Monday, August 13, 2007

Are You Still In Love?

Because I’m not.

I ask this question every time I see a certain friend of mine who got married two years ago. She always happily affirms that she is, indeed, still in love, and I roll my eyes. At our most recent coffee-date, however, we got down to brass tacks. What exactly do we mean when we say that we are – or are not – in love?

When I am in love, I experience the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite. I can eat if I have to, but I never want to. This symptom lasts anywhere from three to six months, and is my favourite weight-loss plan. (The Divorce Diet is equally effective, but not nearly as fun.)

  • Inability to be away from the loved one. Circumstances usually dictate that separations must occur, but these feel unnatural and wrong, as if I’m walking around with a bloody stump where my arm used to be, and bystanders are getting dripped on.

  • Waves of euphoria when I am with the loved one. Better than chocolate. (This symptom applies only to requited love.)

  • Instant, effortless memorization of every word that passes the loved one’s lips. (This symptom is especially true for unrequited love.)

  • Total loss of objectivity and rational thought as regards the merits and personality of the loved one (though these faculties remain mostly operational in regard to other matters).

  • A propensity to sing the following song, out loud, where people can hear me: “I hear singing and there’s no one there / I smell blossoms and the trees are bare / All day long, I seem to walk on air! / I wonder why? I wonder why?” (There are more verses. I could go on.)

I am keenly aware of how insufferable these symptoms make me to ordinary people, but I’ve been told that my attempts at concealment are quite effective. The above-mentioned friend (she of the never-ending honeymoon) swears that I was quite tolerable company when the two of us shared a research trip to England a few months after now-husband and I began dating. I feel a sharp pang of nostalgia when I remember that trip – mornings spent in the British Library, sandwiches from Prêt-à-Manger for lunch, afternoons devoted to visiting the National Portrait Gallery or browsing in the bookstores on Charing Cross Road. Tarnishing all these experiences, though, was my constant, painful longing, as if I were being slowly suffocated for lack of the essential oxygen of communication with the one I loved. The day before we flew home, while my friend sadly bade farewell to Hampstead Heath and Madame Tussaud’s, I mentally clicked my heels and sang “I’m leaving on a jet plane!”

That is what it is to be in love.

Make no mistake: I enjoy being in love. But there’s no denying that it is a debilitating condition, one that I would never want to prolong beyond the requisite two-year endorphin rush. It was a relief for me to get married, to settle into the comfort of a relationship that felt less like a medical condition and more like real life. These days, marriage is no longer about being in love. It’s about feeling that I have a partner, someone who stands beside me, sharing the load. It’s about taking turns staying home so that the other person can go out and eat ice cream or play D&D on games night. It is, as Her Bad Mother once said, a pillow fort of shared jokes, mutual liking and hard-won trust.

I put on what is probably my last bridesmaid’s dress last weekend, standing up for another idealistic, madly-in-love friend of mine (one who always looks aghast when hubby and I cheerfully announce that we’re no longer in love). The bouquet of pink roses I carried down the aisle is blooming cheekily on the piano, as radiant as the 26-year-old bride herself. Just for fun, I put my own seven-year-old bridal bouquet beside it:


It is gnarled and brown – but there is something in the spicy aroma that lingers in the faded leaves that I like better than the scent of fresh roses.

57 comments:

KC said...

Ah, but you are in love. The love of attachment mediated by oxytocin and other typical love neurohormones. It's the kind of love that keeps prairie voles pair-bonded for their lifetime. (okay, when you put it like that it is decidedly less romantic).

The mad rush of "falling in love" is mediated by different hormonal cascades and looks very much like OCD from a brain chemistry standpoint.

I am still in love. Not butterflies and can't eat or sleep due to obstrusive thoughts in love but a lovely, deep love that can't imagine being with anyone else going through this life. It's what keeps people together.

(parts of this comment taken from my annual lecture on the Neurobiology of Love.)

Blog Antagonist said...

