A NOTE FROM FAITH:
Okay, folks, something new today: for the first time ever, we have a guest blogger! Let me introduce my husband, Erick: development economist, lone male among 5 women in our house, and most recently the first place Asian finisher in the Southern Vermont Primitive Biathlon (read: the ONLY Asian finisher…). Today being Valentine’s Day, Erick announced that in lieu of flowers he had written me a blog post. (His exact words, I believe, were, “The demand curve for long-stemmed roses on Valentine’s Day is very inelastic.” I have no idea what that means; life with an economist).
Anyway, Erick steers clear of the econ-speak here. He’s been thinking a lot about love lately, which will make a nice change of pace on this blog. (I have NOT been thinking much about love lately; I’ve mostly been thinking about sleep). Here he is! Enjoy, and Happy Valentine’s Day!
Part I: How I Met Your Mother…
When I think of Valentine’s Day, I think first of all, “Phew! I remembered!” This is followed by some thoughts about love. I remember the opening scene of the film Love Actually, where couples run into each others’ arms; love is the first date, the honeymoon period, it’s wonderful bliss. Of course, love doesn’t stay this way forever. But since it’s Valentine’s Day, let’s linger a bit on the bliss.
I first met Faith at a small dive restaurant. She was waitressing, and I usually came in near closing time. She would serve me and then sit behind the counter and read. The first time I saw her, I thought to myself, Wow, she’s pretty AND she reads books. Hey, I read books too. Well, sometimes, more like book reviews- in inflight magazines. I wonder if we have a connection?
Thus, my first words to Faith were, “So, what are you reading?”
And from that moment, I was filled with the tingling nervousness of attraction. From the over-analysis of brief encounters (She smiled at me when she gave me the check! That must mean something.), to longer conversations, and finally to the big question of any initial relationship:
“I was wondering, uh, well, if you’d like to join me, at a baseball game, I mean, if you don’t already have plans, because if you don’t, it would be great if you could come, but I totally understand if you can’t make it?”
The first date became several dates, and long phone conversations, and intense longing desire set in. And of course, the earnest compatibility checks:
“Wow, she likes to eat. I like eating. We’ll be perfect together!”
“She loves the Indigo Girls. I just heard one of their songs on the radio. We’re a match!”
“She runs. I know how to run. We could run together. Forever! And then eat! And then listen to the Indigo Girls…. “
Love was easy. Anything Faith did was magical. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world just to be near her. We got married (as you probably figured out). And the honeymoon period kept going – for quite a while. Of course, these intense feelings tempered as time went by.
And then we had kids.
Part II: …And Why I’m Still In Love With Her.
“ …researchers tracked 1761 people who got married and stayed married over 15 years. The findings were clear: newlyweds enjoy a big happiness boost that lasts, on average, for just two years. Then the special joy wears off and they are back where they started….[T]he good news…is that if couples get past that two-year slump and hang on – they may well recover the excitement of the honeymoon period 18 to 20 years later, when children are gone.”
–New York Times, “New Love: A Short Shelf Life” Dec 1, 2012
As the New York Times article cited above points out, wedded bliss doesn’t last forever. Our own lives became really busy: graduate school, careers, more graduate school, church involvement, and of course, kids. Three kids. If I spent all my time thinking about how amazing Faith is, I would neglect everything else: my research, my teaching, my friends and family, my kids, and personal hygiene. And the Times mentions another reason for the limited shelf-life of wedded bliss: the charming term, “hedonic adaptation.”
What is this hedonic adaptation that stands between me and bliss? In short, scientists say we are hard-wired to take positive experiences for granted. I was elated when Faith agreed to marry me, and I’m still really happy. But I wouldn’t describe each day as euphoric. The same can be said for all positive experiences: new job, new clothes, new anything; eventually the excitement fades.
So, does this mean I’ll never “fall in love” again with Faith? Well, marriage scientists have a simple solution to the problem of hedonic adaption: Novelty. Doing new and exciting things with your spouse – new restaurants, skiing, dancing — can reignite passionate feelings. The key is to share new experiences.
I see two big problems with this approach. First, with three kids (and a fourth coming), it’s really hard to do novel and surprising things with your spouse. For example:
ME: Surprise, dear! I booked us a weekend in New York. We can visit a few museums, see a play….
FAITH: Uh, what about the kids?
ME: You think they’ll be okay for a few days? They could watch Dora. How about we put a few pounds of mac & cheese in the timed kitty feeder?
Hence the Times’s qualification that Faith and I have to wait 18 to 20 years before we recapture our honeymoon period — that’s longer than the average prison sentence!
The second problem? If reigniting passion for one’s spouse involves a continual series of novelties, where does it end? There’s constant pressure to find a new novelty. It might begin with, “Let’s try out that new Italian-Japanese fusion place,” and end with “Let’s try skydiving…in the winter… nude.”
I think sharing new experiences is great. But I think it misses the point. I believe what renews our feelings for each other is another type of love. A difficult love. The love you give when you don’t feel like it.
I call this type of love “costly love,” because it takes effort. When I first met Faith, it was easy to love her. But 10 years into marriage, love takes more effort. Work responsibilities get in the way; sometimes the time I spend with Faith is time I worry should be spent on research.
But it’s costly love that’s necessary to sustain our marriage. It has different forms: taking the kids for a few hours so that Faith can have some quiet time, preparing a meal, tidying the house. Planning date nights is costly love; it’s not easy – or cheap – finding a babysitter for three kids. For me, the most costly act of love is sitting down after a long day and listening to how Faith’s day went. I’m not a great listener, but this is how I show Faith I love her.
And I’ve learned that costly love – loving someone even when you don’t feel totally into it – mysteriously reignites wedded bliss. When I make the effort to spend time with Faith instead of working, I recapture those magical love feelings that I experienced when we first met. These moments are brief, but they are much more valuable now.
Costly love forces me to stop what I’m doing and realize what’s really important: Faith. I put down my work and think of her. Simply thinking about Faith, realizing how lucky I am to be with her, and making the effort to share life together (date nights, late evening conversations, primitive biathlon, nude winter skydiving) reignites the passion that I experienced in our first years. And being on the receiving end of costly love is amazing – Faith certainly has loved me even when I wasn’t particularly “lovable.”
For the record, I still have a LOT of work to do on this whole costly love thing; I’m very self-absorbed and too often get lost in my work. Which reminds me, I better call the florist; those roses aren’t going to be cheap.