This weekend I added an event to my calendar for Feb. 14. And it reminded me that I’ve spent most Valentine’s Days alone. It got me to thinking about a book we read for a monthly book group called all about love: “New Visions” by Bell Hooks. It is one of several books she has written on love. In the first part of the book, Hooks shares some thoughts about her search for real love. She suggests that most of us do not get to experience true love. We settle for relationships that include things like caring, compassion respect, but not real love.
As I read the book it reminded me of my search for love. I ‘fell in love’ and got married in my mid-20s. Thirteen years later, with a 3-year-old, and a new baby on the way, I found myself divorced, and on my own. For the next 20 years, I engaged in an unsuccessful search for love. My kids grew up and became independent, and I was still searching.
The year my daughter graduated from high school, I met someone with whom I experienced one of those ‘too good to be true’ romances. We talked for hours about everything and nothing. We were as happy spending the evening curled up on the couch, with him watching TV while I read a book, as we were going out for a romantic evening on the town. After a whirlwind courtship, we got married. We promised that we’d have the sort of relationship that some people only get to dream of. We’d live life with love and laughter. We’d travel and explore new places. We’d work very hard to be honest with one another, and talk out any problems until we resolved them. And we would treasure each other and our love, for the rest of our lives, ‘til death did us part’.
As you’ve probably guessed, it didn’t last. Barely two years later, after being emotionally and psychologically abusive, he divorced me, leaving me with debts to cover my legal costs that I’m still paying off. After having my dreams shattered for the second time, I decided that passionate love and laughter and happiness were impossibly idealistic and unattainable.
So as I read Bell Hooks’ book, I found myself wondering, had I written off love too easily?
What would true love look like? It’s not the sappy, happy ever after of movies and formula fiction. True love does involve moments of intense joy. It also involves serious emotional work. I watch so many couples sabotaging their relationships. They talk past each other, each one too wrapped up in their own issues to really listen to the other. Or one person will get hurt and respond with something deeply and personally hurtful — and the argument escalates. Often, neither partner in the relationship risks showing their true feelings — because the other person might use that information to be hurtful the next time they get angry.
And yet, I’ve met couples who have deeply satisfying marriages of 20, 40, occasionally even 60 years. I think the secret has to do with Scott Peck’s definition of real love. In “The Road Less Traveled“, Peck defines love as, “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” When love is expressed by this willingness to work at it, it can be truly special. Some people are lucky enough to find a partner with whom they can share that king of love. And some of us aren’t.