Those in the throes of newfound passion might misinterpret the strength of their feelings as evidence of their potential longevity. Those in the trenches might tell a different story wherein longevity is only possible with a combination of setting some feelings aside and doing what it takes to keep some feelings alive.
The University of Pavia found a brain chemical was likely to be responsible for the first flush of love. Researchers said raised levels of a protein was linked to feelings of euphoria and dependence experienced at the start of a relationship. But after studying people in long and short relationships and single people, they found the levels receded in time.
My paternal grandparents were married for seventy-seven years. It all started at a barn dance. My grandmother was joining the party as my grandfather was leaving. When they met at the door, my grandmother flashed him an impish grin and he responded by tipping his hat and from beneath his own grin uttered “Evening, Ms Rankin.”
That was infatuation.
Many years later at their 50th wedding anniversary, my grandmother and her three sisters sat side-by-side giggling and telling stories while my grandfather looked on with a big grin from across the room. He turned to me and said, “I picked the best one.”
That was love.
It’s no secret among the happily married that what got them together is not what keeps them together. The 3-C’s (conflict, cash, and children) have taken down many a relationship put to paper during infatuation’s reign. It’s been asserted in more than one self-help book that if you say what you hate most about your spouse, you’ve just said why you married him/her. He doesn’t have anything to say when you talk? You used to say he was a good listener. She’s controlling? You used to admire her high standards. The happily married learned to adjust their expectations as the tide of unchecked happiness ebbed and made room for what they now have: love. Without the competition of laundry, in-laws, and labor pains, love is easy. Amid the mayhem of differing financial expectations, parenting styles, and schedules, love is damned hard.
Armed with the findings of this study, one might conclude that couples shouldn’t marry within eighteen months of their first date. And one would be right, or at least less wrong than those currently camped out on cloud nine where their loved one’s habit of turning the covers down a particular way is cute and leaving the toothpaste uncapped is a mere inconvenience. There is no room for trust and respect in the brains of people who don’t know where they end and the other person begins. Blind delight and unconditional acceptance tend to mask over his seemingly harmless flirtations and her procrastinations.
While those awash in a chemical bath of bliss think love is all that matters, the rest of us know love is what makes everything else matter. It’s great getting lost in someone’s eyes but not so great getting lost in the feminine hygiene aisle at midnight looking for her brand or stumbling around the hardware store trying to find the tool he dreamed of and drooled over in the Sunday inserts, having mumbled something about it making him a better man. In many ways, though, it’s better because this latter form of love, respecting preferences and doing for someone else when it’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do, is like water and sun for every living thing. While she may not care for the darker roasts and likes to sleep until the children wake up, she buys Columbian coffee and has it ready for him two hours before she has to start her day because last night he brought home a babysitter and a picnic basket full of her favorites.
The more challenged couples deal with special needs children, poverty, extended separations because of employment, and paralyzing accidents. And still they love, laugh, and live. Combining lives and maintaining that combination requires more than just being good at puzzles, it requires flexibility, patience, tolerance, trust, and respect every time the puzzle picture changes. Infatuation is effortless. Love is the effort.
Having studied what gets us together, perhaps science will next tackle what keeps us together.