As a clergy person, I have had the honor and privilege these past decades of officiating at countless weddings. The pre-marital conversations are always fascinating. Young couples come in, deeply in live and discuss their hopes and dreams and concerns as they prepare to embark on married life.
So many times I stand at the ceremony, looking at them, and hoping and praying that their life together brings the fulfillment of their dreams. As we all know, no one can predict the future. Many of us who officiate at weddings will include in the ceremony our hope that the love which now unites the couple will be given the space to grow and evolve. As we all know as well, the “love” which brings a couple to that wedding day, is often not the “love” that we meet years or decades later. Time has a way of testing and forging that love.
I am always struck by this fact when I work with older adults. Often, in a class, or at times, sadly, as we prepare for a funeral, the subject of love will come up. I recall most vividly a few recent cases. They involved the death of a spouse. In discussing the arrangements, I came to know that the couple has been married in one case, 64 years and in another, well over 50 years. So, I asked the question: “what was your secret?”
In both cases, and in almost every similar one, that spouse pauses, often a smile is mingled with a tear, and they say something like, “well, you know you learn to adjust, you learn the art of compromise”. This is not said in any way to lessen the value of that marriage. Rather, it is, I think, a testimony to the value of longevity and love. Mature love, it seems, has a major component, this idea of adjustment. You learn, over time, the art of give and take. This “art” is the key to success in marriage, and, in relationships as well. It is the ability to be with someone and at the same time, allow that significant other their space to grow. Of course, the challenge is often that, in that growth, the couple can stay together. Now that is a test!
I think we spend very little time as a society in looking at what this “mature” love can be. We are so obsessed with youth and sexuality, we forget that a true test of love is the ability for that love to grow and mature. I think many Boomers are now at the stage when they are contemplating this very transition. I think a key component of this transition is the idea of intimacy; not necessarily sexual intimacy, but the type of intimacy that speaks to the power of relationship.
As we get older, one of our great fears, I suggest, is the fear of being alone. Staying in or creating a meaningful relationship becomes even more important. It is a different type of love than we may have felt at age 30, but, I would suggest, it is a more meaningful and lasting love. Remember that we are reminded in Genesis chapter 2:18 that it is not good that we should be “alone”.
It is interesting to note that studies have shown that people in relationships tend to live longer and report being happier in life. I have no doubt that this stems from knowing that another person is there for you and cares about you. The heart of life really is love, the most powerful of all emotions. It may not be that “all” we need is love, but, it seems that we need it more than anything else for it is that relationship that helps define who we are.