Modern Love

I'm having some pretty significant milestones in my life this spring and early summer: one year as a preacher and five years sober. And it's been five years since Richard and I became divorced, which means that I've been dating for a five year chunk of my late 40s and early 50s.

I have deeply loved preaching and sobriety and I want lots more; dating, not so much. 

I have stories, though. Man, do I have stories.

The Laurens have been trying to get me to write a book for a while now. It already has a title and the chapters are mostly sorted out, but I have yet to commit to getting it all written it down. It may have to wait until my mom and dad have died, but suffice it to say that if you dated me during this last half-decade, you're a story now and you're going to end up in the book.

This Sunday, May 1, my parents celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary. I really love that Mom and Dad have weathered all these years, together. That they chose to stick it out, literally in sickness and in health, through rain and snow, in good times and in bad, watching their kids grow and now watching their grandkids grow. They do some stuff apart: Mom helps out at the library; Dad is involved in town politics, and some stuff together: grocery shopping and sporting events and church on Sunday. They bicker and they hold hands. They chat and they sit together in silence. As an observer, it doesn't really look like there's much rocket science involved, and still I have found myself wondering recently...why not me? Why have I not had in my life what my parents have modeled for me for fifty-three years?

  Fifty-three years later...

Fifty-three years later...

So I decided to undertake a small and decidedly unscientific study of love. I got a really great leather journal, because, of course, you can't study anything properly without the right notebook and pens. And then I started paying attention and asking questions: what does love look like? What's working in relationships where the two people seem to be happy? I began looking around me for signs and indicators and I turned inward with as much courage as I could muster, hungry for information: Where is it? What is it? How will I know it when I see it? Why has it eluded me all this time? Have I been rude to love? Disrespectful? Unappreciative? Suspect of love? 

Do we really attract what we need? Or do we attract versions of ourself that we don't want to face? Do people come to teach us lessons? Does love come through the heart or the eyes? Is love a single soul in two bodies? That seems like it might be stretching things a little thin. The more I looked around, the more confused I became. Not unlike Joni Mitchell, I looked at love from a whole bunch of sides and it turns out that I really don't know much about love at all.

And maybe that's the problem. Maybe love doesn't want to be figured out. It's probably not a cerebral thing or a word thing. Maybe it's just a being thing. We're probably not supposed to love each other through our cell phones and computers, we're probably supposed to hold hands. We're not supposed to think too hard about it, we're supposed to sit together and eat and talk and we're supposed to show up when showing up is called for.

When I was a kid there was a movie called Love Story and the big line in the story, the one that everyone remembers was "love means never having to say you're sorry." What a load of crap that is. Love, on the contrary, means having to say you're sorry about a hundred times a day: I'm sorry I wasn't listening, I'm sorry I didn't let you know how great you looked, I'm sorry I didn't call, I'm sorry I didn't take your needs into consideration, I'm sorry I was so quick to defend myself; I'm sorry I said that stupid thing. Love doesn't at all mean never having to say you're sorry; love means forgiving and moving on, over and over and over.

Is it about compatibility? Not so much, I don't think. I haven't had much in common with the people I've dated these years. Geography, maybe; skiing, always. The fact that we have families and we are alive, mostly. Beyond that, I would say that we are all strangers to each other. And that love is really about building lots of little bridges. You will never be me and I will never be you, but we can build bridges to each others' lives, if we decide that that's what we want to do. We can keep building lots of little bridges and we can keep walking across them and admiring the view. I think it might be about something like that. Every time that it would be easier to walk away, I'm guessing it would be better to walk toward, even if the winds are howling, even if the path is foggy. I have a strong suspicion that that's how Mom and Dad have done it all these decades. 

I know you want the stories, and you'll get them some day. They're great; they're funny; they're so ridiculous. I have endured texting and email break-ups and long bouts of the Silent Treatment -- that seems to be everyone's favorite dating game these days, the intentional withholding of kindness and respect. It's too easy now that we all have a communication device available to us twenty-four hours a day. And I have to check the pastor rule book to see if I'm allowed to talk about sex, but for now I can assure you that, like everything in life, it has ranged from the sublime to the...not so sublime.

I have seen it all in the past five years of dating, including a couple of marriage proposals and an altercation on a Swedish island. Dating, to someone stuck inside a marriage that has become stale or a relationship that has lost its luster may sound intriguing and exciting, but it's not; it's exhausting. So here is my advice:

Married people: stay married.
People in love: stay in love. 
People looking for love: that's great and you're going to find it. The world is full of weirdos; pick one and hang in there.
Note to self: the answer to the next marriage proposal is yes.