Being in love definitely has it's appeal. And yet...I don't think I would give up what I have for the newly in love thing again. The uncertainty, the doubt, the constant self-examination? Eck.

I'm a creature of habit. Comfortable is what floats my boat.

And frankly, my bod really can't withstand the kind of scrutiny that a new lover would subject it to.

God...the mere thought gives me palpitations.

mayberry said...

By your reckoning, goodness no I'm no longer in love. And hey...coming up on 7 years married.

Lawyer Mama said...

I really like KC's comment about the physiology of love.

What you describe, what we generally call being "in love" isn't really love though, is it? It's a beginning maybe. But real love is so much more.

For me, no heady rush of initial love could ever compare to the overwhelming, and much deeper emotion I had watching my husband hold our son for the first time.

NotSoSage said...

Those symptoms, isn't that what a good novel or romantic comedy is for? You get a little vicarious rush and then settle comfortably back into the routine of partnership again.

Love what KC had to say.

Mean Mommy said...

I've been reading you for a while now and really really enjoy your blog. I especially loved this post. I totally agree that love in marriage is not the love of courtship. It's much, much better.

I hope you don't mind, I posted this on Mommy Blog Roundup, a site that features the best mommy blog posts I, and others, come across every day. The post links back here and of course you get full credit at author of the post.

http://mommyblogroundup.blogspot.com/

slouching mom said...

Yes. I'm with you, B&P. And I've always viewed the distinction this way:

X is in love with Y.
X loves Y.

They are so different, aren't they? The first is lust, crush, obsession, passion, etc.

The second? Well, it's love.

Karen said...

you relieve my mind unspeakably.

b*babbler said...

I think that the hardest transition in the world is moving from "in love" to simply "loving".

Being in love doesn't really leave room for moments of dislike, moments of annoyance, moments of anger. Loving means having those moments and yet still loving the person you're with (even if you don't necessarily like them at a given moment.)

Virtualsprite said...

You're right... nothing can compare to that first bloom of love, but I'll take "not being in love" any day. I am truly secure knowing that I could live without my Nature Boy, but I'm happier that I don't have to.

jen said...

it's that lovely little shift to companionate love from passionate love...the enduring built on a house of bricks stuff.

Alpha DogMa said...

I see the distinction not as "in love" vs "not in love, but committed," but rather as "falling in love" vs. "in love." The former speaks of freefalling into a relationship and hoping for a soft landing and the latter to the stage where the novelty is gone but the emotion is deeper.

If pressed by someone to answe "Are you still in love?" I'd say yes. To say no just seems sad. Like I'm living with the husband out of habit and lethargy, when in reality I would go through this life with no other...well, maybe with Alan Rickman - but you know what I mean.

AprilMay said...

LOL! I totally agree! My peeve is the "best friend" comment...my husband and I agree we are NOT best friends! He goes fishing with his best friend, and I go shopping with mine...something I avoid doing with my husband at all costs!

Jenifer said...

I think what you describe as symptoms are maybe more a precursor to love, like when a plant is all showy and blooming. Then love settles down into a nice, comfortable place where all that beginning drama is a fading memory.

I think I am still in love, it just changes as time passes. Our tenth anniversary is in a few weeks. I am so glad life unfolded the way it did for me...a lifetime with anyone else seems impossible.

bubandpie said...

AprilMay - I've always been like that about those "Jesus is my best friend" choruses. Because the relationship really feels qualitatively different from that.

Catherine said...

Lovely. Two things to add:

1. Today my husband said, in reference to a story he was telling me "they had forged a deep connection." And I though - "forged" is such a better verb for love than "fall" is. I would so rather have a love that had been forged than fallen into.

Second, when the Bible says that the woman is the man's helpmate, the original word in the original text is the same you would use to describe when you are lifting a heavy table and need someone to come grab the other end. Someone to literally share the load. (note: not a subordinate servant type role!) I think this fits beautifully with your thoughts.

Catherine said...

Point C: How embarrassing that I first said "1" and I then send "Second." Sigh.

Veronica Mitchell said...

