I just watched The Vow the other night. It was “inspired” by a true story, although the film contained little (if any) truth. The real story involves a woman who lost a year and a half of her memory in a car crash; this just happened to be the year in which she met and married her husband. With no memory of him, she chose to keep her vow and rebuild their love from the ground up. It’s a tough story. Not romantic in the way we’re used to thinking of romance- we want lots of emotion and “heart,” not an intellectual decision to keep a commitment. Of course Hollywood fixed all that in the movie.
And this is where our culture’s idea of love fails us profoundly. Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. And deep down, most of us want to be loved this way whether or not we know it.
I’ve been married 8 years and have fallen in and out of love many times. He’s out late and doesn’t call, criticizes my housekeeping and snaps at the kids- I fall out. He comes home early, brings us cannoli and offers me a foot rub- I fall right back in! I thank God that our marriage was never based on feelings, but on commitment. We can get up after a lousy week and start again, choosing to love one another through thick and thin.
This isn’t a new or strange idea. Sex therapists will tell you that if you’re never in the mood for sex, a good place to start is by having sex anyway. Marriage therapists will tell you that one way to recharge a “loveless” marriage is to act in love- write a sweet note, or buy flowers, or do the dishes or pick up your underwear without being asked. Fake It Till you Make It!
Sure, I like to know my husband’s heart is smitten, and he usually makes that clear. But I can be really annoying. My typical response to clutter is, “If I ignore it maybe it will go away.” My darling husband has many times come home late from work, only to find the sink full of dishes and me in my sewing room, pulling out all my fabric scraps for my latest project. I know he doesn’t feel especially in love at those moments- I can hear it from the sound of kitchen cabinet doors banging. At times like this, it’s a relief to know that my husband has chosen to love me and care for me, even when he doesn’t feel like it. I try to extend the same unconditional love to him.
Our culture has fed us a yarn that says, “Love is a blissful, butterflies-in-your-tummy, high as a kite kind of feeling. When you’re in love, you dance down the street and sing in the car. You see unicorns and rainbows on the walls in the subway.” Yeah, that’s all true. For a few months, or years if you take it slow. It’s called not seeing, or wanting to see, the Real Person You Fell in Love With. Give it time. You’ll find out all their flaws- the ones they didn’t tell you about (and not the ones that seemed so cute when you were dating). And then, you will be faced with a choice.
The funny thing about being in love, is that it can happen at the worst of times. Those butterflies can come four years into a marriage, when you flip through your yearbook and stop at your high school crush, thinking, “I bet he wouldn’t leave the baby wipes open!” You see unicorns and rainbows when your boss gives you a smile. You dance down the street when your husband’s best friend brushes against you at a dinner party. Feelings, which feel so good when they’re right, can make a royal mess of things when they’re wrong.
Feelings change like the weather. For thousands of years, mankind has built walls and roofs as a hiding place from wild winds, scorching sun and drenching rains. When the weather changes, we want a place to be safe. Likewise a marriage based on commitment is not a loveless marriage; it’s a secure marriage, safe from the storms of changing emotion.
I personally can’t imagine the challenges amnesia would bring to a marriage. I can’t imagine losing years of precious memories, not only of my husband but of my children. Yet I hope that if I were in this woman’s shoes, I too would have the strength to keep doing what I’ve always tried to do- to put my Vow above my feelings. That, I believe, is the truest example of Love we can give.