Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Passion vs Intimacy

Much to the chagrin of my wife there is a type of television show that I can't watching without becoming more and more agitated and angry.  Shows like The Bachelor or Bachelorette where dozens of men and women get together and see who can produce the most passion in the least amount of time using the most ridiculous budget.  Movies where the heroine finally has the courage to leave her boring old husband and embrace life with a new exciting and romantic man make me want to scream at the TV that relationships that start as a result of an affair have like a 10% chance of success.  Now admittedly, part of my irritation comes from being the least romantic man on the planet, I have had many conversations with my wife that boil down to me asking in exasperation, "OK, well if THAT isn't romantic then what the heck is romance?"  But even further I get sickened by our culture that promotes sex and romance as the most important goals to be sought out and the way to feel good about yourself.  For men it is pornography, and hypersexuality in the culture that says if you as a man can have a very attractive woman, or better many women, who desire you intensely enough to have tons of crazy sex with you then you will be content and life will be perfect.  If your wife isn't having sex with you three times a day and you are unhappy and unfulfilled in life then that isn't a coincidence, it's your wife's fault.  For women it is romance novels, romantic reality shows, and such that says if you can get a man to read your mind and do for you what you aren't even able to vocalize before you even know you want it then you will be in bliss.  The problem is that Hugh Grant and Jenna Jameson both play characters that don't exist in the real world and it is just as dishonoring to compare a husband to outrageously romantic gestures as it is to compare a wife to outrageously misproportioned body parts.  They both take something good that men and women have been blessed by God with and make an idol out of them - attractiveness and pursuing - when research shows that marital satisfaction, much less individual mental and emotional health are not based on sex or romance.

Now that my mini-rant is over I'll tackle my real target, the idolization of romantic love in our culture that results in cashing in real relationships looking for something flashier.  Most people fall in love, then later come to see a host of flaws in their spouse but feel confident they can fix them, before throwing in the towel and filing for divorce.  Others just have an affair because they are either so selfish that they want the stability of home with some passion on the side or are so cowardly they just can't bear to tackle the problems in the marriage so look for something easier on the side.  The reason divorce is seen as easy and affairs can feel like a real relationship when they are usually just fragile fantasies that crumble in the light of reality is because of this obsession with passion.  Passion is exciting, new found romantic love, or limerence as some researchers refer to it can make everything else in life seem pale in comparison to that person who has swept you off your feet.  They are all you can think about, they have nothing but good qualities and not only have they never hurt you but you can't imagine they ever will.  They receive instant grace, they go on and on about your positive attributes, they encourage you, they want to sit for hours and hear about your hopes and dreams.  This is true of two people falling in love and it is equally true of someone who is married and is building an inappropriate relationship with someone who isn't their spouse, except there is even more of a draw.  This relationship has all those warm fuzzy feelings as well as a kick of adrenaline for the wrongness of it, a bond that if things leaked out it would be the two of you against the world, they encourage you to be as selfish and deceptive as they are without a hint of judgement.  You take the fantastic feelings of puppy love or forbidden love and they are going to look better seven days a week compared to the day in, day out routine of marriage complete with years of hurt and resentment after the grace tank ran out, a mortgage to pay and kids to raise together.  There is only one scale where long-term committed marriage has an edge on romantic love and that is durability, because the dirty little secret about romantic love is that it is a neurological state that can only exist in the human brain for a maximum of two to three years.

So get a divorce, have an affair, you're guaranteed that the next person you date will make you feel all warm and fuzzy, for two to three years.  If you are fine jumping from relationship to relationship then you can keep the feeling alive, as long as you are OK with the relational carnage you leave in your wake.  There is one exception to the two to three year rule, and that is unrequited love - you get separated and never get to see things played out you can keep the fantasy alive in your head a hundred years later as long as you never actually meet back up with them.  Maybe there is a high school sweetheart that you still follow on Facebook and you just know in your heart that if you would have married them instead of the toad you live with you would still be madly, passionately in love.  Maybe you had a crush on someone years ago and still compare everyone you date to them unsuccessfully.  Research seems to show that the archenemy of romantic love seems to be reality.  Give it enough time, reality seeps in and you see the person for who and what they really are, a selfish, sinful, flawed human being with personality quirks and character flaws.  I call it the anesthesia of love, and when it wears off it is rarely pleasant.  Now that most of you reading have gone to get your antidepressants refilled I'll reveal the truly beautiful part of all this, there is a third option - Intimacy.

There's romantic love, there is brutal disenchantment, and then there is the rarely seen unicorn known as intimacy which is never attained by the vast majority of the population because they don't have the selflessness and perseverance to ever see it come to fruition.  Intimacy is what happens when you decide to let romantic love die because you know it can't last anyway, and when disenchantment comes you don't give up.  Divorce is the widely publicized route plenty of people take to find a way out, but just as often people settle in to an accompanied solitude, a resignation that marriage will always be there but love died a long time ago.  That's why I don't vilify romantic love anymore, because I now know what it is - it's like a down payment, earnest money, a sneak peek for a couple down the road to what they can have if they really work on it.  Infatuation comes with no work and no investment and if it didn't exist we'd all just meet each other, see reality and want nothing to do with each other - then the human race would die off in a generation.  When we hit the point in marriage where we are tempted to give up we can look back at what was once there and remind ourselves that we can have something that looks a whole lot like it in the future.  Hollywood tells us we can get back romantic love with the person where everything is easy and natural and takes no selflessness or sacrifice but that is crap.  The reality is if we can allow marriage to humble us, to kill off our selfishness, to orient our mindsets around what is best for us as a couple rather than continuing to think as an individual, and if we can use years and years of conflict and stressors both internal and external to mature and grow us we can achieve intimacy.  Strangers in a public bathroom can have passion, any two selfish idiots can remain stuck in stubborn disenchantment, but it takes a selfless, loving, humble man and woman who have been through job losses, the death of family members, late night tearful arguments, or financial devastation to ever achieve true intimacy.  If the two of you haven't been through hell together then you haven't earned intimacy yet.  You see intimacy takes effort, it takes time, and it takes not giving up when it gets hard.  It means you figure out a way to be like Christ and truly love a sinful flawed human being who try as they might will never stop disappointing and hurting you, because you know they are married to you and you aren't much different.  I'm not talking about denying they have problems like romantic love, or being obsessed with getting them to fix their flaws like in disenchantment, but seeing them for who they are and choosing to love them anyway.  You both do that long enough and lo and behold you'll wake up one day and look around to see that you have achieved true intimacy like I have.  And then, like me, you can scoff at hypersexuality and reality shows based on romance because you enjoy something 95% of the population will never achieve and so for them what's on TV is the best they can imagine.

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