I'm with you.

Can we sing that Alan Jackson song now? "Love isn't some place that you fall..."

Joy, of course said...

Oh, but I am so in love with my husband. I adore him. Well not every moment, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by a rush of it. And what else would I call it but being in love with him. But no it's not the same as the heady drug-like feeling of falling for someone. It's not remotely the same. Because this love isn't something you fall into, it's something you build like a wall, one brick at a time, taking time to go back and fill in the cracks when you need to.

Sigh. What a lovely topic. I love the picture of the two bouquets. So poignant.

Denguy said...

You kept your bouquet? I wonder if my wife still has hers. It would be 12 years old.

flutter said...

ah but loving, is loving is love, isn't it?

Kit said...

"the comfort of a relationship that felt less like a medical condition and more like real life."

great description!
I enjoyed the heady days of falling in love but there was always a background current of anxiety over whether it would last. I'd make a semantic distinction between falling in love and being in love...the being is the long term state that lasts once the swoop of falling has bottomed out!

Sandra said...

I miss that mad-hat falling in love feeling sometimes. But love the comfortable partnership too.

And that photo ... poetic

Aimee said...

It's funny - I do consider myself still "in love", but I guess this must be a matter of semantics. The feelings you described, I consider to be that whirlwind "falling in love" period. The time where you become an insufferable sap, and your mother rolls her eyes knowingly at you.

The being "in love" part - well, that's actually the harder, better part to me. That's the time when you find you still love someone even though they do disgusting things like . . . well, let's just not get into bathroom habits, 'kay?

But, you are absolutely right about the feeling of comfort in the knowledge that there is someone who has your back, who shares the load. To me, that IS the "in love" To maintain that is the work of marriage - although really good marriages don't make it look like work at all.

To me, in love trumps falling in love every time. Well, almost every time - if hubby wants to woo me from time to time with dinners out and boxes of chocolate, I'll ne happy to comply :)

Omaha Mama said...

I consider myself in love, but the lust - the all-consuming infatuation is all gone. Faded over 6 years of partnership. I can definitely see how people end up divorced even when they thought they were in love because I've divorced Hubs in my head more than twice. But for today - I love him.

Rock the Cradle said...

kc...you gave me SUCH a grin. It's almost like your part of my family here...

B&P: I hear you. As much as I loved the feeling of euphoria of falling in love, it is, as a condition, too much like 24/7 intoxication for me to want to remain in it's throes for the rest of my life.

I love, rather, what I fell into. That deep, cozy, familiarity that is given it's life force by our gradually changing selves.

"...Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,"

I love your bouquet.

Beck said...

Hm. I've been with my husband - barring a prolonged break-up in the early 90s - for 17 years. I don't know if it's because of the long seperation, but we have a passionate, intense (in our quiet, polite way) connection - we're not IN love, but love itself is still pretty interesting.

Susanne said...

I'm no longer in love like you said, the medical symptoms kind. But I found that I had that mostly when the other one wasn't loving back. And I found that maybe my love of the dramatic life was stronger than any feeling towards somebody else.

After 12 years of marriage and 13 years of being together I still feel amputated when my husband isn't around. Not dripping blood but uncomfortably lacking something. And just this spring we had the "butterflies in stomach and can't stand to spend even a second apart"-feeling again.

That "romantic"-thing is highly over-rated, but I'd say love runs strong in my marriage. And if that depth of feeling lessened I'd feel alarmed. (It has on occasion and we always have seen to it instantly.)

nomotherearth said...

It's funny, but I do miss the early romantic days quite a bit. The chase is always exciting. But I think I miss them more in retrospect, than I would if I was actually going through it all again.

And I would respectfully disagree with Aprilmay about the Best Friends comment. I define a best friend as someone who is always there for you no matter what, and who you can say anything to without fear of judgment, because they "get" you. Mr Earth is that for me.

And no, I wouldn't choose to go shopping with him, and I have to all but drag him to girlie movie - but I could say the same thing about some of my girlfriends.

DaniGirl said...

