What is it that makes you select, out of all the candidates available, a single person, and decide, sometimes in the first moment that your eye lights upon them, that this is the one with whom you would like to spend your whole life?      I agreed to marry John on the night we first went out, (we had been colleagues for some months) and I do not regret it, but I certainly could not recommend this as a general course of action.  Getting married is the greatest gamble of your life, and there is no sense in doing anything which increases the odds against you.   I am an older woman, not in the least likely to fall in love with anyone new, or indeed inspire such emotion in any one else.   Yet I can still remember, cavalier though I was in my attitude to men in my youth, looking at John and thinking, (for the first time in my life with an element of caution,) I will only get one pass at this.   There is a magic in one’s choice, and a mystery that we do not understand.

Many of us appear to have a ‘type’ – so if there is more than one partner, they may all look much the same.   Although I am a small woman, to match my blue print it appears a man has to be fairly tall.    Walking out of a shop in Antwerp once, I saw what I thought was a very attractive man on the pavement.    When he stepped off the bollard he was standing on and proved to be about 6 inches shorter – although still taller than me, and clearly still had as good looking a face as he had done a few minutes before – I suddenly found him perfectly ordinary.   I could see that this was ridiculous and silly, yet still I had that reaction.

Some people fall in love with what appears to be clones of themselves.   They look alike, share the same background, have similar desires, come from the same family or town.   If they marry, their marriage has fewer tensions than other couple’s, but it may lack the breadth of skills and experience that very unalike people can contribute to their union.

Other people seem to choose with no consideration for harmony.   They row frequently – but perhaps they enjoy the excitement and drama – and then there is the pleasure of making up.   This is all perfectly fine, if a little tiring to those around them – unless one day one of the parties wakes up and thinks he  wants to live a quieter life.

Some people marry friends.   These marriages can be completely successful, but the danger is that their fires may never have been lit.     One day a Fire God or Goddess may chance across the path of one of them, and all is in danger of being consumed in the ensuing conflagration.

Nowadays to have a single, enduring marriage is sadly becoming increasingly rare.

What is the secret of a successful marriage?  I don’t really know – every marriage is different;  and every marriage is continually at risk.    Marriage doesn’t come with a guarantee.   Love, obviously – which means you have to care about the partner as an individual in his own right, separate from you.    He or she is not owned by you.   Tolerance.    We all have annoying habits.   Respect for one another.   Your partner puts their skill and talents at your disposal, for your protection and comfort.   We should endeavour not to take this support for granted.  They gift it to us;  we do not own their personal assets nor can we command them.    Think of the horror of discovering that suddenly the wind has changed, and all their skills, plus their intimate knowledge of you, is lined up against you.     So each should remember that the spouse has chosen – indeed promised – to share your destiny, but is not forced to do so.   Shared desires.   It’s no good if one of you really wants a country farmhouse with chickens and goats and wellingtons, and the other wants a riverside city flat and no kitchen.

I think successful marriages contain all of the above.   They should have enough differences to make life interesting, but I think it helps to have a common base line of belief.    Long ago, I had a boyfriend – a perfectly good and fine fellow – yet on every issue of the day, we stood on different sides of the river.   He was a Tory;  I was not.     At first I thought this difference did not matter.   But eventually I thought it did.   If we ever came to civil war – God forfend – I knew he would have been for the King and I for the Commonwealth.   He was not happy when I left him, but it was the right decision for both of us.   Some marriages very successfully bridge widely differing cultures, and this is laudable and praiseworthy – good luck to them all – but I feel it is a great strength to share a common cultural upbringing.

Finally, I think we should be grateful that we have found someone who meets the desires of our heart.   We are blessed;   some people never have this good fortune.   Nor do I think we should expect too much of love or marriage.    It cannot answer ALL our needs, assuage all our longings.    Everyone to some extent, but some more than others, has an intrinsic loneliness.   This is not, I believe, due to lack of companionship – though a life’s companion certainly is a comfort.   I think that isolation is part of being human, for in the end, you walk alone.

