What do we talk about when we talk about love?
Marriage is the answer for many couples; for others, the meaning of commitment doesn’t fit in a heart-shaped box
On a recent afternoon spent browsing the endless tubes and wires of the Internet in search of scintillating factoids I could use to endow this article with an aura of truthiness, I began by Googling a set of related topics. In doing so, I was reminded of a fairly unsurprising fact: The human race—or at least the literate, English-speaking, computer-using portion of the human race—is far more obsessed with/interested in love than sex. We are also more interested in the combination of love and sex than marriage per se, and more interested in romance than marriage. (See “Looking for love,” at right.)
But what is love, really?
The dictionary isn’t much help.
Here’s what the online Merriam-Webster dictionary offers as the primary definition:
“A (1): Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2): Attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3): Affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates>
“B: An assurance of love <give her my love>”
Well, I have a strong affection for lots of people, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend my life in their company, and it certainly doesn’t mean I desire to have sexual relations with more than a tiny percentage of them—and even that desire is based more on my own imagination than any genuine, reality-based feeling. Plus, there’s no denying I have very genuine feelings of affection and tenderness for my life partner, the lovely I. Daphne St. Brie, but I also have very genuine feelings of affection and tenderness for my dogs, Stella and Sam.
When it gets down to it, though, even those of us who can’t articulate a universally accepted definition of the word love will, with the aid of some trial-and-error experimentation, more than likely recognize it when it comes along. And the period of trial-and-error experimentation, while fraught with perils both emotional and physical, can be a fun and illuminating chapter of our lives.
Like Tennyson said, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I agree with that sentiment and would add as a corollary that it is better to realize that one is capable of love than it is to decide that the whole concept of romantic love is a sham and a delusion foisted off on a gullible public to get them to buy Valentine’s Day cards and heart-shaped boxes of candy.
A personally meaningful definition of love can only be attained by experience.
Watching sappy movies about tragically dying debutantes who never have to say they’re sorry won’t really help you much. Nor will reading tabloid accounts of Brangelina holding hands and gazing soulfully into one another’s eyes while adopting yet another Third World child and dedicating an orphanage for the ones they can’t bring home.
Paying attention to the ways a loving couple interacts might be helpful. For instance, Daphne’s best high-school friend Kutha told us that when she and her husband find themselves locking into an argument neither of them can win, they strip off all their clothes, and by the time they’re naked they’re laughing so hard the argument has dissipated. I can tell you from experience their tactic works.
Sage wisdom aside, ultimately you are the only one who can tell if what you are feeling can be defined as love.
With all of that in mind, it seemed like the best way to approach a story about the value of love and personal commitment would be to simply ask some deeply committed, deeply loving couples to express what it is about each other that drew them together in the first place, and what it is about their relationship that led them to make the decision to make it permanent rather than a temporary fling.
Aaron Standish and Liz Merry have been married for 17 years, all of which have been spent performing comedy together as the Merry-Standish Comedy troupe, and many of which have been spent running a small business together. A funnier, more irreverent couple would be hard to imagine, and their tales and insights convey their interwoven personalities much better than any further commentary from yours truly.
It should be noted up front that Trish and Bob Howard might very well not be a couple if it wasn’t for the unintentional machinations of your humble narrator. You see, seven years ago I was planning a gig for my band to play with Howard’s cross-dressing punk rock band the Transexpistols. We needed one more band to round out the bill, and I spent several weeks trying to convince my friend Trish Rowland and her band the Repeat Offenders to fill that slot. Trish wasn’t particularly anxious to do the gig, but finally, probably to get me to shut up about it, caved in to my relentless attempts to recruit her band. The rest, as they say, is history.
Chico City Councilman Scott Gruendl has been open about his sexuality and HIV-positive status. Several times leading up to November’s election, he mentioned “my partner of 13 years, Nicholas Goodey.” They barely missed their chance to legally wed, yet they wear rings and have one of the strongest “marriages” in town.
Tom and Lynn Mount talk about more than each other when they talk about love. They talk about their four children, ranging in age from 10 to 20—and they also talk about Jesus. Tom is a pastor at Neighborhood Church. He and Lynn were friends in college, and as a result of their faith, the Mounts never feel alone in their relationship.