Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. Here’s this week’s, based on something I was ruminating on last week at a marriage conference.
Our culture is in love with love. We gravitate towards movies that depict two drifting people finally discovering that one special person who completes them—that one special person who is their soul mate.
I’m not sure that’s actually a healthy trend. If we think there is One Person who completes us, then it naturally follows that if you’re not happy it’s because you haven’t found The One. And how do you know he or she is The One? Because bliss quickly follows.
Yet if bliss is our measuring stick to whether or not the person is The One, what happens when you get married and you start having inevitable difficulties? You lose your job. You find out that her mother is controlling. You simply can’t agree on who should do the laundry and the dishes.
Every couple must work through issues like these, but this illusion that there is one perfect person for us makes working on things difficult. Problems seem to be proof that he or she actually isn’t The One, because if he or she were, you wouldn’t have problems in the first place! You would always agree. And so you start to wonder if the whole foundation of your relationship is false.
What if it is, but not for the reason you think? What if marriage is not so much about finding the right person as much as it is about becoming the right person? When we’re looking for the right person, then the onus for the relationship working is entirely on them. We’re passive, just waiting to be made happy. But if we realize that relationships are dynamic, that people change with time, and that compromise is necessary, then we also realize that relationships are about us learning to love and sacrifice far more than they are about the other person completing us. It’s our attitude that matters.
My grandfather lived that attitude large. He lived a long life punctuated by great tragedy and loss, but he still embraced life with joy. And he shared that joy with three very different women, each of whom eventually succumbed to cancer after about two decades of marriage. When the last one wife died when he was 88, he decided that he was finished with romance. His house was decorated with pictures of all three of his wives for the next few years, before he left this world to join them.
Yet their personalities were quite different. One was a quiet family homebody. One was a no-nonsense go-getter. And one was a classy socialite. If he was looking for “The One”, he didn’t find three different versions of her. He found three very different women. Yet he loved all three.
What my grandfather instinctively knew was that if a relationship is going to work, you have to decide to be kind, to forgive, to put the other person’s needs first. And these things he did, wholeheartedly, giving him three very happy marriages.
Marriage is far less about finding that one perfect person than it is about deciding to love with reckless abandon. That may not sound as romantic as happening upon one’s soul mate, but looking at the pictures of the grandmother I never knew, the woman whom I called Nana, and the woman who couldn’t stop smiling at my wedding, I see real love. My grandfather knew how to make a marriage work, because he took the responsibility for it. If more of us felt that way, more of us would become The One.