“Then What Is Love To You, Anyway?” (From “All In … Almost”)

“Then What Is Love To You, Anyway?” (From “All In … Almost”) July 27, 2010

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(More material I’ve written for my aborning book, All In … Almost.)

I was twenty-three years old [when I got married]. As I write this, I am either fifty-one or fifty-two. (Maybe this will be the momentary uncertainty that for once in my life compells me to do some math! Maybe not.)

As anyone who has ever been married engaged in a relationship gone on a date alive knows, committed romantic relationships are so complex that today many relationship experts agree that they should get real jobs because they have no idea what they’re doing.

When you get married, the formula for your life becomes this: one person plus one person = one life.

1 + 1 = 1.

Now, even a person as mathematically retarded as I can see that it’s theoretical theorems such as this ultimate humdinger that probably caused Albert Einstein’s hair to assume the posture it did.

How do you properly do marriage? How do you orchestrate your ongoing inner cacophony so that when it merges with whatever music your partner makes (or is trying to make, or hopes to make, or thinks he or she is making), the resultant sound is harmonious and pleasing, instead of the kind of spine-bending inner screeching that you end up trying to describe to a judge just before he sentences you?

Once you’ve committed to being one-half of a Team Marriage, how do you arrange within yourself to do everything possible to ensure that in the end your two-person marriage team wins; that ultimately (which of course mainly boils down to daily) your marriage proves good, happy, healthy, productive, emotionally rewarding, psychologically nurturing?

And if you don’t do everything in your power to create an ideal marriage—if through a simple lack of character (which, let’s face it, amounts to a lack of will), you destroy your marriage, or, worse, enable it to over time grow so lame that if it was a horse you’d put it out of its misery—then what are you doing with your life?

Then why did you get married?

Then what is love to you, anyway?

See, these kinds of issues right here explain why it’s mostly young people who get married. Who but the naive would dare it?


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  • Tanager

    I recognized some time ago my unwillingness or inability to add my "one" to another "one" to create the ultimate "one." So I just don't go there at the moment and am doing with my life whatever seems best on a daily basis, moving ever onward even if I don't really feel I'm moving forward. I allow the possibility that, in the future, I may be able to form a complete relationship that will lead to marriage. I think it would be a great thing, if I can manage the vulnerability and selflessness such a thing would require.

    (theorem, btw)

  • amelia

    Right there with ya, Tanager. "Vulnerable" and "selfless" are tough disciplines, but seemingly necessary when two become one.

  • On the other hand:


    (Hey, I've disabled the function that allows for nested replies. I thought I'd try just going back to replying … in order, if that makes sense. See how that works.)

  • Gina Powers

    "Who but the naivve would dare it?"

    Um, you forgot to include the chronically insane. We DO count too, ya know. 😉

  • Ah. Hence the included word "mostly."

  • Diana

    "(Hey, I’ve disabled the function that allows for nested replies. I thought I’d try just going back to replying … in order, if that makes sense. See how that works.)"

    I noticed. Not liking it much so far, but it's your blog!

    BTW: love the post. Also love the one you referenced above. I really respect your perspective on marriage–and on most things for that matter. Thanks again.

  • Robert Meek

    My brain is now ready to implode, or explode, I'm not sure. Having gone from this article to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2009/05/28/compromise-has-no… it is definitely overloaded – my brain, that is.

    But on a more real note, if there is such a thing, this makes me ponder what are, for me, unanswerable questions. Neither I, nor my late sister, had success in relationships. I tended to put all my eggs on one basket, try to get all sense of self-fulfillment out of one person, and actually, sister did likewise. By the time I knew for sure she was doing this, I'd learned the hard way – four times. I recall her saying, "He makes the pain inside me go away." As she was frequently depressed, felt like a "freak" she said, that she didn't belong anywhere here on this planet, and often terrified me that she might really become suicidal, it was with great concern that I had to tell her that one cannot look to another to find their own sense of fulfillment and happiness, but rather much find it from within. I told her this, because I found her statement about him making the "pain inside go away" very disturbing.

    It's all well and good to "become one" with someone, but facts are that they are two, not one, and sometimes, in some ways, that's inevitable. More to the point – one's life purpose cannot be another person. It does not work.

