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Love Stories

February 2, 2016

bride of frankensteinSome years ago, about a week before my wedding, I was at work listening to a radio show on a topic that was understandably on the forefront of my mind: marriage. On this show was a man being touted as the preeminent expert on Holy Matrimony – a guy whose name I can’t remember – but a fellow who’d been studying the institution for decades and could tell with startling accuracy and within minutes of meeting a couple whether they would still be married in five years’ time.

I sat listening with my ears pricked up as this guy was the real deal. Enough to make him the focus of an entire segment of NPR’s Talk of the Nation for a solid two hours.

Obviously, Mr. Marriage (as I’ll call him for the sake of this essay) had a lot to say on the topic. He talked about respect being the cornerstone of a lasting relationship, the importance of morality within the confines of a union, the way couples should fight, and how a pair of lovers must always take up the challenge to evolve together. All very sensible and true on an intuitive level.

But what caught my attention most was his assertion that story is an essential element to a lifelong love affair. In other words, what seems to matter in an intrinsic way is not that a couple has gotten together but how a couple has gotten together. The story of us – of how our love takes flight – appears not only to be the spark that ignites the fire we need in order to sustain passion, but the one that foments friendship and trust, and gets us through some of the dark, dark times that visit us during the course of our lives. Things like illness, child-rearing debacles, job loss, snoring, opposing tastes in television shows, and a mother-in-law moving in.

over the threshold

In my interpretation, Mr. Marriage was explaining how courtship – the process of wooing an amour by gestures large and small (i.e. the candy and flowers routine) – plays a vital role in spinning that magic web we call true love. Courtship, like a good story, tantalizes. It promises so much, but threatens to take it away at any time. At its heart, courtship makes a couple earn each other’s affection and intimacy. It is the inverse of a hook-up.

I was reminded of the symbiotic relationship between love and story very recently when a friend – a new friend who I’m just getting to know and with whom I’ve found a lot in common – asked me to share with her the story of how my husband and I got together. She and I are both writers and we also happen to write about love in various ways. Neither one of us are romance writers, per se, but love in its many forms is definitely a shared theme of ours.

She and I are also both happily married, and have confided in one another about how love took us completely by surprise. It’s not like our previous relationships were all that great, and neither of us came from what popular culture would call “happy families.” We had to piece together on our own what we thought a blissful union might look like.

But somehow, as if by osmosis or destiny, it happened for us.

love on swings

Before I began telling her my love story, I took a deep, meditative breath. It had been a long time since I’d recounted the tale of how my husband, Jack, and I had fallen in love, and in all honesty, I’d put that narrative on the back burner while he and I focused on some pretty big things like having babies and making sure we could feed them.

But damn, we do have one helluva story, and it wasn’t until I told my friend about how we met and went nuts about each other that I realized what a critical subtext our love story has been in getting us through some very challenging episodes. Things I’ve written about on this blog – obvious things like dealing with one of our children being born with a catastrophic illness and surviving the financial roller-coaster that hit a lot of folks from around 2008 to 2011. But also the smaller things like moving from city to city, starting a business and deciding how much autonomy to give our children.

So, yes, I will tell our story. But if you’ll forgive me, I’ll give you the condensed version. The fleshed-out, nitty-gritty version makes me blush and withdraw. It’s also too long for a mere blog post.

It involves a chance visit to a foreign city,
A meeting in a four-hundred year old, candlelit pub,
Some dirty poetry,
A Christening,
Several dozen anonymous postcards,
New Year’s Eve,
A jazz club,
Fried chicken and champagne on a cliff side,
The kind of mushy language most people pretend to despise,
And a belief in destiny.

kiss like no one else is there

Of course, after the swashbuckling part, the early wonders of discovery, the heavy breathing, we pretty much replaced our candy and flowers routine with the meat and potatoes of our relationship. Less poetic perhaps, but warm, comforting, sweet. Our nearly twenty year love story has been a very different adventure than our courtship.

It has involved believing against all odds,
Not blaming each other for things that have gone awry,
Doing our part,
Mustering every bit of energy in order to conjure romance amidst ruin,
Ignoring bad moods,
Having sex even when we don’t feel like it,
Bragging about each other’s accomplishments,
Dancing close in our kitchen when it all gets to be too much.

We could’ve never gotten through the latter list without the former. And I guess that’s what Mr. Marriage was talking about. Over and over, his research pointed to how the foundation of a relationship most often requires a sense of transcendence, a belief in the overall good of the love that has bloomed. There is a reason why we call the one we’ve been looking for Mr. or Ms. Right. Right implies virtue, honor, truth. And according to Mr. Marriage’s research, an attraction built on betrayal, for instance, has a hard slog ahead. Such a union has no anchor, and over the long run often devours itself from the inside. After all, what do you say when someone asks you how you met? “Well, my first wife was at Little Gym with our two year-old, and I, uh…well…you know. I guess I just couldn’t help myself.”

