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Standing Up to Love

Valentine’s Day wrapped up recently. A day of roses, chocolates, cards and stuffed animals sell very well. But in recent years, others are marking this day by new meaning, a new mantra: Singles Awareness Day. The idea seems silly, but is it truly the expression of independence or the mark of the lonely–a mask concealing solitary frustration?

I’m inclined to think both emotions are evident. One who is still single, I have a deep disdain for this "holiday," but know it is the simple reminder diligence must mark my search for relationship. My distaste for this holiday is simple too: If people require one day reminding them romance is still necessary, I surmise the bond is slowly breaking. I don’t recognize my expertise on relationships for one moment, but know I have learned much in life studying the interactions of others. I examine arguing and conflict resolution, crying and consolation, division and compromise.

In fact, I remember lying in my bed 3–4 years ago, adjacent to the window. I sleep well, but noises outside disturb my sleep. And although I cannot recall the duration between encounters, I can still hear the verbal abuse between neighbors–three marriages, six people, three unique nights. I cracked my window and listened in, spirit sinking, heart racing. I wondered if extreme behavior would follow the exchange. Silence soon filled the streets, but I do know one marriage is no longer intact.

Love is always mysterious, always changing, redefined through society. Psychology has much to say on this subject too. Helen Fisher, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University, divides love into three phases in Anatomy of Love: lust, attraction, attachment. In the lust phase, initial attraction is simple sexual instinct; over time, lust gives way to attraction. Fidelity becomes a cornerstone of the relationship too. And attraction leads to attachment, a bond forged through shared interests. I think of it as a lifetime friendship.

When I meditate on long-term relationships, I have come to the conclusion marriage is the best step. But when I study the figures, it is always disconcerting. Current studies place the divorce rate at roughly 52 percent. So when I consider this reality, fear grips my spirit from time to time. I wonder whether I will go the distance or simply become part of the statistics.

In the Scriptures, much is written on the subject of love. One Hebrew word for love is ahab and simply means love; a Greek word for love, better known, is agape and means "good will" or "unselfish". I believe the Greek rendition is the mark of good relationships, marriages. I think the person who also grasps the agape state of mind recognizes love will not always be returned.

A good friend of mine is writing a book on marriage, and I wish to paraphrase his understanding of this bond: Marriage is not a focus of meeting needs. If it is, one can withhold from the other and resentment can quickly gain footing. Marriage is framed by this clarity: "I don’t need you to meet my needs. God provides for me. I want you to want me, not need me."

Michael Leunig states, "Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that." Love seems simple, but I don’t know if it will ever be fully understood. It’s discussed in words, but the feeling cannot always be put into text. Jesus marks his students by this action: Love one another. And I wonder if love can exist without God. Much writing exists in this moment on a belief in the absence of God, but if this is so, where does love originate? With each passing day, the belief that love is not mutually exclusive from God, is confirmed. And oddly enough, I cannot put the logic for this into words–it is a feeling.

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Perhaps God puts it best after the first human wanders the globe: "It is not good for man to be alone." I think a better translation is "lonely," for a clear distinction exists between "alone" and "lonely"; the former denotes the absence of people and the latter denotes the absence of community, relationship. At times, however, the distinction blurs.

When I ponder marriage, it’s simple to think mine will not go the distance. The figures confirm this reality. But I wish to buck the system and take my relationship for life. This lies in my willingness to go forward day after day, a clarity I have discovered in the words of Sheryl Crow. She recently shared an interview with Reader’s Digest on breast cancer, her music and her new son.

Engaged three times, Crow has never married. Her sisters are both divorced too. Asked about best advice on relationships, she puts it this way: "When I was engaged the second time, I asked my mom how she and dad made it for so many years. She said that every single day, you have to decide you’re committed to the person." Maybe this is the mark of the long marriage, the decision to choose one’s spouse everyday, whether through word or action. Conflicts will arise, tension will arise, tears will arise, but unselfish, peaceful love moves into chaos and settles the storm.

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