Finale: Why We Love

bouquetWhy do we marry? I mean, why do we want to? I think eyeing that green, green grass of marital bliss as singles, we think more of the physical and emotional intimacy and the charming notion of making house. Those who live by convictions of faith or tradition that prescribe sex only within marriage may in particular feel this way, but people the world over copulate outside marriage. So it’s a broader question I’m asking. We are in love with the idea of being in love, wanting to sustain that feeling. We give ourselves away on this point: we root for the lovers on screen and in those pages as they push against every obstacle set before them – culture, race, class, war – and strain to touch fingertips. Elizabeth Gilbert says: It’s all about a desire to feel chosen. [My friend] went on to write that while the concept of building a life together with another adult was appealing, what really pulled at her heart was the desire for a wedding, a public event ‘that will unequivocally prove to everyone, especially to myself, that I am precious enough to have been selected by somebody forever.’ Although still retroactively tired from the rigors of my own lovely wedding and wishing I could’ve traded that satin shoe for an elopement, I think this woman gets close. We want to be marked.

Wanting to get married looks different for men and women. Though I won’t name the bloggers who’ve disagreed with me (aren’t you glad, Curt, Brad?), I think men are wired to pursue, their pleasure to be found in moving toward the woman. And women want to feel desired. In wanting to find someone to settle down with, men don’t think, “Oh, I want to be wooed.” I’ve said in the past that our very biology suggests this dynamic at play. And yes, I’m on shifty ground because in this feminist day many women in fact do the chasing. But descriptive behavior is not what I have in mind. I have yet to see a successful, lasting nuptial where the woman had insisted herself on the man and overpowered him (or manipulated him into it). Whether or not you agree, you see the majority of us wants to lay claim to someone and be claimed. Not be out here floating, forever available.

Love limits, almost by definition. Love narrows. The great expansion we feel in our hearts when we fall in love is matched only by the great restrictions that will necessarily follow. F and I have one of the most easygoing relationships you could possibly imagine, but please do not be fooled: I have utterly claimed this man as my own, and I have therefore fenced him off from the rest of the herd. His energies (sexual, emotional, creative) belong in large part to me, not to anybody else – not even entirely to himself anymore. He owes me things like information, explanations, fidelity, constancy, and details about the most mundane little aspects of his life. It’s not like I keep the man in a radio collar, but make no mistake about it – he belongs to me now. And I belong to him, in exactly the same measure. Gilbert in Committed.

Single people can stake out a community, especially in this age of options with meetups and interest groups of every hue in the rainbow. But this doesn’t quite mute the loneliness for most. It is an exclusive belonging we seek, one that is both horizontal in the emotional connection as well as vertical in the building of a home, the roots we want to lay. Even animals mark their place in the world. Communal affinities don’t require the private intimacy that Gilbert reminds us comes in a committed relationship. We want to desire and be desired, and in the heady throes of romance declare and hear the longing. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. CS Lewis (who else?)

In The Signature of All Things by Gilbert, scientist Alma Whitaker had been quietly following the work of Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace into her waning years. The men had no idea who she was or that she too had actually come up with the theory of evolution that had propelled them to fame. Darwin never publicly spoke an ill word about Wallace, nor Wallace about Darwin, but Alma always wondered what the two men – so brilliant, and yet so opposite in disposition and style – truly thought of each other. Her question was answered…when Charles Darwin died and Alfred Wallace, per Darwin’s written instructions, served as a pallbearer at the great man’s funeral. They loved each other, she realized. They loved each other, because they knew each other. With that thought, Alma felt deeply lonely, for the first time in dozens of years.

Described to be unattractive, Alma had been hungry for the love of a man all her long life. Like her, we want to be known and cherished through our utmost faults, and be shown our own possibility of beauty. We discover the fuller breadth of this gift when we step over the threshold of matrimony. Marriage is one place this marvel of being known and (still) loved unfolds as you bump against each other’s offenses and annoyances and realize it’s forgive or bust. This knowing goes beyond the acceptance in the schoolyard, the affirmation that we’re all right and likeable. It goes even beyond the assurance from parents that our loveability remains in sure standing. Which is why when we feel our spouse doesn’t really see us it cuts deeply. And so love is hard. It not only demands expression and attention but exacts its greatest testimony, sacrifice.

