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Friday, January 25, 2013

I WANT TO KNOW: Is There Love After Marriage?

A year and a half into our marriage, we were walking on the fair grounds, commenting on the young couples in love: teen girls carrying bears won by their boyfriends at the clown toss, couples nestled in the seats of a Ferris wheel, others dancing to the live band, a few making out behind the vendors' stands.
"Remember when we were that in love?" David said to me.
Were? The comment bothered me. It was the same thing my parents had said, jokingly to each other and with smiles in their eyes, when they watched David and I fall in love. At that time, we were so in love that I couldn't imagine that there would ever come a time when I would not want to spend hours cuddling, lost in long conversation about everything under the sun. I had always believed we would keep the inloveness alive long after the wedding, despite what I heard older folks say.
To me, it was a problem that our feelings were changing. And I'm not the only one in our generation to feel that way. We know people who have broken up because they were concerned that their feelings would not stand the test of time. And the young adults that we spent two summers interviewing for the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project expressed the same fears about losing "the spark" after the wedding day. As one cohabiting 20-something man said, "I wanna make sure I'm happy before I get married…. I love her, you know, but is it going to stay that way?" Given this fear, people sometimes spend years dating, or increasingly, in cohabiting relationships, trying to discern if their love has what it takes to last after marriage. Sometimes even married people go to great lengths to protect the thrills of the dating stage — one young woman told us about her parents who would meet up at the bar after work, pretend like they didn't know each other, and act like they were meeting for the first time all over again.
Unconditional Commitment
David and I wondered what people who had been married 50-plus years would say about all of this. So we gathered together a small group of senior citizens at the local retirement community and hosted a "Town Hall Meeting on Marriage." What we heard is that, for these folks, marriage is not primarily about feeling perpetually and passionately in love, but about "companionship" and "having a family, children, a home."
One attendee at the meeting, Linda, a gray-haired woman in a long jean skirt and black and silver button-up shirt who spends her days taking care of her wheelchair-bound husband, said in a sweet Southern twang, "There were times I would have liked to have left. But Momma always said that love is not a bed of roses." She added, "I think a lot of people get married, and they think things are gonna continue the way they were in courtship and the honeymoon. And I think it's good to keep that spark alive, but you know when you start working and trying to make financial means and then you start [having] children, I mean, a lot of that has to give some, and I think the expectations are just more than it even realistically can be."
To the ears of the young lover, some of what this older generation has to say can sound depressing. And it's true that not all long-term marriages are happy ones. Another senior we talked to wrote a poem about how it makes her sad that her husband doesn't communicate with her. (One line went like this: "When first we wed, you heard everything I said/Now when I talk, I think you are dead.")
However, while the older generation tends to see marriage as an unconditional commitment that transcends feelings, it is also true that many of them have a deep and lasting love.

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