I’ve been trying to understand marital love for a long time now, and I believe that I have now come to a new, but old understanding.
New, in that it is quite radical for our times.
Old, in that I believe that this is practically how it must have worked for centuries of human life, before our modern ideas of romantic love gained precedence.
You know, when thinking about basic ideas about living, I often ask myself: how has this thing worked historically? That often gives an understanding about the essential nature of something, what is tried and tested. That is not always a reliable consideration of course, because there are some things from history that we would not want to replicate, like sexism, or racism.
This is the way I believe that marital love works:
In our times: This is quite a rough generalisation. But you meet someone special, you fall in love, if you have enough in common, and the feelings are mutual, you progress to marriage. It is not fair to say that “people don’t care about character”, because they do. However, I think that it is fair to say that loving feelings, alongside compatibility are the main event, and the question of character is used to prop up or reject the idea of a love that already exists. (That said, the idea of red flags is gaining precedence. However, even with red flags, you look for those in the context of evaluating someone romantically.)
New but old idea:
This is the way I think would be better, and honestly, I think that it is the way things must have worked historically:
In short, alongside compatibility, what you are looking for chiefly in a spouse is character. You know, the works of Jane Austen are often considered a celebration of romantic love. Well I have finished gritting my teeth through yet another viewing of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. And actually, what was front and centre, at least in the relationship between Lizzy and Mr Darcy, was character. It was on realising Mr Darcy’s excellent character that Lizzy found herself falling for him, especially in the gracious and diplomatic way he handled the scandal of her sister Lydia. It was on realising his poor character that she withdrew from Mr Wickham, although by then he had already moved on to his next conquest in Mary King. It was because of Bingley’s sweet and amiable character, not just his wealth, that he was seen as being a good husband for Jane. In fact, even though Darcy is even richer than Bingley, Lizzy first unceremoniously rejects him, because of questions about his character in that she thinks that he is rude and disrespectful. Eventually though, his excellence is revealed, and Lizzy then happily releases herself to fall in love with him, and unsurprisingly she does not find herself to have any kind of aversion to his wealth!
What I struggle to understand though in the story is how someone as kind and gracious as Bingley could have sisters who are cold and mean? In the story, after Jane and Bingley get together, that is seen as irrelevant in that the topic is not addressed. However, in real life I think that those sisters could have made life very difficult indeed for Jane, especially as Bingley did not seem to have the backbone to put them firmly in their place. I guess it is a good thing that this is only a story!
At any rate, I personally believe that the most effective way to find a spouse is to look for outstanding character, alongside two types of compatibility; life compatibility and emotional compatibility.
Life compatibility is when the two of us are going in the same sort of direction, have similar goals, dreams and values. Actually, this is one aspect I find really hard, as my life choices are so unusual.
So this involves considerations of how many children we want, the importance we place on career considerations etc.
Emotional compatibility is very important too, I think that this is basically our potential for falling in love. Note, it is not actual falling in love itself, rather it is the potential for falling in love.
This might look different for everyone. However, for me I have realised that it boils down to being deep, or existing on the same emotional wavelength, where you want to share with one another the same deep responses to profound things, which trigger the same profound, existential feelings within the two of you,
things that I am always talking about on this blog, like sunsets, music, poetry. It is like sharing our common mortality, and the joy of being alive at the same time, as well as our common immortality, and knowing that our lives transcend this short existence on earth, and connecting with one another emotionally and uniquely in contemplating this profoundness, letting your spouse be the one person that you connect with in this way. Other people might try to offer you this kind of emotional connection, but you have to firmly reject it as belonging only to the relationship between you and your spouse. It kinda shocks me that some people can look at sunsets or listen to beautiful music, and not feel this, but then as I say, it works different ways for different people. But surely, surely, it must be true for everyone that falling in love must in some way include an exclusive connecting between two people related to the profound interplay between mortality and immortality, that is, being alive now, versus having an immortal spirit that will live forever. Looks around at other people – or is that just me?! That is, we all feel it, but you are only to share it with one person…
So emotional compatibility is the potential that you could share it with this one person, the fact that you like the same things.
But actually falling in love is working together to stimulate that connection, by doing together things that stimulate those profound feelings. I guess what I am trying to say is that “emotional compatibility” is when the two of you are stimulated to those profound feelings by the same, or similar things. So perhaps someone out there might say “what makes me feel truly alive is sport”, for instance, or doing charity work. Well for me, what connects me most deeply to my most profound self, what I yearn to share with my Mr Huggie-Wuggie is sunsets, in general the poetic beauty of the created world, like oceans and mountains.
I talk about the potential because I think that in modern life people try to fall in love first, then shoehorn in considerations of character. However, I would rather talk about the potential for falling in love, because once everything else is in place, and we know that this potential definitely exists, then we can actively work to fall in love, to develop this sense of connection, and we can keep working on that throughout the course of our marriage.
However, if you focus on love first as seems to be common in our days, then I think that what is bound to happen is what people actually do experience, consistently, that character will very quickly rear its head, and easily tear you apart. We all yearn for the sweetness of love, for the poetry of love, for the intimacy of sharing our deepest, most profound selves with one special person. However, the simple fact which dozens of people have testified to is that as amazing as love is, character is greater, in that it is a more essential consideration. It is a bit like how people cannot afford to take the time to engage in luxuries when they are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, like in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Well if falling in love, and our modern ideals of romantic love are like a luxury to engage in, then character is like the roof over your head. Perhaps, thinking further, it is precisely because people in the West have moved on from having to fight for basic survival but can now look to self-actualisation that people have subconsciously also adopted a view of love that disregards or minimises or takes for granted character as the essential aspect of love, and instead focuses on falling in love which can be considered a form of self-actualisation, or akin to it.,