Even as a girl, my wanting to get married someday was bound up in my yearning to be a mother. In truth, what I wanted more than anything was to hold my baby to my heart someday. (Sorry, honey. I got the trash tonight.) Taking care of my latchkey cousins on my visits, I also wished I could raise them myself – literally, as a teenager at the time. If I were assured in my single days the recognition of Gilbert as a writer and her place on the TED stage for a trade-in on my hopes of marriage and motherhood, I would have chosen this life unblinkingly. (Okay, so I lingered on that stage a few minutes.) Remember, this from a woman for whom every minute writing is a drop of rain on a parched tongue. No, I didn’t see boyfriends only or primarily as potential fathers and I made sure to enjoy the romance with my husband. Well aware that nothing this side of heaven could ever fully satisfy, that I would always want more, I would still have felt palpably, if not achingly, incomplete without a child of my own. Well, one day, I fell in love with the baby in my arms before I went on to follow the miracle of his growing.

TPotSo why would I surrender the chance at unimpeded devotion to my art and intoxicating acclaim (presuming I had Gilbert’s talent in that alternate universe) for the daily sacrifice of my body, time, and energy in the obscurity of motherhood? Turn my back on the opportunity to be known by millions around the world in order to wash cloth diapers by hand and pour over a stove? The question is its own answer. A childhood friend realized when she had her first child that her mother had always been looking at her. It is the sacrifice that is our delight, the unique experience of giving wholeheartedly and relentlessly to a life that delights as much in the taking. Babies and young children have nothing to give back, at least intentionally. They don’t see you because they can’t the way you do them. It’s not their job. The art of parenthood is the art of knowing. The keener your observations, the better you decode the cries, the shyness, the explosion of energy, the ways they cope with fear. This correlation holds with friends and spouses also but at least in adult relationships we can expect some return of pleasure and appreciation on the investment of our emotional resources. Parenthood is a one-way street, especially in the early years.

The sweetness of a man’s attention is the reason it might not have drawn me as compellingly as motherhood. (Masochist, remember?) Because where sacrifice is the measure of love, you don’t get more pain out of the business of forging a family than you do in childbirth. It’s not that one must give birth to experience love in its fullness. Love is too rich, has too many dimensions. I personally know fathers who make the better parent, and we have need in the world for foster parents and caregivers which many, many step up to fill. There are women who can’t or don’t want children who give in many other ways out of a bottomless storehouse of love. This simply happens to be my narrative. I would make a better birth mother than an adoptive one. And there is something organic and visceral – downright bloody – about birthing that it discloses its own mystery on love. The pain is so mind-blowing it is a foretaste of death. You will permit me to speak because I felt every bit of it when I brought my boy into this world unanesthetized. And I’m not putting a higher premium on parenthood over the privilege of being a spouse, either. All I am saying is we want to love so much to the point of giving up something, to the point of hurting, and women happen to find this generous opportunity in the physical and emotional capacity of the womb that is part of our design. Ironically, the high calling of sacrifice is the very reason so many marriages fail. Negotiating the give and take day in, day out into decades can get tiresome in the least under the selfishness of human nature.

So whether we become a parent or remain single, we want to mark not only our place in this world but upon other lives. Where we inscribe our sacrifice at great cost, we know we have really loved.

194 thoughts on “Finale: Why We Love

  1. Your thoughts and analysis of why we love take me back many years….to be loved or to feel someone’s love is a powerful drawing card.

    Here’s to Your Health!

  2. Pingback: On love | Jambo Robyn

  3. Hi, really really enjoyed this. And was planning to send it to my 23 year old daughter following up on some of our conversations until about halfway through, when it moved to motherhood… I don’t think she is ready for that discussion so I held back, or maybe would send her just the part about why marry… so insightful and a real contribution to the modern dialogue… the motherhood thing is several more steps along the path, hopefully. But, it couldn’t be two separate discussions? The first leads without pause to the thoughts in the latter part, to your mind?

    • Right. I had said that for ME the first bridged right into the latter but yes, I also did punctuate the point at the end that sacrifice will apply to anyone in any station. I have faithful single male followers among others here and was not going to put up a finale that was irrelevant to many. =) Thanks.


  4. Hi Diana, what a thoughtful post and so relevant for me as I swim in waters as a single person wondering how to navigate a world that seems out of place for those not coupled and/or with kids. There are plenty of things to occupy myself with, like you said, with meetup groups, my own circle of friends and family, and a never ending to do list. There is something unmatchable however about the needs met by a soul mate; one you are destined to start an grow a family with. I do realize now, after many years of hard lessons learned, that for me only God can and has met my own needs of fulfillment but that doesn’t mean sharing life with someone doesn’t make it more pleasant. I could not agree with you more that women inherently want to be pursued and men be the pursuer. So many arguments I believe have started from a misunderstanding of this basic and age old truth! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • I really appreciate the sincerity, Tricia. What a thoughtful reflection where this post meets your journey. Indeed, He has inscribed His love upon your life with his sacrifice. =) All the best to you.


