Ran across two good essays recently, both on later stage romance.
One, by Heather Havrilesky:
But once you’ve been married for a long time (my tenth anniversary is in a few months!), a whole new kind of romance takes over. It’s not the romance of rom-coms, which are predicated on the question of “Will he/she really love me (which seems impossible), or does he/she actually hate me (which seems far more likely and even a little more sporting)?" Long-married romance is not the romance of watching someone’s every move like a stalker, and wanting to lick his face but trying to restrain yourself. It’s not even the romance of “Whoa, you bought me flowers, you must REALLY love me!” or “Wow, look at us here, as the sun sets, your lips on mine, we REALLY ARE DOING THIS LOVE THING, RIGHT HERE.” That’s dating romance, newlywed romance. You’re still pinching yourself. You’re still fixated on whether it’s really happening. You’re still kind of sort of looking for proof. The little bits of proof bring the romance. The question of whether you’ll get the proof you require brings the romance. (The looking for proof also brings lots of fights, but that’s a subject for another day.)
After a decade of marriage, if things go well, you don’t need any more proof. What you have instead — and what I would argue is the most deeply romantic thing of all — is this palpable, reassuring sense that it’s okay to be a human being. Because until you feel absolutely sure that you won’t eventually be abandoned, it’s maybe not 100 percent clear that any other human mortal can tolerate another human mortal. The smells. The sounds. The repetitive fixations on the same dumb shit, over and over. Even as you develop a kind of a resigned glaze of oh, this again in, say, marital years one through five, you also feel faintly unnerved by your own terrible mortal humanness.
Or you should feel that way.
Another, by Alain de Botton:
Given that marrying the wrong person is about the single easiest and also costliest mistake any of us can make (and one which places an enormous burden on the state, employers and the next generation), it is extraordinary, and almost criminal, that the issue of marrying intelligently is not more systematically addressed at a national and personal level, as road safety or smoking are.
It’s all the sadder because in truth, the reasons why people make the wrong choices are easy to lay out and unsurprising in their structure. They tend to fall into some of the following basic categories.
Botton proposes a new form of marriage to follow on the previous two ages of marriage which he terms the marriage of reason and then the marriage of romance. He terms this the psychological marriage.
In the age of the marriage of reason, one might have considered the following criteria when marrying:
- who are their parents
- how much land do they have
- how culturally similar are they
In the Romantic age, one might have looked out for the following signs to determine rightness:
- one can’t stop thinking of a lover
- one is sexually obsessed
- one thinks they are amazing
- one longs to talk to them all the time
We need a new set of criteria. We should wonder:
- how are they mad
- how can one raise children with them
- how can one develop together
- how can one remain friends
Romance/marriage, as with many human institutions, is susceptible to human myopia. People are lousy at anticipating long-term consequences, and romance is particularly seductive with its immediate chemical rush.