How do we package love?
That question needs a bit of reflection, right? It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, isn’t it?
Or, is it? Three reasons to consider our overemphasis on the packaging of love.
- Pretty, glitzy paper and ribbons tend to get us much more interested than does a plain wrapper, encouraging us to ignore or prejudge the contents.
- A package connotes certain dimensions. If it is ten by twelve inches then we cannot fit an item that has the dimensions of thirteen by fifteen in the package…imposing advertent constraints.
- Result? I want him to look like…I want her to feel this way about…He needs to have this kind of profession. She must have these characteristics. The list is endless.
- “When you think about your relationship with your wife or husband , is it more along the lines of this: “‘I’ll always love you so long as you act in these ways or speak in these terms?’ “
Given these reminders of the criteria employed by most of us in selecting a partner, most of us will probably marry the wrong person.
In an intriguing NY Times piece, Author Alain de Bottom reminds us that until recently, marriages were forged for land, titles or family reasons. Only within the last century or so has the notion of love and romance been acceptable as a reason to marry.
Journalist de Bottom suggests that we wholly change how we look at marriage. Because fundamentally, we have no clue about the method to select a life partner. We are looking for none of the things we think we are, the packaging is not really what we want. What we’re looking for is really familiarity.
We want to recreate those childhood feelings of pleasure and security.
“We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”
This “pessimistic view offers a solution to the agitation and distress surrounding marriage.”
In fact, de Bottom declares:
Romanticism has been unhelpful to us; it is a harsh philosophy. It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling. We end up lonely and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not “normal.” We should learn to accommodate ourselves to “wrongness,” striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.
The article is somewhat snarky- it is the NY Times after all. But despite the ‘attitude,’ this journalist is correct on his major points. In fact, I would argue that his view is not pessimistic at all. Instead this is merely realism. His tongue in cheek comment about choosing the ‘particular brand of suffering to sacrifice ourselves for’ is quite in keeping with the Judeo-Christian view of marriage.
How do we package love?
During our telephone talk last week, my good friend and I laughed at the similarities of recent experiences with our mates. Each of our husbands had been suffering from a situation that was unique to him. We thought. Until (my words, not my friend’s) the need to find a solution landed in our laps. And we ended up dealing with what we would have greatly preferred to avoid dealing with. And yet we did it.
When we marry, those words of the Lord, …”and the two will become one flesh,’ takes root. If we honor the words. “So they are no longer two, but one flesh,” are truth. The suffering of our spouse becomes our own.
But this is a very different package for love, isn’t it?
Aramaic- the language that Christ spoke- has one hundred words for love. The Greeks have five.
Christians are taught that the moral meaning of love is to “will the good of the other”…emptying ourselves for the other. Most mothers do this naturally, at least until the infant can care for herself. Those of us who have never given birth must learn this definition of love through grace.
St. Benedict phrases it eloquently in the Prologue to the Rule of Benedict:
“For as we advance in the religious life and in faith,
our hearts expand
and we run the way of God’s commandments
with unspeakable sweetness of love.”
At times, that expansion of our hearts can be exquisitely painful, in the profound words of Saint Mother Theresa:
“Love, to be real, must hurt.”