“I tell you, the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” -Vincent Van Gogh
I found this quote recently and have been hanging onto it, almost like fingers clutching a ledge, as the onslaught of stories and information pours on about the demise of our current state of relationships. Last week’s coverage of the historic turn of events where more women (51%) are living without a spouse than with one. Depending on your race the statistics are as low as one in three (Black women) and only as high as 6 out of 10 for Asian women.
That those living in marriage in America is now a minority, isn’t really surprising. It confirms our collective experience of yet another of our institutions no longer able to serve its members. In part this is due to a healthy maturation of all the members. We are more able to choose our lifestyle, and our expectations about our relationships are more demanding. Crisis, opportunity or act of true art, our relationships are in the process of reinvention.
Just as in our work lives, our personal relationships are not all lifetime experiences. As we change and grow, healthy careers keep step. So it is that we demand this of our primary relationships. If the relationship succeeds in teaching us patience, kindness, generosity and the gift of our human heart during its existence, it has succeeded.
What is the secret element that allows some relationships to weather the inevitable storms of living together over time? A key element is in choice. The first act of love in any relationship lives in the choosing of one’s partner and as the vow goes “forsaking all others…” It isn’t a choice that you make only on the day you say “I do”. It is the choice you make every day, creating a connection where there is seemingly none, agreeing to problem-solve the same problems as yesterday, taking care and patience to listen and be heard… all these small acts of recommitting over and over to the person that you love.
This willing oneself to choose their partner and relationship is sometimes nothing more than an act of will. Some days I can attest to the seeming absurdity of the choice- other days, it is barely even a choice, feeling overwhelming gratitude to live in such a partnership.
The choice to love and to stay committed and connected through the banality of the mundane, tedious and daily requirements of life is what keeps relationships fresh and free (mostly) of the feeling of being caught in a life sentence. It creates opportunities that verge on romance in the most surprising of circumstances- in the grocery store, in the parking lot outside of the doctor’s office, putting the garbage out… Relationships that sustain us and that we can sustain over time are a choice that we make- the choice to make romance out of the ordinary.