  • Diana: Do you mean you prefer the nested replies? I thought people were not liking that; they kept getting lost, I thought. I personally don't care; I don't comment enough here either way. But assuming you mean you prefer that function left as it was, I'll go back and change it. Coolio. Thanks.

  • Diana

    Yes. I personally do prefer the nested replies, even when they do get messy with lots of back and forth. But I'm only one person–others may differ in their opinions. But thank you for being so quick to respond to what I said. I'm not used to getting that kind of instantaneous response from people!

  • amelia

    John, is it asking too much to 'want' to feel vulnerable with a man because I actually feel safe/strong enough to do so? And is it also right to hope for that same vulnerability from him? There's a tender submissiveness that resonates as trust. As for selfless love, that's a beautiful, christ-centered approach to all of our relationships here, isn't it? I wouldn't call it "compromise." I would call it becoming of the same mind, heart, body and soul. Serious stuff. For some reason I am really digging this post.

  • erika

    just so ya know? i am on team diana. i like the nesting.

  • Bill

    Love is not something that happens. Love is something one does. Infatuation happens. Lust happens. Love develops. After centuries, we still have not learned the difference between love and infatuation. Until we do, we will continue to fall prey to the "happening" of romantic infatuation and its inevitable waning. Sometimes, for some seemingly special people, love really does "happen" quickly, but for most of us that happening wanes and love must then become something one DOES rather than succumbing to the caprice of "happening". The wonderful happening kind of love can be very real but cannot last without the work of DOING love. It has to be a conscious effort as the realities of life intrude. Our society does not teach us that. Oh, we hear about it a lot and pre-marital counseling is common, but do we really grasp all that in the moment of the happening? I suspect most do not. Until we adopt a more realistic approach to marriage, the DOING of love, we will continue to fail at it as a society. Sure, we make note of the long-term marriages with the 50 or more years celebrations, but they started in another era, a different way of life, when people had to hang tough to survive. They had their struggles with each other for sure, but they DID love, accepted the work of it…..and probably didn't always like each other in the process. They were a team, nevertheless.

    Today, people live longer and have more options. Women are less dependent upon men and the societal gender expectations are blurring. Too often now, when the going gets tough, the not-so-tough get going….because they can. We don't like the idea that love entails work and sacrifice. We want the "happening", ignoring the reality that nothing lasts. "Nothing Gold Can Stay"

    Nature’s first green is gold,

    Her hardest hue to hold.

    Her early leaf’s a flower;

    But only so an hour.

    Then leaf subsides to leaf,

    So Eden sank to grief,

    So dawn goes down to day

    Nothing gold can stay.

    -Robert Frost

    This from a gay man who's str8 marriage failed? Yes, more often than we care to know, some marriages never should have happened. Some marriages are not born of love but of societal pressures. And failure is often the best teacher. I have no regrets because I gave the world two fine, successful sons. But tho the "happening" came to me twice since, I fared no better with my male partners.

    I lost the first to his alcoholism after one year, the second to fundie orthodox Catholocism after 8 years and his disillusionment with society's (and my family's) attitude. I loved them both deeply but holding on takes two. One cannot hold on to another who lets go. Sometimes all the DOING in the world cannot hold on.

    So now, at 66, on the occasions I get the opportunity, I DO love. I have learned that I CAN love for one time or for many times and I mean that sexually as well as socially. Many don't get it. Many others may call it lust or deception, but I know my heart. I have learned that I truly can spread love around. It's amazingly liberating. And while I wish, increasingly vainly, for one last "happening", I know that when my time comes I will be able to say, "I have loved." (from "After Goodbye", The [gay] Turtle Creek Chorale, http://www.turtlecreek.org/index.php?/store/dvd/, one of the most moving viewing experiences of my life)

  • Tim

    The naive and the trusting.

    A comic I heard last night said that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. One out of every two married people will end up divorced. "So either me, or my wife will divorce!" Naivete and blind trust keep people marching down the aisle, and for the most part, I believe few marrieds allow the notion of being a "half" to sink in. They remain a whole. And the longer they remain a whole, the more they tend to become a-holes. Wholes are self sufficient, self absorbed, and self destructive. I know this from my own life as a whole. I didn't really see that I was a whole because I had really tried to take the path of a "half". But alas, the destructive pathology of my dysthymia made me a whole in reality, while I dreamt that I was a half.

