By Mark Vernon
There is something odd about the way love is usually discussed in books and portrayed on the silver screen. It is falling in love that captures the attention. From Jane Austen to the movie Titanic, the love story we repeat is one of romance. The oddity is that most people’s love lives are spent not falling in love but being in love, if through ups and downs. Science tells us that the heat of passion cools after a year or two. And yet even those marriages that end in divorce, last for about 8 years. Do the maths.
Whereas young lovers gaze into each others eyes, lasting love looks straight ahead
The psychologist Erich Fromm, author of The Art of Loving, called the love that comes after romance ‘standing in love.’ He argued that the thrill of falling in love stems from the adventure of getting to know a stranger. Once we do know them, though, the thrill subsides – and the risk is that you think the love is subsiding too. It’s not, Fromm said. Instead, you are starting out on the subtler, longer adventure of learning to love your partner in a different way. The thrill of being with someone who is a stranger must be converted into the delight of being with someone who you know, and who knows you too. It’s the shift from wooing one another to belonging to each other.
So what happens to the passion? Does that matter? Well, actually, it doesn’t so much dissipate as change. If all goes well, the energy that was sparked by falling in love, and that was initially focused on another, is freed to turn outwards – to become a wider passion for life, a joie de vivre. Hence, a couple who are standing in love will likely as not contemplate having kids. Children are the most common manifestation of a kind of overflowing of love, a burst of procreativity that is no longer focused on a lover but on someone who is beyond them both.
C.S. Lewis had a good image for the difference. Whereas young lovers gaze into each others eyes, lasting love looks straight ahead. It’s really a kind of friendship. And that is empowering. For unlike romance, which the stories tells us happens by chance, lasting love is something we can practice. It is an art that can be learnt. That does not leave us as victims of Cupid’s bow. If falling in love is found, the love that makes up most of your life is made.