There I was, lying on the top bunkbed in my apartment, daydreaming about this girl that I really, really liked. Maybe I was thinking about her blue eyes that shimmer with kindness, or the way she really asked good questions and always had something interesting to say—or maybe I was just thinking about how good she looked in that dress. Whatever the case, I puked. Right there, in my bathroom, into the toilet. I don’t know if my roommates noticed, but the thought of Amber had been keeping me from eating—and now she was making me throw up. More than anything, I wanted to be with this girl, and to know her and love her forever.
This is how love starts out. It wants to last forever and a day. It becomes all consuming, and it inspires us to do incredibly heroic things, like quitting meth, slaying dragons, and getting married—and incredibly humiliating things, like throwing up. We say that we have found true love, because that is what it feels like, and because we want to do kind and courageous things for each other. Love changes us, makes us want to be better men, better women.
But you know what happens next? The baby fusses, the car payment is due, she doesn’t want to have sex as much, he still wants sex just as much, the dog dies. Stress hits. And over time, you begin to wonder, “Are we really meant to be? Should love really be this hard?” You think back to the early butterflies, the great sex, the fuzzy feelings—and you wonder, “Do we still have that love?” Amber and I have asked that question, and let me tell you, it’s caused a fight—and stony silence—a time or two.
Do we? Do you? There are at least two schools of thought on this question.
The first is what we’ll call the “You Can’t Help It” school of thought. In this version, the fact that loving the other person has become more difficult means that you might have fallen permanently out of love, and that the best thing to do is to keep calm and move on. Besides, there’s probably somebody better for you out there (so the thinking goes), and you deserve to have all those butterflies and great sex and awesome happiness—now! And butterflies and great sex and awesome happiness all the time! You’ve got one life to live, so make it a happy one.
The second is what we’ll call the “Do Something” school of thought. In this version, the fact that loving the other person has become more difficult means that you are experiencing the very same thing that every single long-lasting happy marriage experiences. It’s not a big deal; it’s called life. There is spring and there is winter, and just because you hit a season of winter doesn’t mean that you should give up on your love; it just means that you need to build a shelter, make a cup of hot chocolate for your loved one, snuggle a little closer, and keep each other warm. Spring will come again.
Besides, you fell in love for a reason, and especially if you’ve made a commitment (like marriage) to the other person, you owe it to yourself and to your loved one and to any children you have together to let that love grow and to let it last. You’ve got one life to live, so build the kind of life that you’ll be proud of on your deathbed.
I’m a firm believer in the Do Something school of thought. Just think of an elderly married couple that you admire—still holding hands, looking out for each other. You can’t develop that kind of lasting love with the You Can’t Help It school of thought. You can get divorced or break up, but the one person that you can never break up with or divorce is yourself—your attitude, your school of thought. And if you start thinking about better options in one relationship, what’s going to stop you from doing the very same thing a few years into the next relationship?
Now, hear me loud and clear: I am not saying that if a person is abusing you, or cheating on you (and showing no signs of change), or generally treating you very badly, that you should put up with it. Those are very bad decisions, and those actions should not be tolerated. When I’m talking about “doing something,” I’m talking about how we respond to the stress of everyday life, to how we respond to the ordinary weaknesses and faults that is living with another person.
You see, in the Do Something school of thought, love can be a good feeling, but it is more than that; it is active. Love needs a couple’s tender care for it to grow into what is supposed to. Love is like a seed that sprouts into a little tree, that eventually becomes a massive oak tree, that becomes a shelter for your children and your grandchildren, and that becomes a monument that generations afterwards can point to, and say, “You wanna know what real love is? That is real love.”
But you know what the You Can’t Help It school of thought tells us to do? It comes along and says, “Poor you, your love is too hard. I just don’t think it’s going to work. You deserve better than this—you deserve to move on.” It tells us to cut down a perfectly damn good tree! And just because it hasn’t had the chance to grow really big yet. Give it a chance, man!
So I say, to make love last, do something: rub her back, make her a cup of coffee, bake him a cookie, hold the kiss for extra long. Respect the life cycle, and let love grow. Let love become what it wants to become; let it become the towering oak tree that it wants to become.
And did I mention that letting love grow is rewarding? For instance, Amber and I have found that, yes, there are the times when sex is less frequent. But the deeper we go into marriage, the more we know each other through the seasons of life, the better sex we have. But this could never happen if, during a dry spell, we concluded that our love had stopped growing.
Believe me, if I have anything to do with it, I’m never going to stop growing the love that I first experienced with Amber when I started liking her. Yes, sometimes you can’t help what life brings, but together, we can help how we respond.