Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Three routes to John Cusack and CS Lewis on lingerie and marriage, respectively

You know those times when the same topic keeps coming to your attention, demanding to be heard, often when you least expect it?   In the past 48 hours, I have been involved in three discussions on the modern state of marriage, all of which came from completely different routes, a 32 year old lesbian friend, my small group Bible study of married women, and a forty-something divorcee friend.

The 32 year old wanted to know why marriage mattered, why it wasn't just a piece of paper.  I gave her my standard bit about how sometimes it is only the fact that you are committed to the marriage holds the marriage in tact.  She answered, "Exactly!"  For her, the fact that the commitment of marriage might keep you beholden to the marriage was why marriage was bad.  Yasha came in at that point, poured himself a glass of wine, and helped me out with a discussion about the modern ideal of love and romance thinking about the self.  Moderns always ask, what will make me happy, what fulfills my life, and other assorted "what-about-me" questions.

The next morning, the same topic came up in my Bible study, though this time in the context of the Good Shepard.  One of the elements of the Good Shepard was that He, unlike the thieves and hired hands, looked to the good of His flock, not Himself.  When we got to the bit about applying the lesson to modern life, a young married made the marriage comparison.  I realized that what I said about commitment the previous night was true, but that Yasha explained why.  The commitment of marriage takes focus off of the self.  Once you aren't looking in the immediate vicinity, other pathways, other solutions can be found.

Then, came school pickup and a garden discussion with a recently divorced friend.  She has started dating again and, as one might expect, she is wary of commitment, but still longs for it.  She knows that marriage is in some ways a leap of faith, and having been burned, she is more afraid than she thought she would be.   (She has started a very interesting blog on returning to dating in your 40's, with children.) Yesterday, she made two interesting points about the man she has started seeing.  First, one of the reasons his marriage fell apart was the constant thrill seeking of his wife.  She was always looking for the excitement, parties and the like, while he wanted a more settled life; she went out and found the thrills.  That struck the same chord as the night before, about marriage being a dead weight when a compelling new thing comes along.  My divorced friend, however, knows the truth about "compelling" new things, that they are only compelling if you allow them to be.  She has this new man in her life, and once upon a time, at a younger and more innocent age, she would have "fallen" for him.  But for the moment, she is too scared to.  Her gut says he might be thinking the same thing.

Falling in love is not well understood.   Truly falling in love is a choice.  Yes, attraction and all that matter as such things bring another to your attention.  But the actual falling in love, that is a decision.  It just usually happens so quickly and/or carelessly, that we don't realize that we made it at all.

At that point, I realized that CS Lewis had said all of what I wanted to say, only much better than I ever could:
People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change – not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.
This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies.  It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go – let it die away – go on through that period of death into the interest and happiness that follow – and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them old man for the rest of your life. It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons out to be appearing and new doors opening all around them. It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.
Another notion we get from novels and plays is that 'falling in love' is something quite irresistible; something that just happens to one, like measles.  And because they believe this, some married people throw up the sponger and give in when they find themselves attracted by a new acquaintance.  But I am inclined to think that these irresistible passions are much rarer in real life than in books, at any rate when one is grown up.  When we meet someone beautiful and clever and sympathetic, of course we ought , in one sense, to admire and love theses good qualities.  But is it not very largely in our own choice whether this love shall, or shall not, turn into what we call 'being in love'? No doubt, if our minds are full of novels and plays and sentimental songs, and our bodies full of alcohol, we shall turn any love we feel into that kind of love; just as if yo have a rut in your path all the rainwater will run into that rut, and if you wear blue spectacles everything you see will turn blue.  But that will be our own fault.
(h/t to Meanders for most of the typing--looks like an interesting blog too)

In case CS Lewis is a little too heavy, the point was made almost as well in that John Cusack movie, High Fidelity. I give you the underwear speech:

1 comment:

Yasha said...

C. S. Lewis' point about accepting the death of the thrill makes sense, to me any way. Thrills are about us, definitionally: if I seek a thrill, it is because it acts on me and produces a pleasurable response. When I let the relationship - with a place, with a person, whatever - stop being about me, then I am open to everything else it can provide. Maybe I can explain it better after more coffee.