Friday, August 10, 2018


For a respite from the politics and policy conflicts, the shouting and the shooting, the hostility and hate speech, I thought a word about love might be welcome.

I was inspired to write this blog post by a recent podcast from my favorite electronic stand-in minister, Krista Tippitt ("Speaking of Faith," "On Being"). Her government and media experience, writing, broadcasting and education (including a Masters in Divinity from Yale) has led to many prestigious awards.

The subject of her August 2 program/podcast was, "The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships." [Photo credit: David C. Wong/Flickr.]

Her guest was Alain de Botton, the founder and chairman of The School of Life. His books include Religion for Atheists, How Proust Can Change Your Life, and the novel The Course of Love. (Given his lifetime professional focus on love, he could have appropriately used the title of James Gould Cozzens' book, By Love Possessed.) But most relevant for his conversation with Ms. Tippitt is his article, "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," New York Times, May 28, 2016.

When Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote "Hello Young Lovers" that they began the song with a reference to the troubles that may accompany love -- a kind of "good luck with that, kids" -- suggests they knew of what they wrote:
Hello young lovers whoever you are
I hope your troubles are few
All my good wishes go with you tonight
I've been in love like you
Unfamiliar? Like to hear it? Frank Sinatra will sing it for you HERE

Here are the lyrics for another song associated with Sinatra called "Love and Marriage" ("Love and marriage/Go together like a horse and carriage").

What Alain de Botton wishes to remind us is that love is not the only thing that goes with marriage, and that young lovers' troubles can easily mount up well beyond "a few." In his article, "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," New York Times, May 28, 2016, he writes:
We marry the wrong person ... because we have a bewildering array of problems that emerge when we try to get close to others. We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?”

Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working .... The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. ... One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.

Our partners are no more self-aware. ... We look at their photos, we meet their college friends. All this contributes to a sense that we’ve done our homework. We haven’t. Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating.
So expressed, it is an analysis consistent with that of Wendell Johnson in the first chapter of his general semantics book, People in Quandaries: "Verbal Cocoons." He describes what he calls "the IFD disease." Our "ideals" (the "I") are unrealistically high. They can be high because (1) they are mathematically exceedingly unlikely to be attained (e.g., the junior high basketball player who aspires to play for an NBA team), (2) they are so highly valued (e.g., a young woman whose all-important single goal is to be chosen homecoming queen), or (3) goals can also be unrealistic if they are so totally devoid of a metric that it will always be impossible to know whether or not they've ever been attained (e.g., the young college student whose goal is to be "wealthy," "successful," or "popular"). When these goals aren't attained "frustration" (the "F") sets in. And repeated frustration can ultimately produce "demoralization" (the "D").

As Alain de Botton put it to Krista Tippitt, "Every 'fall into love' involves the triumph of hope over knowledge. ... Love is a painful, poignant, touching attempt by two flawed individuals to try and meet each others' needs in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance about who they are and who the other person is."

In other words, "falling in love," and "being in love" during the first weeks or months of a romance, days when that is the major focus of one's thoughts and emotions, is the easy part. The challenge comes when we need to know ourselves, and others, well enough to acknowledge that "nobody's perfect," that to be human is to have flaws (even and especially our own). There is no flawless, ideal-in-every-way partner out there. The vaccine for avoiding the IFD disease, and for "staying in love," is to live with that reality.

Many to most middle aged folks either figure this out for themselves or simply live with the frustration. But if you happen to be one of those "young lovers," or wish to be, and have read this far, I don't just "hope your troubles are few." What I hope as you think about what you've read (plus maybe some of the links), and apply it in your own way, that you will become as capable of "staying in love" as "falling in love."
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