Thursday, June 13, 2013

Love in the Beginning

Attraction at some point likely blends into love, and love in the beginning is usually easy to spot, even stereotypically so. There are tell-tale sings we’ve come to associate with it, molding it into a stock character we can easily identify: holding hands; sitting close together, two young lovers crowded into the same side of a booth; silly texts that elicit a smile from the receiving party; walking down the street, arms around each other; and even in a crowded room, the two in love can look for all the world as though they are the only ones who exist. When it appears, we know it and what it is going to do and be. There are giddy feelings of euphoria for those involved, those in love, and these feelings are often manifested through expressions: a silly smile at random times, a dreamy look of longing and contentment. And I don’t intend to make light of these feelings and outward manifestations of something we all (at least most) of us can relate to. In fact, that is part of my reason for mentioning them here—these are feelings almost everyone can appreciate, for nearly everyone, at some time in his/her life, has been in situations where these feelings were prevalent. But what I want to consider is what comes next. What happens when this honeymoon feeling passes, when real life settles in? For surely it will.

The length of this honeymoon feeling, of course, differs for each relationship, but if we are going to be adults about love and our interactions with each other, we must accept that, at some point, the giddy feeling we so enjoy is going to diminish. It may not totally end, but that high we get from another person will begin to wane. So what happens when it does? I’ve come to find that what happens next is dependent upon the maturity of those involved. This is in no way to suggest that any set answer is intrinsically linked to a particular achieved level of maturity, though perhaps love would be so much simpler if that were the case; but it wouldn’t be quite the learning experience, now would it? Some people reach the point in a relationship where they determine it is time to marry; others reach a point where they determine it is in their best interest to break up and go their separate ways. And when I was younger, these were the only two options presented to me. I was always told that every relationship reaches the point where those involved must decide to either marry or break up. It was, as I understood it, the natural order of things. I’m sure there is some truth to this, but the third option that was never presented as a viable option to me, for it was deemed sinful and wrong, is that two consenting adults could choose to live together outside of marriage. This idea was always presented as one that was riddled with shame, those who conducted themselves in this manner subject to gossip behind covered mouths between the pews one morning per week (at least in my experience).

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to see that life isn’t always so black and white. There are shades of gray that are subject to personal views and feelings, personal convictions that determine individual’s actions. And it’s the shades of gray that I find so interesting in relationships, for the shades of gray are, I believe, what determine the actions of those in a relationship after the newness and giddiness of love have worn off, replaced by what comes next: real love. Some get wrapped up in that giddy feeling and try to make it last long after it has faded; some allow this giddy feeling to lead them down the aisle, and then a predicament truly arises once the feeling has faded: they’ve married a feeling with a person attached, and once that feeling is gone, all that is left is the person once attached to it. Others go their separate ways once the feeling is gone, long before any trip down the aisle. Still others differentiate between the feeling of love and loving someone, the latter of which is determined by a choice, a choice to stick by the person whom you love even after the feeling is gone. To stick with that person when he/she is sick. To stick with that person through affairs and through reconciliations.

None of this is to say that there is any one set answer, of course, or that a particular maturity level really dictates actions in an explicit way. Here’s an example: I’ve a friend who has been with his boyfriend for nearly 18 years, better than four times the length of my first marriage. He, my friend, is quite well read, an academic, a writer. His boyfriend is not. He will be the first to suggest that they don’t seem to be a likely couple. The boyfriend (I’m trying to keep names out of this) has had at least two affairs over the years, left, but always come back. And my friend has taken him back each time. Why? Because he loves him. They’re beyond just that euphoric feeling of newness, beyond the telltale signs of love in the beginning, and they’ve settled into a life for themselves.

It’s cute and, I believe important, to tell the one whom we’re with that he/she make us happy and that we hope to always make him/her smile.  But maybe we can’t always make that person happy, and perhaps it’s unrealistic to believe we can. But we try to do so every day. We send texts in the morning to tell the person about whom we care to have a good day; throughout the day when we think about him/her; again at night to wish sweet dreams. But that feeling will fade in time. So what happens when attraction blends to love in the beginning and then morphs into love in the mundane? When seeing someone every day becomes the everyday? I can’t say I truly know what lies in the gray. I wish I did. I wish I knew what path my love life is going to take over the next several years. But since I don’t, I suppose I’ll just sit back and enjoy it. For I’ve been reminded of something lately that I had forgotten: relationships are supposed to be fun. What a pleasant surprise.

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