“My dad says you can’t count on women lovin’ you,” says Ellis, the boy in the movie Mud. “He says you can’t trust it.”
“That’s not true,” says Mud (played by Matthew McConaughey), who has plenty to be jaded about when it comes to love. “…You’re a good man, Ellis. If you find a girl half as good, you’ll be all right.”
This is a great line, but it’s not a popular way to look at love. We grow up watching movies that tell us love is an unpredictable force. “You can’t stop your heart from going where it wants,” is a line that I’ve heard. Isn’t it more important to look for love, than to settle for a good woman, or a good man?
I wrestled with this question a lot when I was dating my wife Amber. I loved Amber with all the sparks and fireworks of a 4th of July show. But for Amber it was different. For her our romance had a lot less spark, it was dependable and good, but not always exciting. In the movies this is a sure sign that, if you get married, you’re doomed for a lifetime slog of misery.
Sure, Amber didn’t feel as intensely about me as I felt about her, and I am not a natural at sharing my feelings, which sometimes made Amber feel like I was being distant. But we were a great match. We both shared the same values and goals in life, down to the fact that we both dreamily talked of having 12 children someday and working together to help families. We trusted each other. We shared deep conversations. We loved each other.
So were we meant to be? Or were our emotional and communication differences sure signs that we were a bad match?
Those are some of the questions that kept haunting us. It’s not that she didn’t have any feelings for me; it’s just that they weren’t as intense as she thought they should be. What should we do?
The crisis climaxed one Sunday as we walked through Central Park. I don’t even remember the conversation; I just remember having the dreadful feeling that perhaps we didn’t have what it takes to have a happy, lifelong marriage. We loved and trusted each other, but perhaps Cupid’s arrow had missed Amber’s heart.
On the other end of Central Park, at a little place called “The Chirping Chicken,” we met a young married couple for lunch. We told them about our conflict and questions.
You know what they did? They laughed. The wife told us about how she still wishes that her husband would share his feelings with her more often, and he acknowledged that he is still learning how to love his wife better in this way. They assured us that our struggles were part of the normal drama of marriage: learning to love someone different than you. We left that day with more confidence that we could do this learning-to-love thing together. Crisis averted.
But here is the thing: the whole time in our relationship, even while we had this crisis, we had deep confidence in each other’s character. We both wanted to be good and heroic people, and we wanted to help each other become those kind of people. Without this priority in our relationship, our differences could not have been overcome.
The truth is, if I hadn’t trusted Amber’s character, then everything would have been different. Why should I have trusted that, if we ever did marry, our toes would still touch in bed at the end of a day when I had failed to read Amber’s mind or consider her feelings (which never happens, by the way)? If Amber hadn’t trusted my character, then how could she trust that I would try to keep discovering her after marriage?
In other words, because we were confident about each other’s good character, our love and attraction toward each other had a safe space in which to grow. Our mutual desire to be good people, to be better people, gave us a reason to trust each other and the security to learn to better love each other. That’s why with dating and marriage, it’s not a matter of either-or—looking for love, or looking for a good person. As it turns out, finding a partner with good character is love’s surest ally and defender.