A day for love and romance or a day to hide under the comforters with a Whitman sampler and a gallon of ice cream…welcome to Valentine’s Day. The jackpot day for florists, chocolate makers and a host of businesses that thrive on the business of love. Make no mistake, love is a business, even during the economic downturn, wedding planners and others involved in the industrial love complex still did rather well.
In our culture we are socialized to pair up, our crowning achievement is hitching our wagon to someone else’s wagon. It starts early and builds and by the time we hit our 30’s or so, society has socialized us to believe something is wrong with us if we are not paired up like the creatures boarding Noah’s Ark.
Yet in a society that places such an emphasis on coupledom, we rarely ever talk about what happily ever after looks like as the years pass by. This past fall, the Man Unit and I celebrated 16 years of marriage, having been together as a couple 18 years. But what few knew until recently is that our marriage for several years has fluctuated between critical but stable condition and critical condition. A lack of love has never been our issue but it turns out that living happily ever after and growing old together requires a lot more than love. It requires realistic expectations about what loving and living together really looks like and understanding that while pop culture and singers like Beyoncé love to sell us on the idea of a “Drunk in Love” style of love which is hot, sweaty and passionate, most of us live lives of love that don’t involve all night love making and waking up on the kitchen floor.
In my own journey of marital woes, I have discovered that for far too many of us the lens of what love “should” be is limited to ideas heavily influenced by the lives of others. (Note: Never compare your own partnership to that of another; it’s a great recipe to feel like shit) When that love falls short of what it seems love is, we often move on. I suspect this is why the divorce rate in the US is as high as it is with many divorces happening before couples hit the 10 year mark.
Last weekend’s NY Times Magazine ran an article “ Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” and it ended with this quote “It’s a tall order for one person to be your partner in Management Inc., your best friend and passionate lover. There’s a certain part of you that with this partner will not be fulfilled. You deal with that loss. It’s a paradox to be lived with, not solved.” In many ways this quote gets to the heart of all that I believe makes modern day love so damn hard to navigate and in many ways sets us up for failure. We want to lean in to love and partnership and we want it all. Yet very few of us have it all and the refusal to accept that keeps us on the hamster wheel of love and desire. Hence why as soon as we break up, we start thinking about eventually having a new partner.
I do know a few people who claim to still have that perfect for them love which includes the daily sex, passion and drunk in love vibe. I don’t doubt it either but for many of us the passion years give way to the simmer years of life. The simmer years are deceptive because they feel wrong; they are the years where life happens, where kids are raised, parents grow old and die, our own health scares start happening and shit…life happens. It is also the time in life when modern expectations say that our partners are supposed to be our sun, moon, stars and universe and when these human partners fall short…well, hell breaks loose. Never mind that while we are in the midst of living, loving and simmering life that we ourselves are evolving as individuals. Few of us stay the same, I met the Man Unit when I was 22 and he was 27 and in our case, we are not those people anymore. We don’t even look like those people anymore!
Love is not a one size fits all thing; it is multi-layered and filled with depth. The most basic and necessary of all love is to love and celebrate our individual selves and know that from a healthy sense of personal love, all other love grows and forms in healthy soil. Love is fluid; it too evolves and shifts and sometimes ends in one form but continues on in another form.
So on this day of love whether you have a sweet honey or not, remember that you are your first lover and partner.