I think when it comes to love, we are too willing to accept the short version of the story…I would propose we ask some more difficult questions, questions like: How do you decide who deserves your love and who does not? How do you stay in love when things get difficult, and how do you know when to just cut and run? How do you live with the doubt that inevitably creeps into every relationship, or even harder, how do you live with your partner’s doubt?
I seem to be on a streak of finding new questions that are absolutely interesting and worthwhile and entirely without easy answers. Most recently I watched a TED Talk by Mandy Len Catron, who wrote an article in the New York Times about a study I’ve written about before: Dr. Arthur Aron had complete strangers ask each other increasingly intimate questions, followed by staring into each others eyes for four minutes. The results were significant levels of affection between the participants – to the point where two of them got married.
Ms. Catron tried that experiment as well, and guess what? Science happened, and she did, in fact, fall in love with her friend that she was trying it out with (I wonder if perhaps doing this experiment with someone who is already a friend makes it more easy to fall in love). She wrote about it in the Times, the article went viral, and as she began to be asked about it, she was continually faced with the same question:
“Are You Still Together?”
It’s kind of a funny thing. Lots of other experiences we have with the expectation that they will be temporary: roller coasters. Most jobs that lead to retirement. Books. Movies. Thanksgiving. Vacation. And when people ask about these things, they tend to ask about the quality of the experience: Did you have fun? Was it good? Did you enjoy it? Yet if people find out that you fell in love and then learn that you are no longer together, their response is almost always sympathetic, except when it’s bitterly triumphant. Oh, that’s too bad. You were too good for him anyway.
Why is that? Why do we cling to this idea that in order to be successful, love has to last forever? Especially when it won’t, no matter what – but to view the only “successful” love to be “til death do us part” is setting a pretty narrow and ridiculous bar. How about we change the narrative, whether they’re together or not? What is something you love about her? What was the last thing he did that made you smile? Tell me about something you laughed at together. Instead of jumping on what, admittedly, is usually the painful part – breaking up – why don’t we try helping people remember the good parts of the relationships?
I want the happy ending implied by the title to my article…But what I have instead is the chance to make the choice to love someone, and the hope that he will choose to love me back, and it is terrifying, but that’s the deal with love.
Mandy Len Catron