    Marriages are inevitably fraught with minefields and booby-traps (and not of the Hooters variety either). Things blow up just when you think you've made it safely across a dangerous patch of ground. The good ones go back, gather your scattered limbs and carry your bloody torso off the field and to a medic. The not-so-good ones leave you to bleed to death and then blithely join ranks with the enemy. Pat. Benatar, was/is so right. Love IS a battlefield. Yet the hopes of being trapped by someone's love and chained to their side keeps us loyal to the ideal…win or lose.

    Anxious to read your book. Brings up so much good introspection and self-examination…as I been reading in the responses.

  • I was married at the age of 21 and my wife was 19. We had no idea what love was or how to be a family together. Though I agree with most of your article there is one thing I would challenge and that is the formula;

    I believe it is 1+1=1+1

    My wife and I are deeply committed to one another and have grown up to learn what true love really is. No matter what i'm doing or where i'm at there is no one I would rather be doing it with other than my wife. She is truly my best friend and I hers. Getting back to the formula…

    We have learned to work together as a team and most (not all) of the time we work like a well oiled machine. But even in the midst or our lives together we need to find and not lose our own individuality. I think it's key for a relationship to work you each must know who you are as individuals.

    For example, I enjoy playing poker. I am fortunate that my wife also likes playing cards and we usually do it together. On occasion though when she's not in the mood to play, I will go by myself. I'd rather her be there, but we also need our space to reflect and grow as individuals.

    I think i've rambled enough;

    Great article thanks for sharing,


  • Elizabeth

    The problem with nesting is that some mobile devices don't support it. The result is that some people end up doing it and others (like me, usually) don't. Having both going on at once is what gets confusing. Also, sometimes a comment refers to multiple previous comments. Then where do you shoehorn it in? When the nesting is working, though, it really adds to the sense of flow and interconnectedness. Anyway. I see both sides.

    The last time we talked about this was the last time I saw Matthew Tweedell. *sigh*

  • Bill, your comment is beautiful because it has the ring of truth about it… and it's a truth we don't hear spoken much. You understand the world and you understand yourself. How refreshing.

  • Sometimes I do compromise in the moment because I know that later I'll come around and actually be glad I'm doing whatever it is the way she wants to do it. And since time is an illusion, then I didn't really project my epiphany into the future — nay, I had it all along. Therefore I never compromised. Simple, right?

    Oh and am I the only one who hears Haddaway's "What is Love" in his head as he looks at John's blog today?

    (Strolls out, humming and rhythmically moving his head back and forth)

  • Gina Powers

    Nope, me too, Red……in fact, sorry to say, it was the first thing that came to mind when I originally saw this post…..

  • Nathan, your mathmatical equation of 1+1=1+1 is absolutely true. I've been married to the same man for 60 years! He was a country boy and I was an inner-city gal! Opposites to the core….but we learned from each other…he was willing to be refined and I was willing to learn from his mother on the farm.

    The one thing that bonded us tightly together was our calling in life which took us to 54 countries while raising three children with global souls just like ours. Twenty years ago he became a diabetic and suffered severely from nueropathy…affecting his legs and feet. Travelling days came to an end…I cared for him and he for me as arthritis hit my knees. The 'thunder and lightening' of sex

    diminished but our love and concern for the other's comfort and welfare grew stronger.

    Marriage is more than sex! It, sex, is not the be-all-end-all of happiness. Seven months ago, very suddenly, my country- boy- man left for heaven. He was my one and only love. We learned from each other. I was totally loved by this one man.

    Can love happen again for me? Only God knows…I'm spoiled for I had the best!

  • Greta,

    Thanks so much for sharing, sounds like you two have had a great life together!!

  • Oh and I hope some day my wife says that she felt spoiled!! 😉

  • The great Greta Sheppard, ladies and gentlemen. Beautiful, Greta. Thank you. (And you too, Nathan.)

  • berkshire

    This is–perhaps dangerously for my career–way more interesting than studying for a licensing exam.

