Like most all-American girls, I grew up on Disney movies. Over and over again I would sit and watch the prince and princess fall in love, marry, and – I was told – live happily ever after. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently bad about this storyline. But it’s definitely not the full story either.
Fast-forward a few decades and though the movies I watch these days are not usually Disney, it often feels like they’re following the same script. Girl meets boy, they fall in love, they overcome one challenge together, and we are left to assume they live happily ever after. But I’ve been married for quite awhile now, and I know that most of the story has been left untold.
My husband and I enjoyed a pretty romantic and carefree first year of marriage, but eventually troubles came like we knew they would. So we had to learn to grow together through them rather than let them tear us apart. Moving cities multiple times, job dissatisfaction, financial insecurity, my husband returning to school, and parenting woes all took their toll on us and too often we lashed out at each other. These external stressors were all in addition to the interpersonal ones we faced, like figuring out communication and sexual intimacy. If we had been counting on love and marriage to be a constant source of joy and pleasure, we would have been disillusioned years ago.
It seems to me that one of the biggest misunderstandings of our society in this day and age is the belief that true love will always come naturally, will always feel good, will always satisfy all of our needs and desires. And though those things sure do sound good, they’re just not reality. The truth is that true love always encounters tough times and often feels less than romantic. In my own marriage there have been many, many days when love was a choice and not at all a feeling. This doesn’t make our love for each other less real; on the contrary, it makes it stronger, more committed, and eventually much more romantic.
One hundred years ago, our great-grandparents understood this. When they said their “I Do”s, it was under no delusion that they were going to ride off into the sunset for a life of pleasure and ease together. They knew that romantic love would be a part of their experience, but they also knew that in addition to lovers they would also be co-laborers and probably co-sufferers too. But somewhere along the way we started thinking that although life is admittedly hard, love should always be easy. Perhaps its because our society has become more individualistic as technology has boomed and we need one another less. Perhaps its because we’re all watching the same movies!
True love is not marked by a lack of hardship or by a constant state of romantic excitement. On the contrary, what I have found is that true love is marked by a commitment to another person that is determined to get to the other side with them. And the result of that is a love and intimacy more true and exciting than the movies ever dared to show us.
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