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“Only unfulfilled love can be romantic.” Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Romantic love requires obstacles- Redacted, Diderot

There seems to be this link in our minds between great passion and great suffering, and that once it gets to happily ever after, the story is over. Once the prince and princess get married, the story ends because life is monotonous and boring, though hopefully also fulfilling. There is a tension between the need for a happy ending, if you are American and Disney-fied I guess, to validate love, and for great obstacles to strengthen it and keep things exciting. While I do think that overcoming adversity is character building and can strengthen resolve in many arenas, I don’t think love ends when happily ever after begins. I don’t think that you have to be Prince Phillip fighting Maleficent as the dragon, ultimate manifestation of good vs evil, to show your love or earn the right to happiness. After all,

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
[I’m quoting this even though she had ties to communist dictators and there is some reason to believe she kind of forced Catholicism on people, she did a lot of good work and at least raised the profile of the world’s poor]

It’s easy, for some, to take daring risks in hope of a great reward. What is not easy, even if you really care for someone, is the day-in, day-out maintenance of a relationship through its ups and downs. Getting into a committed relationship is only the beginning. Yes, it is a triumphant victory to find out our love is reciprocated and can be openly shared, and when the two pledge their troth in some manner to develop the depth and intensity of their connection, it is a moment of great happiness. But the act of getting into a relationship is just agreeing to create an atmosphere of trust and clearer expectations to facilitate intimacy and devotion. It makes the climate more agreeable for love to flower and bear fruit, much as the first crocus of Spring is a sign of greater things to come. It creates the institutional environment for the relationship to develop more deeply, and for the lovers to take the great risk of becoming truly attached and depending on each other in their daily lives. Not a diversion, pleasure, or contained act of devotion, like going to mass on Sunday, but a sustained commitment, like joining a convent to become a nun or doing spiritual exercises to become a mystic or joining the army. Identities change, and ideally reflect more fully the values and affinities of the individuals involved, who have come together for not only for the pleasure of one another’s company, but have emerged to face the world together from shared values, and a common vision of the future.

Once the ground breaking ceremony is over (o sweet consummation!), it’s time to begin building. And for people who love their jobs and really love their partners, it is labor but not work. Isn’t having your morning cup o’joe with this person the reason you got married, really? Don’t you get a thrill to watch him brush his teeth and hear him snore? Isn’t love about forgiving the little things gone wrong and noticing whatever goes right, not about rewarding or punishing to train someone like a dog? Isn’t it about believing in someone so much, you want to be a team to help them succeed? Why else would you deal with those little things that just annoy the shit out of you and the fact he’s not quite Prince Charming come to life and though you love the fact that he’s a worthy opponent to argue with, but damn why can’t he just do what you want him to! Why can’t this person who sees my inner light and sets my soul on fire just be the person I want him to be, fix what I need him to fix, and just stop being so difficult, or passive, or messy, or a neat freak, or whatever it may be.

I will argue that it is at this moment that you have the opportunity love the other person even more. To cherish your intimacy and appreciate your differences. As the saying goes, I didn’t say it would be easy, but it will be worth it. Not just in terms of gains to marginal happiness as you grow old together and don’t have to do senior dating, not just in having a regular, hopefully competent, sex partner, not just in not having to do couple things on your own any more, and not having to be the only single person left. Hopefully loving the person has the force of a moral choice in your life- to stop loving them, every little bit however ungainly or vulgar, would be to abandon something magical of yourself. You know, the whole divine union of self and other thing. I would say it is worth having to cart someone else around in your little vehicle in this game of Life.

When you love someone, you will eventually have to compromise. You will eventually have to forego something you otherwise would have gone for, and you will not get to spend as much awesome alone time (le sigh). If you don’t think it is worth it, don’t sign up for it. I think that most relationships are very transactional and tit for tat. It’s not about the ideal of love or a shared vision or just the joy of sharing the little things, it’s about providing emotional support, sex, company, and status to someone in exchange for them doing the same for you, or something similar. I’ve studied the social contracts behind mail order bride relationships and am all about using economics to understand social situations, ironically enough. Doing that is like working for only the pay, for a company that only cares about the bottom line. I think real love is more than just a switch from a cushy corporate job, its about social entrepreneurship. It’s something you do for more than the pay, because you love the person and you love building your relationship with them. God, economics in everything. [check out Tyler Cowen at marginalrevolution.com , what an intellectual hottie] Go from being a manager who just oversees tasks to being a leader, and providing some greater meaning, depth, purpose, and commitment. Dance in the moonlight just because it’s fun, not because you are going to get laid afterwords or you will be in the doghouse if you don’t. So much that passes for love is just a quid pro quo. Sure, we can’t all be idealistic and bargains need to be made, but seriously, love should be present in the process.

What is love? How the hell should I know? I am single, and have been for my emerging adult or whatever you call it life. I met somebody I really liked and thought it was worth a go, but he didn’t and that was about a year ago. I also happen to have been bouncing around France, NJ, Philadelphia, etc, so the conditions for dating haven’t been ideal. That said, I think love is wanting someone to share that sublime moment with. Every day, I get more excited about the guy I will eventually look out at the gorgeous view from the mountaintop with. He’s gonna have to be pretty freaking awesome, can’t you tell?

So I hope I’ve convinced you that love is about more than just obstacles and suffering. A wise man once told me that I shouldn’t worry about making a faux pas and scaring someone really special away. He said, “The right person is like a mack truck- nothing can stop it. Someone else will sink like a paper boat.” So I’m inclined to think that it’s really once you start making the commitment to surpass obstacles, that’s when the journey really begins, at happily ever after. We don’t see too many movies about it because it’s a harder, more intimate and spiritual journey to document than fighting off dragons and wicked stepsisters and that redneck Gaston [indeed I love Beauty and the Beast, not totally sure what that has meant for my emotional life but I do appreciate the animal in a man]. Hopefully it also involves a lot of full-frontal nudity we just can’t take on American TV, and little, spontaneous thoughtful gestures that are not just empty cliches.

Is love worth all this? Why do we want love so much? Do we really crave that, or just a buddy that won’t really cause such upheaval in our lives? Are we really willing to sacrifice some of our own desires for somebody else- well, yes, if it’s the right person who is a better reflection of what we truly aspire to than the alternative self-gratifying ones. I don’t think that self-actualization and love have to be in conflict, not if the person shares a lot of the same values and dreams. The point is to do cool stuff and travel the world and quit your jobs and backpack around Thailand, right? Peak of romance roaming through a third-world country with naught but each other? Indeed- what better metaphor for life, right? Never know when the electricity is going to go out or the next mudslide is going to come, but that shouldn’t stop you from appreciating the sunset and a good meal in good company.
Besides, even Diderot with his tragic view of love needing obstacles says,

Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.

— Denis Diderot
Take that, Enlightenment rationalism and cult of me and Facebook narcissism!  There are so many wonderful things in this world- sometimes believing is seeing after all. La vie est ephemere, and our passions are the least guaranteed of everything, some illusions of love leave us sometimes with nothing but an old toothbrush and a come-down from cocaine-like neurotransmitters. But don’t blame the real thing for those kinds of sorrows, because if it is l’amour pur, like God, it will have its day. Happy endings after all.