Do you remember the first time you fell in love? You naïvely ran through flower fields of bliss, believing your love to be unique, assuming it would last forever. However as time goes by life often gets in the way. Career prospects, differences of opinion, and the lure of other people’s bedrooms all too frequently make commitment a challenge.
When I was 19 and still naïve I spent a summer in Granada, Spain. Seeking adventure and love I learned flamenco and dated Javier, a soccer player who sent me love notes in origami shapes. We passed afternoons meandering through the narrow cobbled streets of the Albaicin, the city’s old gypsy quarters. It was in the Albaicin that a wrinkled palm reader analyzed the lines of my hand. When it came to the love line she frowned. “It’s deep,” she said, “but it’s also quite splintered. You are going to have a lot more than one love in your life.” What?! Devastated, I crumpled. Javier and I were not going to spend the rest of our lives together!? At the time I just thought you picked a man and signed up for “‘til death do us part.”
As fate would have it, I started living out the lines in my hand. I abandoned Javier in a train station to move to Germany….and fell in love with someone else. However, I was perplexed by the gypsy’s words. Love affairs may be one thing, but I still wanted to believe that once marriage was embarked upon, it would last. In my world the ‘D’ word didn’t exist. I hoped that the person I was young with would still be the same person I was old with.
However, as divorce rates soared across the US, the “D” word became much more commonplace. Legal papers and promises are now easily undone. Prenups line the cases of engagement rings, financial insurance policies in case it all goes awry. Sometimes marriage doesn’t even last as long as my Spanish love affair with Javier. My youthful ideals now seemed old fashioned. Is marriage worth all the work or is long term commitment passé? As I am far from a relationship expert, I decided to ask the married population for their opinions.
My friend Andrea has been married for ten years. She and her husband have started multiple companies and have had multiple children together. They seem to be the picture of San Francisco success. However, she recently confided to me that it isn’t all roses. “It’s hard work,” she said. “You have to want to make it work…especially if you have children. Sadly it seems as if less and less people do.”
Andrea told me that she was upset over the list of recent divorces and breakups glamorized in US Weekly and People magazines. “It seems as if everyone is doing it! Celebrity divorce is as celebrated as celebrity weddings.” She rattled of a long list of recent celebrity breakups. Eva Longoria and Tony Parker. Courtney Cox and David Arquette. Christina Aguilera and Jordan Bratman. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.
I asked her why was so affected by others. “Because it seems as if no one cares about commitment anymore. The media is promoting breaking up and moving on.” She looked at me. “There is a new concept that there is someone you have children with and then there is someone else after to have fun with.”
Andrea pushed an old People Magazine my way. According to magazine, Susan Sarandon says her 23 year long relationship with Tim Robins had just run its course. “You bring people into your life at certain times,” Sarandon said. “Maybe you have a relationship to have children, and you realize that it’s fulfilled after that point.”
“Is that really the new future?!” Andrea asked me. She felt that we are becoming too self absorbed to focus on working it out with another person. As soon as the going gets tough, the tough get going…..to divorce court. “It’s like as soon as you get upset you just walk down to the local Walgreens to pick up a quick divorce.”
She sighed, “When I grew up, divorce was rare. You just worked through stuff. But now I wonder…..Are you supposed to work through it? Or not?”
Children are one reason why couples do choose to work it out. Andrea explained it to me, “I don’t care how much you love that man. If your kid and your husband are drowning at opposite ends of a river, you jump in and save the kid first.”
To some, saving the kid means working through the hard parts of a marriage. Of course, if the marriage is really terrible, children may be better off in split, yet amicable homes. No one wants to be stuck in misery.
Many couples that do not have children still claim that marriage isn’t always easy. I asked a childless married couple, Carl and Angela, why commitment is worth the work. Hard work certainly didn’t sound very romantic.
“Of course it’s hard!” said Carl. “But it is also worth it for the good times. To make it work you cannot get lazy; you always have to think of the other person.” Carl had just put a love note in Angela’s laptop case for her to read on her upcoming business trip. “ I wrote it knowing it would make her happy. And when she is happy, I am happy.”
My parents, in some people’s minds, have an enviable marriage. After 34 years, they still do everything together from ballroom dancing, to visiting China to shopping at Costco. But they weren’t always so inseparable. Growing up I remember my fair share of parental arguments. My dad would retreat to his workshop in the garage to ‘saw things’ and my mother would take six hour long walks around the neighborhood alone.
“Every marriage suffers unforgiveable hurts,” my mother told me. “But if you don’t work through it, then you don’t have all the good stuff at the end of the journey.”
However she did say that what worked for them may not be the answer for everyone. Sometimes unforgivable things such as affairs or abuse are not worth working through.
Abuse aside, sometimes people split apart when they grow apart. Life is too short to remain unhappy. A friend of mine recently got divorced leaving behind a dire marriage. “It was a mistake,” she said. “It was passionless. But now it’s over and now I can live my life…..much happier…..and hopeful.”
As with friendships, romantic relationships take dedication. It requires putting someone else ahead of our own needs and growing and changing through life together. Just like a roller coaster there will be ups and downs. In some cases, the train may come off the track. But if you manage to hold on, the best part of the ride may be at the end.