One week from today my wife, Rachel, and I, had our 15th wedding anniversary. According to the U.S. Census Bureau only 52% of couples make it to their 15th year of marriage (just over half!). I feel like we are survivors in the Disillusionment Wars. As I have been going around the country promoting The Lost Diary, I have encountered a real skepticism about marriage and the possibility of happiness. One person asked me at a talk, have we forgotten how to love? As a society, we certainly have lost faith in the possibility of love and that our marriages will be much more than convenient arrangements to house our families and manage our finances. And yet I also heard an enormous hunger and yearning for lifelong love and for a passion that is more than just ephemeral.
I am not a marriage expert. I’m no Dr. Phil. I’m a novelist, and I certainly don’t want to hold up my marriage as somehow an ideal or suggest that it is without its own challenges. There are many. Marriage is hard for everyone. Wasn’t it the Buddha (that unmarried man) who said that “life is suffering”? This sobering view no doubt has its truth, and marriage, all marriage, has its share of suffering, too. But marriage can be one of the greatest salves for the suffering that we encounter in our life. My sister-in-law had a poster on her wall that offered tips for happiness: the number one was to choose who you marry carefully; your choice will determine 90% of your happiness or misery in your life. While we can quibble over the percentage, the point is well taken. Our marriages are either the greatest shelter for love, comfort, and spiritual growth, or the greatest torture chamber for emotional wounding, cruelty, and spiritual suffering. We’ve all witnessed marriages that were the latter; few of us have seen models of the former. Is it any wonder that Don Juan, like so many of us, wonders about the fleeting madness of love? All I can say from 15 years on is that my marriage is the greatest blessing in my life and that I am a believer in the possibility of True Passionate Love. I remember one of my colleagues in publishing saying that she never believed that what Rachel and I had was real until she found it for herself. What does it take? The Lost Diary explores many of the secrets of marriage that Don Juan ultimately discovers, but there is one that I want to mention here that was not on the radar, so to speak, in the 16th century. While our minds change over the centuries, our hearts change very little, and our bodies not at all. This is why the life and love of a man from the 16th century can still resonate with our own, and yet there are some ways of understanding ourselves and our relationships that do change. I have spoken about the fact that while writing the Lost Diary, I only used words from the 16th century, and there were some words—whole ways of understanding our lives—that did not exist at the time. One such example is the word “motivation,” which did not exist until 1873. But this is an essential word that I think is at the heart of realizing True Passionate Love. So many conflicts in marriage exist in the push-me-pull-me world of who gives how much and who gets how much. This accounting I think is ultimately a dead end and focuses us on a cruel equation of whether our partner gives us enough to keep us in the relationship. I think the real question is what is each member truly in the relationship for? What is our primary motivation? For many people their motivation for being married is unconscious—it’s just what people do at a certain stage of life. Or their motivation is to be loved or to give love (often to children). And quite often motivations are different, which leads to lots of strife. What are you in your relationship for? What are you up to? Rachel’s and my motivation for being married is not just to love and be loved, although that is certainly an important part of what we give and what we get. There is nothing wrong with to have and to hold, but it strikes me as only the minimum, not the aspiration. Rachel’s and my primary motivation is to become the people we are meant to be and to support each other not only in raising our children but also in doing our work in the world. Ultimately, I think contentment in marriage, or in life, comes from this fulfillment of our purpose and this sense that we are here for more than the satisfying of our individual needs. I’d love to know what you think?
Oh, yeah, so what did we do on our anniversary? We did the three S’s—we schlepped children (family life stops for no man or woman) and we went (grocery) shopping—since my wife’s medical residency and our twins birth seven years ago we have not been able to go shopping together; it was actually quite romantic as we conspired in the stocking of the larder. And I’m sure that you know what the third “s” was—we are after all consenting, and married adults. It doesn’t take flowers or diamonds or trips to Hawaii. True Passionate Love just takes a little love, a little passion—and the right motivation.