Story, it turns out, can sink you as well as save you when it comes to love.

Felix and M at bone church

In fact, story is so crucial to the long-term viability of a relationship that it can actually be the determining factor as to whether a troubled marriage can or cannot be salvaged. When asked how he knew when a marriage was definitively over, Mr. Marriage said this, according to my memory: “In my experience, a marriage is beyond repair when you ask the couple how they met, and they cannot conjure any joy, even a smile from recounting that tale. If they can still tell that story with even the tiniest glimmer of fondness, there’s hope.”

That is a powerful truth to behold, and one we might want to consider in the broader context of our lives. As we endeavor to create new stories this coming year – whether it be with spouses, friends, colleagues or acquaintances, we may do well to remember that the promise of love, of what is right, strikes at the core of our very humanity. And the narratives we are spinning today through our actions, words and impulses will have a tremendous influence on our future well-being.

standing gypsy

  1. Lovely. I’d like to share this if I may.
    Such insight! The going relationship advice that bothered me the most was that we should basically mistrust the thrills of the new love and get right to the meat and potatoes, that those feelings will fade and you’ll have to live with a person you don’t like all the time, but deep down you love him/her.
    What bullcrap! That thrilling falling-in-love is so important. We were designed to start loving that way; it must be that way for good reasons. It’s not a malfunction but totally necessary. And you’ve now explained why. Thanks.

  2. Please share – and thanks for reading and commenting Madblog 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on A Word, Please. . . and commented:
    Here’s a little post on love by Victoria Dougherty, who unknowingly has mentored me all along my blogging career. I believe in marriage and in story. Victoria writes: “In fact, story is so crucial to the long-term viability of a relationship that it can actually be the determining factor as to whether a troubled marriage can or cannot be salvaged.”

  4. You got me by combining story and marriage. “In fact, story is so crucial to the long-term viability of a relationship that it can actually be the determining factor as to whether a troubled marriage can or cannot be salvaged.”


  5. Magdalena Belej permalink

    Beautiful and true!Judging from my life experience and looking back at our story , on the day of my husband´s death 21 years ago.This year it would of been our 59th wedding anniversary.The beginning is so fresh in my memory like it have happened yesterday.

    I love your blog!


  6. Reblogged this on Messages from the Mythical and commented:
    This, from one of my favorite blogs, is lovely and very important. We lose so much when we dismiss the enduring significance of falling in love.

  7. Sean P Carlin permalink

    Oh, I loved this post, Victoria! What a notion — that “story is crucial to the long-term viability of a relationship.”

    I’ve done a lot of reflecting on that subject myself of late: I recently commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the first date with my wife in a blog post that recounted our story — a get-together on the Upper East Side to see the Pacino/De Niro crime-thriller classic Heat — and it occurred to me that both the movie and our romance have, inexplicably, stood the test of time when so many other movies and romances in the interim have come and gone, altogether unceremoniously. The only conclusion I could reasonably reach was that some stories are just fundamentally structurally sound, and, for whatever alchemical reason, they resonate. Glad that’s been the case for you and your husband, and I appreciate that you shared your story so candidly and poetically.


  8. What a great observation, Sean. “Some stories are just fundamentally structurally sound.” Well said and so true. Thanks for reading and happy anniversary. We are so fortunate to have good stories 🙂

  9. Yes!!! Absolutely, I believe in this concept. We were just talking about this last weekend—how important the courtship is, how every moment was beautiful and new and weird, and how head over heels we were…and still are.

    I always love asking other couples how they first met. It’s my favorite story to hear. It’s also one of my favorite things to write. I lovingly call it the “meet cute” scene. 🙂

  10. I do, too – and I remember your story, Britt – I loved it. There was one time I asked a friend how she and her husband met and it just broke my heart. She was a new friend at the time – if I had known more, I wouldn’t have asked. She did tell the story, but could summon not one smile. Every sentence was punctuated with a heavy sigh. When she finished, I felt like she needed to lie down. It was awful.

  11. Beautiful post and as always, with much truth about relationships. 🙂

  12. Thanks, Christoph!

  13. I love this quote!

    “In my experience, a marriage is beyond repair when you ask the couple how they met, and they cannot conjure any joy, even a smile from recounting that tale. If they can still tell that story with even the tiniest glimmer of fondness, there’s hope.”

    That really hits a powerful statement, as I can remember the day I met my wife, and the strange circumstances surrounding that moment, and the undeniable synchronicity of how my life spiraled out from that moment.


  14. Barbara. Royer permalink

    Thanks for the terrific stories & insight!! . We have now been married 51 years & I totally agree with what was said. Also we believe that putting God first in our marriage & always to communicate & never assume you know what the other person is really thinking! Thanks So Much!!!

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