While driving out west yesterday I listened to one of my favourite segments on Radio National and that’s Conversations with Richard Fidler. Today he was talking to Alain De Botton. Alain is touring to promote his latest book ‘The course of Love’ which analyses what I guess you could call ‘mid term’ relationships i.e that stage in a marriage that comes once the hearts-and-flowers emotional high of the honeymoon period has died down.
I’ve been married for seventeen years in August and after listening to Alain I have realised just how oddly satisfying my relationship with my husband is (and I’m hoping – fingers crossed it is mutual). I also realised just how un-romantic I am which I am equally Ok with.
Without re-iterating everything Alain said (you can follow the link and hear for yourself, it is a lovely chat) I would sum up that Alain has found that love is a skill we all need to learn, something that we could indeed master over time. He talks about how we should embark on every new relationship by giving our prospective partner a booklet outlining all the ways we are difficult to live with. I think that would be an interesting idea but in my experience one rarely knows what is really annoying or difficult about ones self until something terribly bad happens (not necessarily terribly bad in an external sense but in the sense that we suddenly can’t sleep at night or can’t stop drinking or just seem to keep getting into trouble and suddenly have that AHA moment that it actually MIGHT be us that is the problem). That said, I quite like what Alain is trying to say here, not least because it fits with my own personal bias. I have always been an independent soul and one that doesn’t shy away from getting ones own shit in order.
I’ve often wondered why phrases like this grate on my last nerve when everyone else finds them mushy and lovely:
‘You complete me………’From the film Jerry MacGuire
I want to take that very literally and say:
What? Like my right arm completes me?
See I like my right arm, if I was being honest I’d have to say that I prefer it to my left arm as I’m right hand dominant but that said I would never dream of giving my right arm preferential treatment over the left…….
I am practical enough and have enough life-experience to realise that I could live without my right arm, in fact I am pretty sure I would live WELL without my right arm IF I HAD TO which I don’t plan on doing but IF I HAD TO I COULD right?
So no, you don’t complete me. I am complete and guess what? You are complete too.
See? Totally un-romantic.
Moving along through the conversation Alain brings up the Greek philosophy of love and my ears prick up. This is it, this is what I think, this is how I’ve approached my marriage!
Love is a process of education
To paraphrase Alain:
‘Ancient Greeks thought that love was a process of education. Only love what is good, virtuous and accomplished. Purpose is for a couple to educate each other to become the best versions of themselves. There is always something to learn.’
This to me is exciting as I’m sure this attitude is what has made my marriage no less vibrant today than it was 17 years ago from my perspective at least! With each year we both grow as people, we experience different things, try new skills, read new books, see new art, ride or walk different trails, travel to different places and experience a different part of the parenting journey. We do this in our own individual ways sometimes together and sometimes apart and that works for us. The part I find most satisfying is that for me our love for each other is nurtured and grows from the mutual exchanges that happen after each event (whether major or minor). Love for me is very much embodied in those exchanges, in the sharing of insights, lessons, feelings, experiences, treasures, worries and fears. We both talk a lot and I’m glad to say that we are also pretty good listeners too, at least when it comes to each other.
According to Alain, thinking of love in this way is unusual for us modern folks who prefer the Disney Princess version of happy ever-after or the Jerry MacGuire ‘you complete me’ analogy.
Well all I can say about that is this. I have never consciously chosen to be un-romantic I’ve just always been this way and even as a little girl could not understand at all why any girl-friend of mine would want to sit waiting for a Prince Charming to come along when they could go out there and create their own adventures. I don’t know why it is more unusual to have my attitude than this other but after hearing what Alain has said I’m pretty grateful for my own lack of sentimentality and will look forwards to many more adventures with or without my love of 17 years Aubry AKA Mr Bling.
Because although I love him, I know I can live very well without him. I just don’t want to because he is helping me become the best me I can be and I’m helping him achieve the same.