My parents got married when they were twenty-three; my mum had only been twenty-three for four days. In a few weeks, they will celebrate being married for thirty-four years. They have been together longer than they have not been together, and I sometimes wonder what knowing that, means to them. As their children, my siblings and I are a “product” of their union, if you will; living beings that represent their love. A love that began in their twenties that has carried them through to a life in their fifties. And God-willing will do so, for the rest of a very long time.
As there are children of divorce, there are children of “parents who stayed together.” And being of the latter, I often think our experiences and observations on life and love differ from our friends who come from divorced homes. Of course every child’s observation of their parent’s union is different because it is highly dependent on what their parents marriage is like, from where they are standing. Even my four siblings and I, who differ in age and experience, have different perceptions of our parent’s love and marriage. And as we get older and grow differently, our individual perceptions change too.
I have always viewed my parents in the first place as two very opposite people. My dad is charismatic and brilliant, outwardly laid-back but often bubbling with passion; a man with many faults that are easily forgotten and forgiven. My mum is wise and quiet, often wanting to go unnoticed in places; sacrificial to a fault, and her faults are quite few in general. Their love is built on a foundation of not only romantic love, but Christian love, cultural similarities, and a love of family. From my parent’s marriage, I have learned a great many things about love and commitment that have affected and influenced my perceptions. And so it is within this context, I often speak of love.
I think love, at least at first, should be easy. But it seldom remains that way. The feelings, the physical affections, the niceties and all, are important. It is important to feel respected and valued. It is important to feel like the person who loves you, loves you as a lover and a friend. But love is the easy part, commitment is where things get complicated. And what I often find in unhappy relationships, is not that the couple do not love each other, it is that their commitment to each other was never right for one person or both people to begin with. I think the ugly truth is all the people we will fall in love with, we shouldn’t necessarily commit to.
But many of us want love at all costs. And the truth is I can’t blame people for this. As I get in my mid-twenties and I see more and more people couple-off, it occurs to me that some may feel left behind. And I think we are terrified of that – standing alone, being the one without the plus one at the next wedding, being the one who can’t slow dance at the romantic songs, being the one who goes to bed at night, alone. Indeed when we think about these things, it often seems that having someone, anyone, is better than no one.
Now I’m not going to give you the usual bullshit of telling you that being alone is better than being in a miserable relationship. I call it bullshit not because it isn’t true but because it isn’t how you’re going to always feel. And anyone who has ever been alone to the point where it starts to hurt, knows this well. It is one thing to be aware of something, it is another to internalize it. But I am going to tell you the kind of love you think you want, the kind of commitment that you seek, is sometimes what holds you back from experiencing the love and commitment that you need. We have to be open to not just what we want, but what we need.
My parents, unlike a lot of people you will know when you’re in your mid-twenties, have never pressured me about relationships. Perhaps it is because they knew I would grow up to be a very picky woman. Not because I am special in any way. But because they know that when you come from a home like the one they created, you know that it isn’t just love between persons that makes a commitment last a lifetime, it is the “other stuff.” The messy, ugly, boring stuff is what lasting commitments are made of. And in all of that, still finding a sense of humor with the other person. The latter is a lot harder than it sounds.
The truth is a love that lasts a lifetime is difficult to build. Who my parents were at twenty-three are not who they are today. And in the end, a great lesson I learned from them about love and commitment is this: The foundations on which your love rests upon, matter. But perhaps what matters above all, is finding someone who will take the leap of faith to not just love who you are and who you might become, but someone who commits to building a life with you, without knowing what the future might hold. Because who you are when you commit to that person, won’t be who you are thirty, forty, and fifty years from now. So indeed love generously and commit wisely, remembering that sacrifice is never too far from both. At least, that’s what my parents taught me.