I have no idea where I came across it anymore, but I once read a scene where an older woman credited the longevity of her relationship by saying, "Luckily, we just never fell out of love at the same time." I think this is the truest, most honest description of a life-long relationship I've ever heard, and I've always remembered it.

Like you, I'm pretty insufferable when freshly in a new crush (I hesitate to even call it love.) I associate that phase with a lot of underlying angst and anxiety, too, which I'm more than happy to leave behind.

So yes, I'm still in love - or at least, more often than not, which is good enough for me. I guess I'm not much of a romantic!

lildb said...

there's nothing better than words like "spicy" and "gnarled" together in the same sentence.

very sentient.

Momish said...

It is true, while being in love is one of the best experiences of my life, it is not something I can keep up and still function as a real human being.

My husband and I had a short lived "in love" period. We sort of started our entire relationship on the best friends level. Which is nice.

thirtysomething said...

What a great tribute to the stages a relationship must take to evolve into REAL love. Infatuation, trust, confort...all must be present in the presumptive correct order, but each has it's own time and then the relationship evolves again. Before you know it, 50 years have passed.
What a wonderful post.
I like the bouquets together...wonderful depiction of marriage in a good way.

Eva said...

I think this was a lovely post, and very well said. Occasionally I feel small pangs of envy when I see new couples (IRL or movies) acting all new-couple-ish. But in reality what we have now is so much richer and, quite frankly, less exhausting.

Swistle said...

I think of "in love" as being used to mean two different states (just as the word "love" can be used for all kinds of feelings, from parental love to food love):

1) That early relationship thing, with the rushes and longings and loss of appetite.

2) Still wanting to be with and live with the person you're with in a romantic-category relationship. (What I'm trying to say is that it doesn't have to be marriage, but it wouldn't apply to platonic roommates or members of your family of origin.)

I'm still 2 but not 1. Which is normal. I've heard those studies that say that the rushes and longings are chemical/hormonal and can't last longer than 18 months (or 2 years or whatever), and I completely believe that. But I think I can accurately say that I am in love with my husband, in that I would freak the hell out if the marriage ended, because I still WANT to be married to him, in a WANTING way (not convenience but really WANTING it in a feeling-it-in-my-heart way).

But if you want to limit the definition of "in love" to the hormones and chemicals, then no, I don't suppose any of us who've been with someone for more than 2 years or so can call ourselves "in love."

AnneK said...

Well, I don't think you should be saying that you and husband are no longer in love. That means then love is only the initial euphoria and pangs. As with anything it has progression and just because it is in another stage doesn't means its not love. I have been married 1.5 yrs now and there are times it feels like 15-we are so comfortable with each other and other times all honeymoony. And other times so mad that we are ready to rip each other into shreds. We are both high-spirited, so we have plenty of arguments :$ In the immortal words of Nora Wilson "We are better of fighting with each other than agreeing with anyone else."

And with all that we are still in love and love each other.

Florinda said...

This post and all the comments have made me think more carefully about how I might answer this.

I'm familiar with your symptoms, but more as "falling in love" than "being in love." (I chuckled over your "Divorce Diet," though - been on that one too, and definitely not as pleasant.) I've been with husband #2 for almost 2-1/2 years, and we'll be married a year in October, so the "falling in love" experience is still pretty fresh, and there are elements of it that I hope I'll never lose over the years. I get an emotional rush looking at him sometimes, and even just thinking about him, and I really like that part. But as a few others have said, it can be a bit tiring to fall in love...

At the same time, the daily ins and outs of life together do change how we relate to each other, and I feel like they're deepening our feelings into a true partnership. And I hope that since both of us have been through divorces before, we'll be better at being tuned into our feelings for each other and nurturing them over time.

Jenifer said...

So well put....

I went on a cruise with a few girlfriends about 2 months after hubby and I had started dating, and I felt the same way you did while you were away. While most people wish their vacation never ended, on that particular trip I was counting the days until I could go home and see him again.

