How to Get a Happier Marriage: Sorry, Twilight. True Love Isn't for Teenagers.

7 years ago

When I was at my parents' house a few weeks ago, I started talking about Twilight with my sister. Why I hadn't read it. Why I thought it would be stupid. And she said, "You have to read it. It's the yearning."

She wrote about the popularity of the series and what she thought it captured last year:

Remember that little feeling you used to get when you were like 14 and thought you might see that person you had a huge crush on somewhere on a Friday night? You hoped but you weren't sure?

Right. So I actually did start reading Twilight, and, like my sister, I remembered the yearning that is high school romance. I remembered how exciting it was, but I also remembered how horrible it felt.

So I wrote about it on Surrender, Dorothy, and this comment trickled in from Mae at Parenting in Progress:

I don't think you SHOULD be allowed to read them until you're at least say... 28. You need some serious distance from the high school experience so you can see the crazy for what it is and appreciate it without rationalizing it.

It hit me that what Mae wrote was genius.

True love -- the kind of love that lasts for fifty years -- isn't based on hormones or pheremones or even intellectual stimulation. True love -- the kind of love that lasts for fifty years -- is based on mutual trust and respect for each other's lives, interests, health and happiness. And I'm just going to come out and say it: Few people have the maturity to recognize those qualities in their youth. Not when there are so many sexy and selfish young thangs running around wanting to hook up and be seen together. And, unfortunately, some people never get past this phase. You might yearn after these perpetual teenagers, but it's impossible to have a two-sided, lasting relationship with them. Not when they can't love you back.

True love is not about yearning. Yearning -- a deep longing, accompanied by tenderness or sadness -- means that one is not being fulfilled. Sadness is not a part of love, not when it's caused by the other person's actions. True love isn't never having to say you're sorry -- it is a deeply felt need to apologize when you've hurt your love's feelings. It is the understanding that in order to make it, really make it, you can't be hurting each other all the time.

It can take being hurt over and over in order to make us recognize that no matter how strong the lust or admiration we have for a person, it's not "love" unless it's tempered with compassion, kindness and reciprocity.

Relationship expert Heide Banks at The Huffington Post writes:

Relationships, good or bad, help teach us about how to make choices that honor who we are, see the places inside of us that are wounded and learn how to apply loving to begin the healing process. We learn how to step out of judgement and into acceptance of our self and others, the keys to a happy life. All this research begs the question: does it matter how many frogs we have to kiss if in the end we find lasting love? My experience working with individuals and research says no.

Banks' message is a positive one. It encourages the hunt, even after repeated ones-who-got-away. I worry that women not in relationships will be frustrated with this series, that all this talk of happy-happy-love-love will be a huge turn-off. (Because I wasn't always married. I do get it.) But I hope they will read, because few people find their true love the first or even twenty-seventh time they try.

I'm not saying you have to love yourself before you can be in love -- that may not be true -- but you do have to be a trustworthy person who demands trustworthiness in return, and that doesn't happen magically on the steps of a castle or in a meadow in the woods. It happens over the course of a life, one day at a time, whether you're looking for love or not.

Diana at Diana Loves to Write put it so well:

That was one of the first lessons I learned, marriage is hard work. It's a fact, and one most young couples don't realize when they first sign on for what they imagine will be some great romantic adventure meant to last the rest of their lives.

I look at the picture above, two (kindly) pudgy, middle-aged folks, those madly in love 19-year-olds had nothing on this couple. And although there was a time when our inseams were longer than my waistlines, that's just about the only advantage those two cool kids had over these... grown-ups.

It's been a hard road to get "here," but I'm so glad we took it.

Diana's romance illustrates what I know to be true about many happy couples -- they met when they were young. Maybe they even fell in love when they were young. But, as she writes, true love -- the kind that lasts fifty years -- is something that brews over time spent bailing each other out from crises, from facing real life and sometimes mundane challenges and achievements. It's about a backrub at the end of a hard day or a surprise dinner when your boss gives you a compliment -- not about facing a pack of werewolves or vampires or even finals. Real life begets real love, and yearning is to true love as Diet Coke is to water. True love sustains us over a lifetime.

Mandy at Since My Divorce theorizes as to whether better education in her younger years would have helped her avoid a relationship breakdown. "If I’d had some coaching and some guidance as a teenager, there is no way in the world I would have picked the man I picked," she writes, continuing:

Many churches do offer ( some require) a pre-marriage counseling program and while I am in favor of this, I don’t think it’s ideal because you’re participating in this, as a couple with a marriage already planned – hardly with an open mind. I like Kristi’s idea of a program in high school because it would give our children a foundation, a decision-making formula for their relationships.

But, as teens, would we have listened? Or is that whole yearning-is-not-the-same-as-trust-and-respect thing a hard life lesson we just have to go through to come out on the other side, transformed into adults capable of a deeper connection?

Am I wrong? What do you think?

This is the fourth post in our How to Get a Happier Marriage Series. If you've missed one, check out the archive.

Rita Arens authors Surrender Dorothy and is the editor of Sleep is for the Weak. She is BlogHer's assignment and syndication editor.

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