In My Own Write: Happily ever after

Forget about falling in love. How about falling in like?

By
March 27, 2012 22:08
Love

Rocks good illustrative for love 370. (photo credit: Thinkstock)

‘All you need is love,” sang The Beatles. And the sentiment persists, pervading popular Western culture – books, films, advertising – like a fine, perfumed mist. But is it true?

Reaching back into my earlier, more impetuous years in Jerusalem, I pull up a memory that has remained accessible not so much because of the personality of my date that evening, but because of a conversation we had over coffee about relationships.

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I asked him what trait he thought was most conducive to a happy union.

Still young and starry-eyed, I expected him to name a quality like love or passion, excitement or romance, possibly commitment or devotion.

When he answered “tolerance,” I felt let down, and thought him a bit of a cold fish. To my heightened sensibilities back then, tolerance sounded like much too drab and prosaic an attribute to head the requirements for wedded bliss.

Today, I applaud his wisdom because tolerance feels like the cozy tent that protects our most meaningful ties from the chill wind of disillusion and disappointment.

We try to be tolerant where our friends are concerned. We are realistic about their sometimes annoying quirks and foibles, and accept them with as much grace as we can muster – because we like those friends and want our relationship with them to endure.

We also, if we possess any self-knowledge, realize that we have our own quirks and peculiarities and expect our friends to accept them with the same good grace.

NOW LET’S look at love. Amid its wonder and joy, the process of falling in love tends to raise the love object to heavenly heights, obscuring the ordinary human aspect, including those quirks and flaws. Reality takes a back seat, along with tolerance – for who needs tolerance in Paradise?

Hooked on the “in-love” drug, many trot happily to tie the knot with that angelic other.

“When I fell in love with my ex-husband,” a friend told me, “I thought: ‘He’s perfect.’ And I really believed he was, in every possible way. I was on Cloud Nine.”

Very soon, however, he revealed himself to be only too humanly imperfect – a reality for which, she wryly admits, she was mostly unprepared. She feels she fell in love – or was it chiefly physical attraction? – before she had really gotten to know this person with whom she would be living in such close proximity.

“When the passion cooled down,” she recalled, “I took another look at the man I had married, and realized that I didn’t really like him that much. He wasn’t a bad person; just not who I had thought he was.

“I was swept away by romance,” she said. “I realized I had missed out on an important stage in getting to know someone.”

“Falling in love with love / Is falling for make-believe; / Falling in love with love / Is playing the fool…” – Rogers and Hammerstein

SO LET’S put love aside for a moment, and consider “like,” which opens the door to real life, recognizing that tolerance has an important part to play.

That brings me to the psychologist who tells his female clients: “It is more important to like your husband than to love him.” And to the friend who has been happily married for 38 years and replied, simply, when I asked her how she had known that this was the man she should marry: “I felt that he could be my friend.”

“It is so important to like the person you’re with,” a newly married acquaintance confided to me. “It’s more important to be ‘in like’ than to be in love,” he added.

Finally, I found this poignant comment posted on an Internet chat site: “Love without like becomes a cold love born of duty.”

It seems essential here to define, and refine, one’s terms, which is to say that there exists a truer, deeper love than the initial, heady sensation of being “in love” – important though that first rush of attraction and excitement is. This deeper love is born of knowledge and appreciation of the other, and of shared experiences and goals.

In stark contrast to modern culture, which idolizes sex and romance, this deeper love is the only kind that some communities – haredi Jews, for example – recognize as valid. For them, it is considered good and fitting that a young couple who meet should be attracted to each other; but the true love, the real love, comes after marriage, and not before. It’s a conviction that cannot be blithely dismissed by a secular culture in which the divorce rate is alarmingly high, and rising.

TO GET a better handle on what being “in love” and “in like” signify, I drew two columns and jotted down the associations that automatically came to mind in connection with each state.

Under “In Love,” I wrote: romance, sexual attraction, giddiness and infatuation, idealization of the other, clinging – compare child-mother symbiosis; weakened judgment. The “In Like” column comprised: friendship, enjoyment, respect, tolerance and space.

Some elaboration on the above: When I saw that I had instinctively linked “infatuation, obsession, clinging and child-mother symbiosis” to being “in love,” I reflected that the all-encompassing initial sensation of being in love may in some respects mimic the first immature bond of a child to its mother, in which the child experiences itself and mother as a single entity. “In-lovers,” carried away by the strength of their reciprocal feelings, may experience themselves as “two bodies with a single heart.”

If that suggests abounding mutual affection and caring, it’s great; but if it means both partners expecting to have the same thoughts, the same ideas and opinions, desires and aspirations forever, it’s doubtful they’ll remain together for the long haul.

Further, scientists have been able to pinpoint actual physical changes in the brain that result from the powerful chemical cocktail produced by falling in love; as a consequence, the lovers’ hearts (i.e., their emotions) dominate their heads (i.e., their judgment). This explains people’s initial, willful blindness to any flaws in their beloved, and the harsh thud of reality when the “love drug” begins to wear off.

UNDER THE heading “In Like,” friendship, enjoyment and respect together suggest a relationship that includes having fun and finding pleasure in each other’s company, together with a genuine appreciation of the other person’s qualities.

“Space” introduces the element of allowing the significant other to be him- or herself; and tolerance implies accepting that way of being, even when it differs from what we were used to before.

I didn’t add “communication,” both because I think it is implied by “friendship,” and because it is clear that stable couples have found a way to relate that is pleasant, productive and, above all, free of hostility.

None of this is intended to denigrate love – romantic, sexual or any other; merely to state the belief that “like” is possibly a better, saner and more clear-sighted start to a relationship one hopes will be loving and lasting.

POSTSCRIPT: The young man who so long ago cited tolerance as paramount in a happy union might have been having an off-day on the occasion the two of us went out.

I remember that we dropped into a hotel that was showing in its lobby an exhibition of Frank Meisler silver sculptures. As we walked around, I noticed an oddity: Someone had placed an egg in a ring that formed part of one of the figures. It looked quite incongruous balancing there.

“Look,” I exclaimed, idly wondering whether the egg was hard-boiled or raw; the latter, as it turned out. When I gave it a gentle prod, it fell out and broke – as chance would have it – over my date’s shoes.

Do you know, he never called me again.


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