True Love

On May 28th, 2016, Alain de Botton wrote what would become the most-read article in The New York Times in all of 2016. It was titled, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person. I liked this part:

The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person.

We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.

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 philosophy of pessimism offers a solution to a lot of distress and agitation around marriage. It might sound odd, but pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage. The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded.

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.

It reminds me of this wonderful quote from Jenkin Lloyd Jones in an article published in the News:

There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks, to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear, the divorce courts are jammed.

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .

Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.

It’s when we begin to understand that the purpose of life isn’t our comfort, so much as it’s our growth, that we begin to understand the reasons behind the difficulties. It’s better together because true love is made from the sustained work to bring about happiness, and happiness is connected to service and sacrifice, more than it’s connected to ease and consumption.

“We must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are. It’s no fault of mine or no fault of yours; it’s to do with being human. And the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.” – Alain de Botton

One thought on “True Love

  1. A friend of mine sent me this relevant quote from Rabbi Harold Kushner, “the essence of marital love, I have learned, is not romance, but forgiveness – accepting a person’s imperfections and understanding that each of us has his or her quirks that would drive our mates crazy but for the love between us….Choose happiness over insisting on being right, don’t demand recognition of the fact. Sacrifice the victory for the sake of a happy marriage. In a happy marriage there are no winners or losers, only two people who agree to put up with each other – as exasperating as that may be.”

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