I have considered love within marriage but of course there are other forms of love.   With marriage, I think it is best to keep your feet firmly on the ground.     Marriage is a contract – public and private – between two people.    If the terms of the agreement are not fulfilled, the contract is broken.   The party who has broken the contract cannot automatically expect his or her partner to honour the agreement when he himself has effectively ended it.   Personally I do not think there is anything binding in the words of the vows themselves nor that vows are necessary.    Many of these were drawn up in times past and were principally concerned with property rights.     So I do not see that any form of marriage – church say – is any more binding than any other.    And who are the church, or indeed the state, to say that marriage should last until death do us part?    They’re not in the relationship.     How can a marriage be valid, if one party no longer wishes to be married to the other?   In any relationship, should you look at the other person and think with real distaste, what did I ever see in him or her, then that affair, whatever it was called, is effectively over.   Sometimes you observe something dramatic – woman leaves man on a street corner – but probably she has been in the process of leaving for a long time.    I know there are great cruelties and broken promises in many separations, but marriage is a dynamic partnership.   It can never really be a guaranteed place of safety because external circumstances will affect it, and this may be outwith the control of the parties.    However, to be within a happy marriage is a good place to be, and whatever the difficulties – and there is no-one who will not have some –  if there is still love, all things are possible.

Love is not easy to define.   St Paul did it better than I can.

Love suffereth long and is kind;  love envieth not;  love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,  doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;  beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.   Love never faileth…   …And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three;  but the greatest of these is love.


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

7 Responses to WHAT IS LOVE?

  1. Sheena Murphy says:

    I am always amazed when a marriage survives infidelity. How is it possible? The parties involved must have to re-contract with each other. I don’t think I could do it.

  2. adhocannie says:

    I agree. But it will depend on the bargain that has been struck. Everyone has to decide for themselves. Some people are amazingly tolerant! So long as you know the kind of person you’re dealing with…

  3. Eugene Windsor says:

    Interesting observations. On the point of “who are the church, or indeed the state, to say that marriage should last until death do us part?”, to offer an always useful Marxist analysis, it is in the interests of the state actively to support an institution that serves to ensure the continuing stability, health and reproduction of the workforce, and hence ensure, as far as possible, a degree of future stability for capitalist production and exchange. You could argue that this is why there are tax advantages in being married. These state interests are obscured by the enveloping of the institution of marriage in an ideology of romantic, all-encompassing and enduring love. In such an analysis, the church would merely be one of the pillars, along with the media and other cultural institutions, that serves to support and enhance the continuing hegemony of the existing power structures by embedding its values invisibly within people’s everyday lives and beliefs – for example by tying the institution of marriage to a higher authority.

    Sorry if it’s not very romantic. Like all Marxist analyses, it’s more useful in explaning something than it is in deciding what to do about it!

  4. adhocannie says:

    Yep, absolutely. I don’t think a romantic view of marriage is particularly helpful. Love, as defined by St Paul (who of course also has sins to answer for according to most women!) is nothing to do with romance. Interesting to note that among the dictionary definitions of ‘romance’ are ‘an extravagant fiction’ and ‘a falsehood’.

    • Sheena Murphy says:

      I like your realism here: “Nor do I think we should expect too much of love or marriage. It cannot answer ALL our needs, assuage all our longings. Everyone to some extent, but some more than others, has an intrinsic loneliness. This is not, I believe, due to lack of companionship – though a life’s companion certainly is a comfort. I think that isolation is part of being human, for in the end, you walk alone.”

      Many people hand over their happiness to their partner instead of being responsible for creating their own, or they regard the marriage as a safe, static place rather than a living, changing entity. It requires both partners to bring newness to it and to be willing to adapt and grow with it.

  5. adhocannie says:

    Always better to keep expectations low – then you can be pleasantly surprised!

    • Sheena Murphy says:

      On continuing to fine one’s mate attractive:

      Geoff once confessed to me that he had seen a woman walking along the street and was struck by her beauty. He said he felt horribly guilty and disloyal about it, and surprised, because he didn’t usually see people who interested him. He was waiting for me at a subway station (this was about seven years ago) and noticed this woman walking in his direction, tall, black pea jacket, boots, pale skin, long black ponytail, and there was something about her that caught his attention. He looked away, not wanting to feed his guilt any further. When he eventually looked up, she was that much closer, and he saw, to his relief, that it was me!

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