    Interesting questions, which I have been asking myself a lot lately. Though, the first one is slightly different for me. It’s “should we get married”, and the off-shoot, “could we make a marriage work”. Note that never do I ask myself if I love my partner. I know that I do. I know that it’s reciprocated, as well.

    I think that, at least in America and other similar western cultures, we tend to confuse marriage and love, as though they’re the same thing. “We love each other, so great—let’s get married!! Yahoo!”

    I wouldn’t want a marriage where there was not love as a foundation, but if love is all we’ve got, I think the marriage would be in trouble.

    My partner and I talk about marriage. Right now, we live together, which of course is not the same thing. Some might argue that it is. For some that might be true, based on their perception of marriage and relationships and co-habitating. For me and my partner, it’s not the same thing, otherwise I suspect we wouldn’t be discussing making this change and possibly getting married. There are practical issues—like families, including aging parents, on opposite sides of a big ocean. We have some skills we need to work on, though, before we think we could make a marriage work. I don’t mean that we need to get some perfect relationship going (whatever that would look like) before we can tie the knot. I just mean that it’s a big, sacred undertaking, not to be taken lightly. I’ve taken other vows within my spiritual tradition, and I didn’t just jump in and do that right away either. I had to learn a lot, examine myself, my motivations, my capacity to honor all that the vows entailed. I had to reach a point where I knew I was already committed within myself, to make that outward commitment and succeed in keeping it. I knew that simply taking a vow doesn’t suddenly render one ‘ready’. The real marriage takes place before the wedding, I think.

    That said, I think we make a lot of mistakes about love, too. That is, we use the word pretty loosely. I believe it’s far rarer than people think. I can say this for myself, as well. In younger years I had many attachments that at the time I would have called love that now, looking back, were no such thing. They were more like “need”, “attachment”, “attraction”, “affinity”, occasionally “co-dependence”, coupled with something warm and fuzzy, that often ended up like the tape worm incident John described so eloquently a while back. But, like Shakespeare (or was it Sarah Palin?) said, love is not love which alters when it alteration finds. Or something.

    I also look back and see a few relationships (unrequited) that probably were love, but for which I was not ready to recognize it and fully appreciate the simple gift of feeling that way for another human being—still connected to ‘need’ and ‘attachment’, the feelings felt somehow incomplete because I could not ‘have’ the person. But I don’t think love is about needing to ‘have’ someone, or even be with them (though it’s nice if you *can* be).

    I’ve experienced that kind of Love. . . . once. I was not in a romantic relationship with the person, but had a friendship. I hesitate to isolate it in time that way (“once”), as it is ongoing. The love didn’t end. It’s like the blood in my veins. I also haven’t seen or spoken to that person for some years now. And that feels totally fine. I don’t miss the person, or yearn for them. How can you miss someone who is a part of you?

    Do you miss God? Or is God always there, always within you, connected to you? It’s like that. And yeah, I think there are some people who ‘yearn’ for God, but I think maybe the yearning gets in the way of seeing/feeling the presence of God that is already there. But maybe that’s just me, and my understanding of what that word God points to.

    In fact, I’d say this feeling I’m failing to describe adequately is exactly that. It *is* God. I’m to a point where I recognize the object of my love is really a window or doorway to God for me. And I don’t know why that person does it in a way that others don’t. I’m stumped by that. I mean, I see God in all things, all the time, but this one is different—more potent, I suppose. Clearer, unobstructed by judgements and expectations (those things that make that other, separate concept—relationship—so complicated). The Love is sufficient unto itself. It’s the clearest opening to God, the clearest experience that I have. It’s beyond thought or analysis. It also has a physical component that isn’t sexual. It feels like a wave moving through the body, from the heart to the head—when it reaches the head, it feels almost the way it feels when you are about to yawn. But there isn’t a yawn. There’s a smile and tears. I can conjure an image of this person, and tears come—not sad tears. Pure, unadulterated joy. It’s impossible for me to think of or picture this person and feel sadness. No darkness can compete with the light the pours through my entire being when I allow myself to feel my connection to that person (which, again, is a conduit to feeling potently my connection to God. It really isn’t about *that person* at all). It amazes me every time. Very mysterious. It also helps me to be better at loving the people who are physically present in my life, in ways I can’t really understand yet, but it does.

