If there is one profound falsehood that the movies have taught us, it’s that love is easy. Sure, there is the standard screwball boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back sequence of complications endemic to the musical comedy genre, but as a rule, some enchanted evening, you looked up when he came through the door, and though you’ve never been in love before, you got lost in his arms and you had to stay, because it only takes a moment to be loved a whole life long (there’s a chance I may be mixing my musical metaphors here just a smidge. You are an inveterate theater geek if you managed to pick out the five different shows I just referenced).
The point is, it’s time you jettisoned that sweet old canard that the whole world will light up in some sort of ecstasy-induced phosphorescence when you meet that one special person you’re destined to spend your life with, because it doesn’t work that way. Why? Because… brace yourself:
There is no such thing as the perfect person.
Let me say it again, because I think it bears repeating.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE PERFECT PERSON.
In the words of Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, “You’re not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense: this girl you’ve met, she’s not perfect either. But the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other. That’s the whole deal. That’s what intimacy is all about.” Intimacy isn’t easy, it isn’t immediately gratifying, and most of the time it’s a bit squidgy around the edges. Moreover, intimacy is — call me a cynic — something that, given enough time, love, and effort, you can cultivate with just about anyone. If that makes your warm fuzzy romantic pink-loofah of an aortic pump shrivel, I’m sorry. But it’s the truth. Love isn’t a feeling, a fantasy, or a cosmic mandate; it’s a personal choice. It’s a personal choice you get up and make every single damn day, and some days are harder than others.
There isn’t one magical, mystical, foreordained person out there for everyone, and anyone who tells you otherwise has been freebasing the fairy-tale crack for too long. The decision — ultimately — is all yours. It’s up to you to look at a universe full of nice people, all of them (well, at least half of them, depending on your sexual preference) prospective mates, and determine, with a steady head and heart, with carefully weighed subjectivity and objectivity, that all other things being equal, this is the person most likely to make you happy for the rest of your earthly existence. I had a professor once who, upon marrying his wife, was asked by a friend, “Why are you marrying her?” When he gave his truthful answer — “Because she makes me happy” — he was accused of being a Kantian, a self-interested user espousing a dangerous and destructive philosophy. This is, of course, patently ridiculous. I can think of no better reason to marry someone than because (s)he makes you happy. If the simple act of watching TV, of cooking dinner, of fighting over taking out the garbage, is sanctified and transmogrified (thank you, Calvin and Hobbes, for destroying that word forever) by being with this person — on the monstrously sophistical grounds that you just can’t imagine wanting to watch TV or cook dinner or fight over taking out the garbage with anybody else — then you’ve made a good choice.
It doesn’t mean you’ll never struggle once you make that choice. The complexities of being in — and staying in — love make an M.C. Escher print look straightforward by comparison. Love is not a magical fix-all: you will still carry your own woes and pain, as will the other. “We both knew this,” writes C. S. Lewis, “I had my miseries, not hers; she had hers, not mine… We were setting out on different roads. This cold truth, this terrible traffic regulation… is just the beginning of the separation.” No matter how much you love each other, you can only bear one another’s burdens to a certain point. After that, you will still carry around enough personal baggage to ground a Boeing 747: the baggage of former loves and former losses, of former attachments and heartaches and emotional entanglements. When you make one life choice, you de facto preclude every other life choice. As a dear friend once told me, “We always have our options open — until we find the one option too good to pass up.” And once you find the option too good to pass up? You seize it. But it is perfectly reasonable for this to be difficult. If you’re signing on board for a lifelong journey through the stormy seas of “for better” and “for worse” and you haven’t lain awake at night agonizing over the decision at least once or twice, you probably haven’t thought it through enough. “The first two facts which a healthy boy or girl feels about sex are these,” writes Chesterton, “first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous.” If you’re even considering marriage without a healthy regard for this twin-pronged principle, you’re a colossal idiot.
At the end of the day, you choose the person you want to make a life with and you, a la Nike, just do it — but with the awareness that love is messy and it only gets messier with each passing year. It’s not like it looks in the movies — it is hard, and it is real — and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.