Then one night after a few too many wine coolers he told me that my purple eye shadow made me look like a transvestite hooker to which I retorted that his feet smelled worse than his dog. As time went on, I became annoyed that he would rather play World of Warcraft then cuddle with me and he began to doubt that I was “the one” apparently based on my lack of enthusiasm for all-things-X-Box.
And so the cycle begins. Sound familiar? One day you look up from your coffee and realize that your annoyance at his tendency to butter his toast directly on the countertop has ruined any chance that you would ever consider initiating a quickie before you head off to work. It is in that moment, when you realize that these interjections of un-bliss are beginning to supersede your moments of effortless bliss, that you know you are no longer in love, but have begun the deliberate undertaking which is real effortful love.
In Western culture marriages are largely based on the idea of romantic love, or the in love experience. From the time we are old enough to pay attention we are flooded with ideals of sublime romanticism. Cinderella found her Prince Charming and Scarlett O’hara never had to settle. We all watched Jenifer Aniston and Brad Pitt jump marriages in search of perfection. One can’t help but to believe that perfection is out there. It’s waiting for you with bulging muscles and a talent for writing poetry; on bended knee with a bottle of your favorite wine in one hand and a puppy in the other.
As a recently engaged girl myself, suddenly this idea of romance and the in love experience has been catching my attention. How long will it be before my messy closet and my tendency to forget replace the cap on the toothpaste drives my fiancé to explore other options? What is it that causes the effortless adoration of one’s mate to morph slowly but surely into effortless annoyance? What happens after he has seen you naked a thousand times and you have experienced exactly how badly refried beans upset his digestive system? What happens to love after we are no longer in love?
Sitting in local bistro with a recently married friend, I casually asked him how married life was treating him. His reply took me by surprise. “Not so great” he replied staring down into his plate. “Things just changed after we got married, I don’t know how or why, but they changed.”
I pressed him for details thinking that he must have some insight to how this change occurred, hoping he could enlighten me and provide a warning against some marital pitfalls. After several minutes of questioning however, he could not in any way satisfy my curiosity. “I don’t know what happened,” he continued. “We were so in love before, but after the wedding was over, I dunno, nothing I do is good enough, I don’t talk to her enough and she doesn’t …..” he trailed off, “it just changed.”
This couple, like so many others had finished the falling process and was beginning to undertake the reality of what it is to meaningfully and deliberately love one another; to engage in real effortful love. Falling in love and more specifically, being in love is an involuntary past time. When we fall in love we FALL in love. Falling is not a conscious decision or purposeful action. It didn’t take any effort to fall for that beautiful blond with a shining smile and the best titties in town. You fell effortlessly, and it felt amazing. You would follow her at the mall for hours holding her purse and gazing at her ass and she would gladly watch the game with you, probably giving you head during half-time. It took time, but before long, stress from your job and her annoying cackle of a laugh forced you out of the falling stage and into reality.
We deliberately and selflessly love our parents and our children despite their imperfections and this deliberate love is reciprocated. My dad rejects every boyfriend I have ever had in the ugliest way possible and my best friend’s three year old violently pitches all food that is not mac-n-cheese onto the floor. Yet we still deliberately and actively love these people. We are taught that if we are to be a good parent we should read our child a bedtime story, tuck him in at night and shower him kisses; regardless of the fact that he just adorned the freshly painted walls with his 64 pack of Crayola’s. If we understand love in this context, then why is it so hard for us to demonstrate love deliberately and selflessly, in the romantic context with our partners?
I challenge anyone who is reading this to spend one week deliberately and selflessly loving your partner. Cut your boyfriend some slack if he spends an entire Sunday watching ESPN, he is relaxed and enjoying himself. Take pleasure in his enjoyment. Celebrate your wife’s homemade meatloaf that tastes like dog food, at least she loves you enough to cook for you. Tell your domestic partner that you love him every day; even on the day that he shrinks your favorite Affliction tee in the dryer. The fact that he sucks at doing laundry does not change him from the person you once fell for. Creating real lasting love takes time, effort and thoughtfulness. After all, you can only fall for so long. The question is; what do you do when you hit the ground?