The Art of Staying in Love

Why do they give us yearbooks? If we spent 4+ years at an institution, if we cared about our classmates, took the tests, and attended the rallies, shouldn’t we be able to remember the experience on our own?

What good is a souvenir? Must we waste precious resources and clutter our shelves with silly little mementos from trips to Paris and Disneyland?

We must face our humanity and be honest that we are all in a state of constant decay, as well as constant growth. There are parts of us that are in development (I’m a better cook for every day that passes, for example, sort of). And there are elements of our character in decline (bitterness is an age-related vice it seems).

Emotional love, lustful love, shivering, quivering, spine-melting love, is in constant growth and decay. It is an ebb and flow. We can expect to forget why we married our partners. We can expect to fall out of love. We can expect to sometimes feel… nothing.

As annoying as these lapses in emotional love are, they do not mean we do not have love, or were never in love. Just as failing to remember every detail of our high-school experience means we didn’t go or didn’t deeply benefit from it.

Alana and husbandMy husband and I met under the best of circumstances. We built our relationship on story-book romance, and swoon-worthy dates. We spent our first New Years together in Reykjavik. A few months later we found ourselves on a South African safari, holding each other tight as our jeep passed through an elephant traffic jam.

Those moments were good, and they carried us onward and into marriage, but they didn’t last forever. Soon after our wedding we had a daughter. We didn’t have the double income to take international vacations anymore, nor did we have the money to pay for babysitters. So our romantic excursions were replaced by a committed sense of duty to care for our kid–our extremely demanding, noisy kid.

I was shocked by the fatigue I had as a first time mom. And I only had one or two friends with kids and they all lived far away. I was among the first in my peer group to reproduce. And then there was no peer group– for my lifestyle had changed so dramatically.

Alana and babyThere’s nothing special to explain other than that like every other couple with kids the buzz eventually wears off. But we have tools for our disillusionment.

My husband has been especially great at forcing poetry into our relationship–creating tokens and memories we can visit again and again, to help us endure our ruts. We not only have “happy thoughts” we have happy links– accessible media to remind each other we’ve worked too hard to build something good, to let it go or throw it away.

We decided to think of forced poetry as money in the bank. We first have to make the money (dates, adventures), but we also have to save the money (photos, video) so that when bad days overwhelm us we can reach into our savings and neutralize the negativity. By accessing these documents of joy, we’re able to put ourselves back into a posture of love and appreciation.

Here’s an example of the process: Hailey Bartholomew is a photographer in Australia who created the 365 grateful project–where she photographed and documented one thing every day that she was grateful for. It was an attempt to escape a bout of inexplicable unhappiness. She claims the project changed her life and most importantly, made her dramatically more appreciative of her husband.

Alana and familyAnother thing that has worked for us is making prints of our favorite photos and framing them, hanging them all over our home, and really honoring the milestones of our relationship. We also made this video with is an amalgam of scenes from our first few years together, accompanied by a song that I wrote and my husband helped record and finalize.

When I was younger I thought that there was little point to creating art and music and photography if you weren’t going to share it with the world, or perhaps try to sell it and earn a living from it. But what I realize now is that the arts are powerful because they conjure certain emotions in us. And it is emotion, not logic that steers our ship and motivates us to stay together, or not. So even if no one else on the planet cares about my youtube video, or collection of snapshots on the mantle, the images are valuable because they remind me why I love my husband.

Making the effort to create art honoring my family is one of the smartest things I’ve done to fortify our bonds.

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The Art of Staying in Love

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1 Comment

  • I like this Alana! Having been an intensely demanding idealist at one point, it’s been an interesting journey for me in these first years of marriage to come to terms with the reality of life and real love. I love my husband more than ever but most days are just regular, uneventful days. We have a very noisy and demanding daughter who came into the picture soon after marriage too and most of my time is spent at home with her thinking, “What should we do now, I have no idea”. Thanks for the great reminders. I’m always trying to capture and revel in a moment and I’m going to send this to my husband. My walls are cluttered with these tokens. We’d be friends if I lived near you I think.

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