tender affection for each other in dozens of ways. He had wooed & won her 28 years before, beating out several handsome competitors on their college campus, & it had been a wonderful match.
When I arrived at the hospital, she had lapsed back into a coma. But David was still there, with his chair pulled up close to hers, making sure that her days & nights were spent with as much comfort as possible.
I marvelled at the reserves that are called out in some people when a loved one is in trouble. What sustains them? What enables such a man to sit in a hospital, still dressed in his suit, all night long? What is it that makes a woman wait for her prisoner-of-war husband month after month? What is it that makes a wife visit her husband in the penitentiary every Sunday, year in & year out?
It is something more than ecstatic love. Something more than a romantic interlude, surely. It has to do with perseverance, loyalty, & commitment. Sometimes you do those things not because you are overcome with passion, but because you are committed. That is, you believe in honouring your word. You do not walk away from your obligations simply because the pleasure is missing.
If I had to choose between ecstatic love & commitment love, I would choose the latter. And if the occasion ever calls for it, I aspire to be the sort of lover I saw there beside a dying woman's bed.
KINDNESS: THE NEGLECTED VIRTUE
Family therapists like myself are forever being asked the same question on talk shows: "Dr. McGinnis, to what do you attribute the breakup of so many marriages today? Is it sexual problems? Money difficulties? Is it because families watch television instead of talking?"
In my experience, none of those is a cause; they are merely symptoms. The real cause is so simple & so obvious that I'm almost embarrassed to state it.
I think most marriages die of neglect. Pure & simple neglect. Somewhere we were handed the idea that True Love, when it happens, will burst into flames by some spontaneous combustion, & that once you get married the fire will burn on its own. But love rarely happens spontaneously. Usually we create it. And when love is kept aflame, year after year, it is because two people do a great number of things to keep the fire replenished. Ignored, love very quickly sputters & dies. "The roots of the deepest love," someone once wrote, "die in the heart if not tenderly cherished."
Love must be refueled, nursed, nudged, blown on, & even shaken back to life. To see love as requiring such attention is not to cheapen or depreciate it. Quite to the contrary--we are saying that our love is important enough to watch it carefully, to tend its needs, to feed it with new fuel, & to keep it burning whatever the cost.
The Significance of Time.
Someone has said that the best measuring stick of a person's scale of values is the way in which the person divides his or her time. Never mind what they say is important to them, the real indicator is the way they spend their days. And the best lovers are not necessarily the most sentimental people, but they are always the ones who spend a lot of hours with their lovers. Again & again I talk to husbands who have worked overtime for years, thinking that their financial success was going to make their wives happy, when their wives would have much preferred to have less money to spend & their husbands home in the evening.
Courtesy & Love.
"Romance is just one step beyond courtesy," some sage has noticed, & one of the clear demonstrations of love is that you continue to treat your mate with the same consideration that you did in the early stages of your romance.
Being an artist at romance does not require so much a sentimental & emotional nature as it requires a thoughtful nature. When we think of the romantic things, we think of events that occur because someone made a choice to love. A man stops off at a florist & brings his wife a single rose in the evening, a girl makes her lover a lemon pie with just the degree of tartness he likes, a wife makes arrangements for her husband to take the caribou-hunting trip he thought he'd never afford--these are not the goo of sweet emotion, they are the stuff that comes from resolution & determination, & they are strong mortar.
The great truths of the Universe are always simple truths, & the great men & women are not afraid to utter the simple truths. When Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer was being interviewed about the qualities of a great writer, he cut through the reporter's attempts at false sophistication & said, "Two important things are to have a genuine interest in people & to be kind to them. Kindness, I've discovered, is everything in life."