  5. A wonderful post on that universal emotion that affects all humanity one way or the other. I think for me – parental love is the most unconditional of loves, precisely because of all the sacrifices that we are so willing to make for our children (biological or not). And I often feel, that if we could bring even a smidgen of that unconditionality within adult relationships, instead of being enamoured by purely romantic aspects,( imbibed by the steady conditioning we receive and absorb since childhood) we would have a much better chance of ‘real’ relationships. I agree that it begins by this desire to ‘pursue and be pursued’ (often but not always) but to sustain it, it requires a love that is so much more bigger, giving and unconditional. When ego rears its ugly head, love often takes a backseat, spelling the doom for many relationships. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and analysis.

  6. Very deep analysis – good points…thank goodness that we just “fall in love” …if our brains had to think about all that goes into picking a mate, we may never get one – however, if we did put more thought into the process, we may be more successful – at least more than the 50 percent success rate .

  7. Its rather spooky. To see your thoughts in print as if the author looked into your mind and stole your thoughts. Very interesting point of view and your take on it all is so right on.

  8. I have never read such an in-depth study of the whys and fore-all of love. Amazing. I’m one of the love the feeling of love people. For family, and friends, it’s unconditional. Married twice, not so unconditional for men. Still, I do have my reasons and I as stated, I love the idea of love. This was a joy to read.

    • Isn’t that something, how we love the idea and feeling of love? And yet it can be so difficult – as you say – more conditional when it comes to romantic commitment. Thanks so much for the thoughtful reading and feedback.


    • How sweet! I’ve missed you guys, too!! Too busy over here (and, to let you in, have been prepping the new series). =) Hoping to pick up posting today….THANK you for keeping me in mind.


  9. Pingback: Readers’ Choice | A Holistic Journey

  10. Oh, I am not an expert… Just thinking, it might be also that both are looking for safety and companionship. Like, having your very attractive best friend for your spouse ;). Coming home and leaving the world behind.

  11. Hello! Yes I’m late to this one, just catching up on WP and read your latest post but noticed this one sitting there, how have I missed it? Great stuff! Happy New Year ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I really enjoyed reading this! Hilarious and thorough analysis at the same time. I think the reasons to love and be loved keeps changing at different stages of our lives. And at the end of everything most people get married so they can get genuine companionship and there’s also this nagging fear of ending up alone and lonely!

  13. Aah lovely post. I’ve missed out a lot in the blogging world since last year but hopefully I’ll come into my own soon enough. This question of love and marriage reminds me of a dialogue in a mushy romantic movie I once watched. Can’t remember the name of course. In it they describe that marriage means that the person has someone to vouch for his or her existence, and that it means that everything in life will be recorded by that significant other. Like a living, breathing testament of one’s existence. Otherwise what’s the point right?

    • Hey Nida, welcome back to the Couch Circle. =) The movie Shall We Dance had a similar line that said it all. The wife – whose husband almost strayed – at the end says we marry for a witness of our lives. And it’s double the joy when we can serve as witness to our children’s journey from the inception. Speaking of which, I hope you’re getting rest and remembering your oxygen mask. =)

  14. “We want to be marked.” Oh, that struck me. We want assurance of our loveability, particularly those of us who did not get this in stellar fashion from our parents. And yet, I find it is only those who are truly independent, who truly feel their own loveability, that swim well in the sometimes rough waters of long-term relationships. Ironic, eh? In order to be free in love, we have to learn to love ourselves.

    • It IS ironic, C. This feedback is a springboard off your comment. “The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa was an important read for me. I thought you would really take to it. She uncovers the biology of childhood traumas, learns that Science shows they alter our DNA and set many of us up (women esp) for health issues in adulthood. She discovered how she could actually revise and remediate some serious challenges through the practice of mindfulness and meditation, among other modalities. Hope you chk it out. =)

  15. I married my husband a few weeks after my college commencement because we had lived most of the year in separate locations for the prior five years and I was tired of it. I was not thinking about our eventual children, although we did decide to become parents after a few years

  16. Much to think about here Diana. I love your analogies. I think different events people experience in their lives lead them to the decisions about whether or not they want children. I know this was the case for me. Certainly you were meant to be a mother. (PS thanks for the email)
    I was having some WP issues, not receiving posts from those I’m following, and noticed I hadn’t seen your posts in awhile, so I popped over here and ‘refollowed’. ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy Val Day my friend! โค

      • Thanks for your support Diana. I can’t afford to fold. I’ve made too many wonderful friends here, great followers, and always so much to learn from others. Besides, my books would wither away without a presence. ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad we haven’t lost one another. โค

My Two Gold Cents in the Holistic Treasury

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s