February 14, 2014

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Romantic love’s the goal, but, remember, nobody’s perfect

Cynthia DewesLovers celebrate love every day of the year, but on Valentine’s Day it becomes official. Of course, love includes love of God, love of beauty or love of friends, children and parents. But on this particular day, we celebrate romantic love.

For most of us, romantic love culminates in marriage. It’s a sacramental union, meaning that it is life-giving in the same way that God, who is love, gives life to us. Without the benefit of sacramental grace, I believe it’s only a use arrangement.

Recently, an old friend called to say hello. He and one of my friends from kindergarten had been married for many years when she died. Although time has modified his grief, he said he’s still surprised at how they had become like one person over time. He’s not a religious man, but he understands the scriptural phrase that in a marriage “two shall become one.”

This phenomenon is something that I’ve noticed in long-married couples, including my grandparents, friends, and my husband and me. In such marriages, husbands and wives finish each others’ sentences, and often share information in social situations merely with a raised eyebrow or the tiny smile at the corner of the lip.

Romantic love continues throughout a lifetime together, although the nature of it changes. From early passionate attraction, it develops into steady devotion and finally comfortable unity. Of course, there are ups and downs all along, crises and triumphs, anguishing moments and tenderness.

Sacramental grace carries a marriage through all of these, good or bad. One of my friends was married to a wonderful man who developed multiple sclerosis while still fairly young. They had small children and limited income, but they depended upon God’s love to carry them along. My friend nursed her husband, and they continued to enjoy each other’s company until he died. To this day, he is in her words as he is in her heart.

Some couples share the joys and pains of raising children, and sometimes handicapped children. But some, who don’t have children for whatever reason, have shared their maternal and paternal gifts with relatives and friends who can use the help. Others have weathered obstacles we might envy: honest accumulations of wealth, or necessary changes of location for work.

Loving couples learn to accommodate each other’s foibles. I know a wife who always became frazzled preparing for her family’s annual camping trips. The first night at the campsite she’d yell, cry, stamp her feet and throw things. The husband and kids would stay far away, setting up the tent and ignoring her. Nothing was ever said.

On the other hand, her husband was not famous for his social instincts. When company came, if he got bored he’d pick up a book and read while the conversation flowed around him. Again, nothing was said.

Couples may argue once in a while, slam doors and then make up. They may communicate or not, find each other funny or not, share interests or just accommodate each other cheerfully. Some couples argue as part of their usual communication, and some talk out everything from politics to children problems. But in the end, they get along.

In the movie, Some Like it Hot, the rich playboy portrayed by comedian Joe E. Brown, wants to marry a pretty show girl. But when the “girl” reveals “herself” to be Jack Lemmon and thus can’t marry him, Brown smilingly replies, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” He sure had that right. †

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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