Now.... I jump for joy at the thought of a business trip and some time alone!

Funny how things change.

kittenpie said...

You were talking about infatuation, not love, according to my high school health teacher. Love is better.

But - you still have your bridal bouquet?!?

Kyla said...

I think that what you mean by "in love" is what I think of as infatuation. Real love is the stuff of day in day out commitment...real love is the choice you make every morning, even when you might not feel like it, at least for me.

niobe said...

I was sure that I couldn't fall in love. I knew I just didn't have the emotional depth or range to manage it. But, as it turns out, I could and I did. I've never been so sorry to be wrong.

ewe are here said...

To me, the symptoms of 'being in love' you describe are they symptoms of 'being early in love' ... But maybe that's just me.

I think being in love is defined differently by different people. Part of what makes the world go 'round, and what makes some relationships work for the long haul and others fizzle out after a short, intense partnering.

;-)

Annette Lyon said...

I have to agree with most of the comments here on the difference between the early infatuation and deep, committed love. I can say honestly that after 13+ years of marriage, I love my hubby far deeper than I did on our wedding day. Back then I was certainly twitter-pated and couldn't comprehend what a deeper love would mean or feel like.

Lisa b said...

I love that photo with the two bouquets.
I guess I'm not in love either but sometimes when I get to go out and eat ice cream those old feelings come back.

Lisa b said...

I love that photo with the two bouquets.
I guess I'm not in love either but sometimes when I get to go out and eat ice cream those old feelings come back.

painted maypole said...

a lovely post on the merits of old love (rather than no love, me thinks). And D&D?? Our husbands should meet to play, and we could talk books and kids and politics and whatnot all night.

Antique Mommy said...

Oh absolutely. It's still love, but definitely a different flavor.

bubandpie said...

PM - Thank you, yes. Old love, not no love. Wrinkled and geriatric, but very, very different from no love (I've tried both).

Aliki2006 said...

Great thought-provoking post...

I am still in love, I think, but not in early, infatuated love. Periodically I do fall in that rush of love again with my husband--when the kids were born, for instance, or when I just look at him in a new light all of a sudden and I feel that same rush. But I am still in love, a deeper, richer love.

Bon said...

loved this. and am okay with old love, too...i find its beauty, like you said, less like a medical condition, though not less powerful.

beautiful post, B&P.

Gwen said...

I know I'm late to the party, but I want to say Brava! to B&P for writing honestly about marriage.

I'm not diving into the "in love" vs. "love" semantic pool, but I will say this: I really appreciate the fact that I like my husband. I just dig him, and I look askance (slightly; okay, so I'm a big old judgment whore) at other relationships where it seems as though, despite commitment and "love," the participants don't especially like each other.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I'm an occasional visitor/reader (from the link on Postcards from the Mothership). I thought you might enjoy this article from Sarah Hampson in today's Globe on a very similar thread:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070816.wlgenex16/BNStory/lifeFamily/home

Keep up the great blogging!

Thanks,
Holly

Emily said...

I'm with all those who said you are in love. You are. KC is right. But, I agree that this kind of love is a lot less tiring.

PeanutButtersMum said...

I'm actually falling in love again. My hubs has been so awesome lately that I really feel like I'm learning to love him in a whole new way. This sounds totally cheesy and corny even to my own ears, but it's true!!!

Christine said...

except for the thinky medical stuff, kc stole the words right out of my mouth!

V-Grrrl said...

My husband and I have been together 28 years, married for 25 years. There's an ebb and flow to our relationship and midlife has brougt its challenges. On Friday I became ill when I was away from home. I didn't have a car and didn't want to get on the bus or walk home from the bus stop. I picked up my cell and called my husband's office and the moment I heard his voice I was struck with what a comfort it was to me, how many times I'd dialed a phone and heard him answer, and how I have always, always, always been able to count on him. It was a moment of clarity and grace, recognizing that beyond the highs and the not-so-pretty lows was something constant and good and wonderful. Love.

Jenn said...

Oh, I'm so ready to not be in love.