    This love has no opposite—not fear or hate or anything else. It doesn’t depend upon the person being just as I would have them be (and believe me, I saw their imperfections as clearly as their beauty). It has no desire to change them or mold them into something that would meet my expectations, and pretend to make life smooth and easy.

    This love changes ME—in the best of ways.

    I confess to feeling a little icky even using the word God, knowing that it means so many things to so many people—and knowing there are so many who deny God. I’m not a Christian, so I don’t think it means the same thing to me as many readers here. I think even among Christian readers there will be different perceptions of that word. How do we squeeze something like God into such a tiny little word anyway and think we’ve nailed it? How do we squeeze love into 4 little letters? So, I just want to acknowledge that right here. I’m speaking about my own experience, and not trying to ‘universalize it’. To me, my perception of the meaning of the words God, and Love, have really unified because of this very experience I’m talking about. Which is really difficult to talk about, as it’s not an “idea” for me. It’s pretty concrete. Love used to be an abstract idea that I thought I understood. But I now feel like it isn’t something to be ‘understood’ so much as experienced, felt. When the thinking (i.e. attempt to understand) comes in, you’ve already taken yourself a few steps away from the actual ‘thing’.

    Man is this hard to articulate. I’m really butchering the heck out of it. *sigh*

    Love was a concept before—much like childbirth is for me. I can take a guess that it’s really intense, painful, beautiful, profound. And I might get lucky and come close to describing it. But it remains only a concept unless I give birth. I don’t really get it. I haven’t given birth. Love was like that, too. Now, it’s not. And my gratitude is immeasurable.

    I pray, pretty regularly, for this person’s happiness–that they have someone in their life that truly loves them with total acceptance and commitment, and fills their days and nights with wonder and awe, who is there for them in good times and bad, and brings them the tears of joy I described. If I could, I would thank them for it.

  • Diana

    Yes, that's the highest complement a woman can pay a man (or at least it's in the top five.)

  • John Murphy

    Lessons from 26 years of marriage (to an awesome woman – who yesterday went and picked fresh blueberries and made me blueberry pie…yeah, she's awesome):

    1. Great relationships take hard work

    2. Great relationships take compromise from both sides

    3. The ability to LISTEN and UNDERSTAND the other person is probably the best glue to keep a great relationship great.

    4. If your significant other is a nitwit before you get married, they will be a nitwit after you get married. Dump him/her and move on before you screw up your life.

    5. The absolute worst person to try and have a great relationship with is a selfish person. Dump him/her BEFORE you get married and move on before you screw up your life.

    6. It is VERY possible to turn a horrible relationship into a GREAT relationship, but takes commitment and effort from both people.

    7. My wife is AWESOME, SWEET, FUN, and ADORABLE, and occasionally INCOMPREHENSIBLE.

  • Susan

    "And if you don’t do everything in your power to create an ideal marriage—if through a simple lack of character (which, let’s face it, amounts to a lack of will), you destroy your marriage, or, worse, enable it to over time grow so lame that if it was a horse you’d put it out of its misery—then what are you doing with your life?" said John.

    John, some of us out here tried really hard, or were in abusive relationships, etc.

  • I think it just takes a certain type of person to have a successful marriage. That lifestyle is definitely not for everyone. I know it's not for me. I have too many loves in my life, I am unable to forsake them all for the sake of 1.

  • William: But you're just sacrificing quality for quantity. Consider the possibility that when you're old, you'll wish you had someone with whom you'd shared your whole life, instead of a whole bunch of people you don't know anymore, with whom you shared just a little of it.

  • I can see that line of thought with the growing old aspect, but it does my friendships a disservice to call them low quality.

  • I have 4 people in my life that would be considered "friends with benefits". These people each enrich my life in different ways and I am better off for knowing them. But I cannot stand having a roommate or giving up my personal space. I get to make my own decisions based on what I want and I never have to listen to any nagging ever. So really, I'm getting the best parts and leaving the worst. I am able to have my cake and eat it too.

