What do people across the relationship spectrum think about love?
So, a few of my friends either recently got married, are getting married and some are thinking of marriage. Yup, we’re at that age (translation: BEEN at that age) where people are serious about finding life partners. The ideas on the type of people they want, the lives they want to build and what they’re able to tolerate have now crystalized. People are ready, man!! I have personally been thinking about love and the different forms that it takes at different stages. I think watching my own and friends’ ideas of love evolve, watching our growth in both clarity and disillusionment, has made me curious. Like, do the people who have been married for many years still think about love in the way that they did when they were dating or had just gotten married? If not, what causes this change and how do these ideas of love evolve? Also, what do people who are now divorced think of love versus when they’d just gotten married?
To appease my curiosity, I put out a survey on the ideas of love. The plan was to get responses from people at different relationship stages. I wanted to find out how the ideas of those who have been married for a long time contrast with those of people who just got married or were single or divorced. This post is a summary of some of those responses. To start off, I want to thank you all for your transparency. In the words of the epic Zora Howard “thank you for sharing this space with me”, sincerely.
The first thing I wanted to understand was how people think through the meaning of being partners, and how that informs how they go about choosing their partners. Given the evolution of the idea of partnership over time in our culture, how does its meaning differ across people of different ages, those of different life stages and also, how does it differ between those who are Christian and others.
On the idea of partnership, and the task (or joy?) of choosing
Two things that became clear in the responses from single people was that they considered partnership to mean being a team – a thing that most expressed to find to be scary as hell, and that they did not think choosing a partner means you ought to compromise on your desires.
- Partnership means being a team
The responses from most single people on the poll were focused a lot on finding someone you can be a team with, where you get 100% from each partner. People thought of partnership as a life altering, big and scary idea.
2. Choosing a partner need not mean compromising on the life you want/ have built
From older single people, there were some resolute ideas of preferring singleness than what they considered a subpar partnership. These are people who have built full lives with clear ideas of what their futures might look like, and that seemed to be a big factor in how or even whether they chose to partner at all.
When I first started dating (20 years old) I was willing to be moulded into whatever the other person perceived to be the perfect partner for them, because I didn’t know or trust myself and I just wanted to be accepted. Now (29 years old), life partnership is finding someone to complement my life, and I theirs. Otherwise, I am content being alone.
People who are in relationships or are engaged emphasised the importance of similar belief systems and values when choosing a partner. Another aspect that people mentioned was how partnership brought practical convenience in terms of cost savings.
- Partnership is similarity of beliefs and values
Those who are already partnered seemed to emphasise similar values, beliefs and sometimes cultures. This similarity also included common goals and dreams, working together towards a shared vision of the future without either partner getting lost in the process.
I think togetherness is the main thing that I think about when I think of the term “life partnership”. Over time, I’ve come to learn that this process of working together is not easy as we are two individuals who are bringing our own wants, fears, insecurities, dreams, visions and values to the relationship. I have also come to learn that this unity is not at the expense of our own individuality. It’s a hard balance to find, but I guess the goal is to be united with another person without either one of them losing themselves in the process
2. It is practical convenience
Just having a nice human being to do life with and mostly importantly, share bills with
3. It is a constant choosing of the one you’re with
There was an emphasis on the consistency and continuity of having to choose the one you’re with at this stage and as they/you evolve.
I think I want to say choosing my partner is not a single event, at a point in time. It is continuous, over time. I chose to be in a relationship with her, because I really want to get to know her more fully, as something more than a friend
Married folk spoke about developing good and healthy practices; being sacrificial and oneness.
- Newlyweds said relationships require good patterns of practice to create a partnership. Those who have been married for long seemed to emphasise the sacrificial element of partnership, and putting the other party first.
Life partnership, in my opinion, is about foregoing self interest in favour of another’s interest. It’s about foregoing short term interested in favour of long-term survival (legacy)
2. The ultimate end of marriage is Christ and the good of the other
I’d also envisaged marriage as the ultimate life partnership, so that hasn’t changed. What’s changed is that marriage used to be about me and what I could get out of it (i.e., companionship, support, etc.) whereas now I realise that marriage is bigger than just me – it’s now focused on the good of the other (my spouse), it’s a solid foundation for our future children and it is a picture of eternal truths about Christ and His Church
Expectation vs reality: The best and hardest things about marriage
Another thing I wanted to understand was the contrast between what people thought would be hard and blissful about marriage versus what they actually experienced. Those who are married seemed to find bliss in the simple, the mundane everyday tasks. They seemed to struggle with the vulnerability of being truly exposed to another, and therefore truly seen. Interestingly, those who were divorced seemed to cite a loss of these simple joys and giving up on fighting for true vulnerability with your spouse, however grotesque. Therefore, giving up on the things that married people seemed to find challenging was a downward path to divorce. Unmarried people blabbed on as usual, saying some niceties about what they expected (I love you all!).
Unmarried folk expected the best thing about marriage to be to have a live-in best friend, a partner who is always there for you that you can share bills with.
I think it’s knowing that you have a personal person in your corner. Someone who’ll answer the phone no matter what time you call, someone who’ll celebrate your highs and support you in your lows. Getting to do the same for that person-I’m sure it deepens your capacity to love in action. I look forward to that
They expected the hardest thing about marriage to be family drama, and being truly seen with all your faults.
I think the hardest thing about marriage or relationship is letting your partner see the ugly parts you don’t like about yourself. We try to mask them or deny them but deep down we know they are ugly and letting someone else see that unpleasantness is hard
…Outside of the marriage/relationship it could be the joining of 2 families which is wonderful but has the potential for frictions if one is favoured
Married people stated that the best thing about being married was the everyday mundane things; getting to do life with another, having someone to constantly share burdens and joys with, having someone see you and call out your sinfulness. The everyday living, not the dramatic highs and lows, seem to be the most appealing thing.
The best part of marriage is the everyday life. It’s weird how happy mundane things can be with someone you love. Having someone who will always be there for you, to lift you up and support you is wonderful. A less expected benefit; feeling yourself slowly become a better person over the course of the relationship through the love you have for the other person
Married people mentioned that the hardest things have been to maintain or choose vulnerability in the relationship and how marriage really reveals your true sinful self and calls you to view yourself more clearly in that respect.
It can be hard to choose to trust your partner with your thoughts or feelings, to be continually open in a way you aren’t with other people. Even several years into the relationship it can be a challenge to choose to be vulnerable when you could downplay something or ignore something.
Divorced people emphasised the importance and necessity of a constant choosing of the other.
…Now, as I am getting older, I am placing more value on quality relationships and friendships over money. Always looking at life through the lens of value for money, has proven to be not the best way to live life. “The best things in life are free”, lol. Building a strong connection with another human being, who is not perfect but choosing to love them still. Going through seasons of life with this person; good and bad seasons. Accepting and choosing one another every day for the rest of your lives
Divorce seemed to be propelled by having to deal with someone who has given up on fighting for the relationship and is dishonest.
This is interesting in contrast to those who are married and viewed the pursuit of vulnerability as the hardest thing. Divorce seems to come when this pursuit has been given up. When one or both partners are no longer fighting to be more vulnerable and honest with their partner.
Now, if you want to be happy for the rest of your life, what are some good relationship practices/ rules that can be useful from our participants? Check out the next post…