On Romance

“Part of the problem is in our expectation of marriage,” author Esther Perel writes in the September 2006 issue of Self. “We come to marriage today with high hopes of satisfaction on many different levels. Not so long ago, the desire to feel passionate about one’s husband or wife after years together was considered a contradiction… Today we turn to one person to deliver what an entire village– friends, community, extended family– once did. We expect our partner to be the primary supplier for our emotional connections, to provide a bullwark against the problems of everyday life. We seek security, as we always have, but now we also want our partner to love us, cherish us and excite us.”

I’m not sure that ancient marriage was so devoid of the idea of long-lasting passion. Given human nature, I imagine girls have been dreaming about it since the dawn of time. You know, the handsome husband coming home to the nicely swept cave, with some juicy, freshly slaughtered Mastodon; arranging the spit just so, complementing him on his ability to make fire, getting distracted over the beauty of the sparks dancing around you…

Or, handsome husband comes home to the tent (shut off fastidiously from the howling sands of the desert) with a few dozen snakes for snake stew. You pretend to be afraid of them so you can see him get impatient, see the nice muscles of his neck stand out, and he teaches you the best way to skin the snakes (he learned in his bachelor days) and you say: “but, strong and handsome man, I am not afraid when you are with me,” and he is so appeased he decides to put off getting that extra concubine.

You know how it goes. Your teeth are like a flock of sheep. Your navel is like a goblet. Etc. Humans kind of like romance. And, dang it, handsome husband coming home with a freshly slaughtered bag of peeled carrots and a gallon of milk at the end of the day just doesn’t cut it. Not when he’s wearing bad jeans and his nose hair isn’t trimmed. He’s probably been flirting with the secretaries, anyway. Good thing they have better taste than you do.

Francis Shaeffer, and I forget the exact quote, said something in “No Little People” about how we expect life to be perfect, how we expect ourselves, our friends and our spouses to be perfect — not because we have any indication that this is reality, but because we have bought into a cultural romantic ideal. But humans are innately flawed: we can only feel disappointed, cheated, and abused if we expect perfection from one another.

Within the romantic ideal lies the cliché that we long for the love we do not deserve. Unrequited, boundless. This is ours for the taking, though a spouse cannot provide it. Not ever, not as it was meant to be. We only glimpse agape in the eyes of our most beloved. Without grace, love is merely a nice word. It takes humility to see that all we have to offer is broken, unlovely.

But for all that I still want a handsome husband to be bringing home some freshly slaughtered sentiment after years together. Maybe I should accept the fact, though, that he’ll probably have untrimmed nose hair, and that I may even be annoyed with his sterile bag of peeled carrots.

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