  • William: I meant that each of your current relationships is necessarily of a lower quality–more shallow, less rich, however you want to say it—than any one of them would be if you married and spent your life with her. You can have maximum quality, or you can have maximum quantity. But one automatically cancels out the other. The ONLY question–assuming you want to die knowing you've spent as much of your life as happily as you possibly could have– is which of those two options will bring you the most overall satisfaction—will prove, in other words, to be the most emotionally rewarding.

    Oops: Just got your new note, about what a happy swingin' bachelor you are.

    Sounds like you've made your choice. Just know that no matter how you cast it, that choice boils down to temporary, short-term company for permanent, long-term isolation. (And why do you assume the "nagging"? I've been married for 30 years, and I've never once heard "nagging" from my wife. No one said you had to marry a shrew. I think the fact that you can't imagine a marriage without someone nagging at you is … sad, really.)

    Anyway, whatever. Lots of people stay single. None of my business what you do, for sure.

  • My main point was that it's different strokes for different folks. I happen to be a "swinging bachelor" (lol) like you say. I am also bisexual, so not sure how well that would go over in a marriage.

    Just don't assume that marriage would work for everyone is all I'm saying. Quality is relative so I disagree on your point that its quality vs. quantity. I hold freedom above all things. I also know many married men who are not happy. They develop a cold dead look in their eyes and they have to ask permission to come out and play. No thanks, I'll pass.

  • Of course, I never say never either. I am open to the possibility that I will one day change my mind on this issue as I get old. But for now I intend to enjoy my youth and my freedom.

  • Whatever, John – don't act like you're not impressed. This stud's got 4 "friends" willing to hook up anytime. All super-high-quality women, I'm sure.

    AND, no nagging.

  • They are not all women first of all. It's not a "hook up anytime" type of deal. We are just close friends who help each other out. We are all single and everyone needs love, married or not.

    I don't have to deal with nagging, because I don't live with them.

    Why such sarcasm?

  • Why not sarcasm? Surely, someone who names themselves "BlackMegaDeath" on Facebook can handle it right?

    Either way, it's not personal and I didn't mean any offense. But I did snicker a little bit at what seemed like you bragging that you have 4 sexual partners when it didn't really seem relative to the discussion.

    Believe it or not, and this is NOT a judgment on you whatsoever, some of us enjoy sharing our lives (and bed) with one partner. Life is a roller coaster and it's nice to have someone with you who really understands the person you are as you both hold on for dear life.

  • I did not take offense, just trying to clarify.

    I felt is was indeed relevant because monogamous relationships are being discussed as if they are the end all be all for everyone. I was pointing out that this is not the case. Different people enjoy different lifestyles. I feel like this is obvious.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Ahhhhh… you even remember when was the last time you saw me! 🙂 It's nice to know you’re missed! I haven't been able to spend much time here the past month; my wife and I are currently travelling in Eastern Europe, but I'll be coming back to more continuous Internet access and a more routine schedule (whatever that means) by next week.

  • denver

    One of the main two reasons I considered a vocation when I was younger (the other being my disenchantment with materialism) was that I have never felt the need to be physically intimate with another, nor do I need "a relationship." I am perfectly happy on my own, sans significant other. Now, I am not writing off the idea that one day someone will come along and it will hit me like a ton of bricks, but I have never been attracted to someone, nor been able to envision a future with someone, nor felt like I was missing out by not dating. Don't get me wrong – I think it would be nice to have that level of trust and comfort and commitment with someone, but it's just never even been a glimmer of possibility for me. People seem to think I am "missing out" by not dating, but I hear all their horror stories and dramas and I am quite happy to not be in the midst of that madness. I've just never felt the need to go out and "look" for that. Don't need it, not really interested. I know several co-dependent types and it baffles me every time. Were I ever to be in that kind of relationship, I would be all-in, totally devoted, etc., because that's just how I am; but I don't "need" to have someone to devote myself to. So I guess I'm a happy whole. 🙂

  • No offense, but maybe you're A-sexual….?

  • Diana

    Nothing wrong with that. My understanding is up to twenty percent of the population is. I kind of wish that I was asexual since men seem to be somewhat adiana (ay-die-ann-uh), but as it is, I'm single and still looking.