If asked I would say my parents had a good marriage. Even through the dirty and sometimes cynical lens of my own divorce and myriad of failed relationships I think they were a happy couple. Married for over thirty years at my father’s death, what I still find most amazing is how they dated for only 90 days when he asked for her hand. I’m not sure I even knew the Queen’s middle name by that time.
Growing up I can’t recall many arguments they fought and never quarrels that escalated forcing a retreat under my bed. They had a traditional marriage; each with their prescribed roles and responsibilities, my father ensured the train moved down the track while my mother made certain the passengers stayed fed and behaved. And along those conventional lines were many displays of warmth and tenderness between them.
Yet I’m not certain I could pinpoint one particular habit or behavior derived from watching their marriage that helped me in my relationships later in life. While this probably has more to with the minimal attention I paid than any criticism against them I can’t point to any lessons I’ve taken with me. Though I probably wouldn’t have listened had they tried to give me pointers anyway. All of this meant that as I moved into adulthood I was utterly clueless about the workings of romantic relationships.
Looking back, the decision to marry my ex, frankly, was based upon totally irrational reasons. I can still remember thinking, when I was debating whether to ask for her hand, that our relationship was like an investment and if I bailed out I would lose that capital and have to start over again. Interesting comparison since the only investment experience I had up to that point was a company directed 401k.
I loved her, from what I understood love to be at the time; I never cheated or ogled other women, was fully committed, and excited though cautious about our future as husband and wife. I had every intention of us growing old together. But at no point, ever, during our dating relationship, engagement, or seven year marriage did I stop to consider how we would get to those golden years and still be happily married. It once never crossed my mind that we needed a plan for our marriage like we did our children’s college fund.
From the beginning we seemed more interested in projecting the image of a happy couple than actually doing the work to be such. But as far as I was concerned the really heaving lifting was already over, we had made it down the isle and the destination was now reached. We were a young married couple in love who believed that love would find a way to get us where we wanted to go.
Back from a recent vacation reinforced my conviction that the GPS is the most useful invention in the last twenty-five years. Put in your destination and technology does the rest; driving in unfamiliar places becomes enjoyable once again.
And in hindsight I felt love and relationships were not much different.
The mere fact that we loved each other and shared a common destination mistakenly led me to assume that was all we needed for a strong marriage. And it was because of this ‘love’ I believed our relationship would, and in fact should, be easy; all we had to do was follow where the prompts of love led us and we would find ourselves right where we wanted to be.
It would ultimately take that marriage running over a cliff and several life lessons later before I dropped those candy cane fantasies and finally came to truly appreciate this one undeniable fact – love doesn’t come with GPS and it will not find a way.
In almost four years with the Queen, I have grown to realize that a healthy, loving and potentially lasting relationship takes no less planning, intentionality, and purpose than does a comfortable retirement or the building of a new house. Dreams alone mean little and all of the hoping in the world won’t do one iota to get us there. We all seem to agree that relationships take work, but I’m not sure we understand what that really means.
Intentionality and pragmatism aren’t sexy. Talking intelligently and openly about the relationship, the concerns, problems, and setting relationship goals seem far too Six Sigma, sterile, and corporate for most. That type of businesslike approach virtually nullifies any passion and spontaneity because the idea of intention and relationship makes for strange bed follows. Popular culture would lead us to believe that romantic relationships ought to be no less automatic than that GPS. So any planning or intent that might be required the worse off the relationship must be. And the thought that love and romance should take any sort of forethought and preparation, aside from the ubiquitous ‘date night’, must signify the relationship is gasping for air and might be better off if put out of its misery. Marriages end everyday because they just became ‘too hard’.
But nothing from my experience makes me believe that love, by itself, will keep a relationship going. For any marriage to make it beyond the honeymoon will require purpose, intent, and some business sense, all spoken in the language of love. Unless the romance, spontaneity, and passion are mixed with planning, intent, and purpose the relationship will find itself among the charred remains of other countless marriages and relationships once built on love, which mistakenly believed their love, alone, would find a way.