While commitment has everything to do with togetherness, love, on the other hand, is about letting one another go. (MC)
Not long ago I came upon an article about English couple, Bill and Dorothy, who had just celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary. When asked the secret to their happy sixty years of marriage Bill said they were as much in love today, as they were on their honeymoon.
“As long as you agree with a woman, you’ll be all right. I know the best answer is always, ‘Yes, dear’,” quips Bill.
Dorothy replied with, “Bill makes me laugh and we definitely enjoy each other’s company.”
Really! A funny and compliant husband is the secret to a happy marriage? Is it that easy? I’m sure when Bill and Dorothy made those comments it was tongue in cheek, but their story did remind me of a wedding I was invited to a few years ago.
My relationship to the soon-to-be married couple was through the mother of the bride. We were running buddies. Weeks before the big day we would meet for our daily jog and discuss the wedding preparation trials and tribulations.
One day she asked if I would say a few words to the bride and groom during the church service. Not knowing her daughter or her soon-to-be husband very well, I assumed I would be sharing a few prosperous wishes to cheer them on their future journey.
“I want you to talk about love,” she said in a tone that suggested this was as simple as filling a glass of water.
I was both gobsmacked and horrified. Me, talk about love? Crikey! Last year I published a series of articles about my ‘curveball’ moments in life. Writing these memoirs provided me with the opportunity to think, ask questions, to make sense of life and my relationships with others. And, let me tell you, none has been more challenging for me than the issue of love or one of love’s many threads, marriage.
Thinking about my past failures on the love scene, I enquired as to how long she would like this ‘few words’ to be. I was allotted three minutes. Three piddly minutes, 180 seconds to talk about one of the most sought-after emotions in the world.
Added to my own feelings of inadequacy, were the young couple about to be married. Radiantly in love, they sizzled with energy and anticipation. In their youth, and because of their youth, they knew everything, and displayed a confidence untainted by hindsight. On paper, they did everything the ‘right way’. They were both well educated, had a new home to move into, great careers and were well supported by family.
And that was my dilemma. My conundrum. What could I tell this couple about love that might break through that glorious fizz-pop mix of youth, success, lust and of being in-love? What a heady mix! I thought it’s just as well I didn’t feel as though I had anything to say because they wouldn’t be listening anyway.
Weeks of worry preceded my putting pen to paper. I did some research and found 8,001 couples were granted divorces in New Zealand in 2017. There were 8.4 divorces for every 1,000 estimated existing marriages and civil unions. But in the context of this article it doesn’t matter whether this figure is high or low, but it does suggest promises of love and commitment made on the wedding day, are a lot harder to put into practice as the years go on.
During my moments of reflecting I was struck by how, when we talk about marriage, we use the words love and commitment as though both words have the same or similar meaning. Little or no thought is given to the paradox that occurs between the two.
Love and commitment are surely one of life’s greatest contradictions. The marriage ceremony is a public statement of commitment to each other. When you are deeply in-love, commitment seems remarkably easy. Whether it’s a civil union, a de facto relationship, or marriage, everything about commitment suggests togetherness – a partnership binding two people who are committed to working together. Commitment is where plans, hopes and dreams are born. It’s the doing part of the relationship; the ‘outside in’ framework.
Now here’s the paradox. While commitment has everything to do with togetherness, love, on the other hand, is about letting one another go. to be true to who they are meant to be.
Twentieth century psychologist/philosopher Erich Fromm explained the ‘love’ part of relationships as love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.
“In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one yet remain two,” he says.
Love scoffs at rules. Love is not a role to be played by either partner. It does not come bedecked with rights and expectations. Love cannot be earned nor can it be measured by success or achievement. It is not the role or responsibility of one partner to ensure the other’s emotional and physical needs are met. We can be concerned, but we are not responsible. Love lets go.
Real love does not always follow our natural inclinations; it is not an impulse from feelings. It is not about doing something for the other, but about being. Love just is – and that itself is a life-long journey for all of us. Thank goodness, there is the odd moment of exquisite joy, because most of the time love is just plain hard work learned over a lifetime of experience.
Yes, marriage, and its counterparts, is the union of two partners in a relationship. Committed to being together, but as Eric Fromm suggests, retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.
Commitment and love – intrinsically woven, yet individually apart. To walk together and walk alone. One a journey of togetherness the other a journey of self. How would you explain this to a young couple in just three minutes?