In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

"He Was the Best Choice I Could Make at That Time"

The value of romantic compromises

“Marriage is a mutual compromise. So when your wife wants to go to Miami and you want to go to the mountains, you should compromise and go to Miami.” A Rabbi to the groom

Are romantic compromises necessary or beneficial? The short and rather uninformative answer is that they are often not necessary, but they usually occur, and sometimes they can be beneficial. The value of romantic compromises, as of so many other things in life, depends on the given circumstances. It is not in our hands to fully revise these circumstances, and sometimes we are condemned to compromise romantically, as there are no better alternatives. Contrary to Steve Jobs, sometimes we should settle, also in matters of the heart, because to keep searching for the ideal lover is costly and can make people miserable.

I will discuss this issue by analyzing the cases of two married women, who by making romantic compromises achieved the love of their lives. Both women said that choosing their husband, which constituted a considerable romantic compromise for them, was the best they could do at that time and they do not regret it.

The story of Susan: “No one will love me more”

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Susan is a short, wise lady of average appearance. When she married her husband, she knew she was making a romantic compromise, as she considered him to be inferior to her. He was not as intelligent as she was, and she had wanted to have a partner with whom she could have meaningful conversations through the night. Although she believed that love should include not merely sex but also profound conversations, she realized that no one would love her the way that he did. They have now been married for 30 years and have four daughters, and she is happy with her initial decision. It is true that she misses having profound intellectual conversations with him, but he cares, loves and admires her immensely, and she loves him for what he is. She no longer feels that she is making a romantic compromise.

The story of Lidia: “I did not want to see him after our first meeting”

Love was the essence of Lidia’s life—she loved people and people loved her. Her love knew no boundaries. Lidia was a beautiful Italian Jew who had many handsome admirers (most of them were not Jewish). Lorenzo knew her sister and came to meet her when she was 21. He was not as good-looking as she was and in terms of the romantic market, she was certainly superior to him. However, they shared a similar level of higher education, family values, and cultural background, and their friendship was based on all these. Thus, her romantic compromise was not so profound, or at least it was alleviated by a common upbringing. Lorenzo was not tall, as most of Lidia’s other admirers were. After their first meeting she did not even want to see him again; however, he was persistent and kept writing to her till she agreed to meet him again. The fact that Lorenzo was Jewish was, for her, one of his (non-romantic) assets. Lidia was not much attracted to Lorenzo and did not passionately love him during their courtship period (which consisted of three years of infrequent meetings, as they lived in different cities). But at the age of 24, after she had come to know him better, she was ready to marry and love him. Later, Lidia said: “I chose him because it was the right thing to do.”

Lorenzo admired and loved Lidia very much to the point of putting her on a pedestal. Lidia had the capacity and ability to love most people for what they were, but it took her four more years to realize his virtues fully and to love him. Their life together was filled with love and quarrels. After about 20 years of marriage, Lorenzo had a two-year affair with a married woman. When Lidia found out about it she was unhappy, and although she continued living with him, she did not forgive him. Six years later, they divorced as there was no happiness in their life. Shortly after the divorce, their youngest son was killed in a war. A few years later each of them married another spouse and for over twenty years they were not together.

It took Lidia a few years before she remarried. Her new husband was much older than her and although she respected this handsome and reputable man, she did not grow to love him as she had loved Lorenzo. After his death (about eight years after they married), she had no desire to meet anyone else. During these years she suffered from cancer but was able to recover.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo divorced his second wife and lived with another woman. While he was still with this woman, for whom he did not feel great love, Lorenzo called Lidia and told her that he was buying a cemetery lot; he asked her whether she would let him buy her a lot near his. She replied in the positive, and sometime after this he left his partner and rented an apartment near Lidia. He courted her for a year, after which she agreed to let him return to live with her.

After twenty years of separation, Lidia and Lorenzo lived together again for a period of nine years—until Lidia died at the age of 87. In this period they both experienced the most intense and genuine love of their life. It was as if they felt they had missed out and lost a great opportunity during their separation and wanted to compensate for all those wasted years. They walked together, praised each other, touched each other, and kissed and teased each other. When Lidia got sick again with cancer, Lorenzo’s dedication to her was limitless and he cared for her great love and devotion.

Lidia's life is typical of the life of a truly romantic person. She had a lot of love to give when she was young. Then she made a romantic compromise by choosing to marry a man belonging to her faith but with whom she was not madly in love. It then took her five years to overcome this compromise and to learn to love Lorenzo for what he was. After a life together of love, quarrels, disappointments, infidelity, divorce, living alone, and then refusing to compromise again on a partner, in the last nine years of her life, when she was in her eighties, Lidia experienced the passionate, profound love she had yearned for her whole life, and with the same man whom she did not love at the beginning, had then learnt to love, divorced, and finally remarried.

The value of romantic compromises

When looking back on their lives, Susan and Lidia, who knowingly and willingly made a romantic compromise in their marriage, do not regret what they did. Susan, after learning to love her husband, has enjoyed a long life of reciprocal love. Lidia had a life full of activity, as well as of love to and from people—even though she did not always enjoy romantic love and when she did, it was not always profound.

Life is complex, and we cannot have it all. Perhaps for some people having a few years of profound love, and other years of satisfaction in other realms of their lives, is all they need in order to be happy and to look back with satisfaction on their lives. Knowing our limitations is one of the great virtues of humans; after all, human beings are not angels and we cannot always achieve the perfect situations for which we yearn. Perhaps one of the secrets of life is not to aspire for the best of all worlds where romantic love is always in the air, but to know how to be satisfied with one’s smaller lot, which might not always be filled with passionate romantic love. Love is important, but love is not all you need.

Steve Jobs vehemently opposed compromises in love (and work): “So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.” This stimulating advice seems right, but still life is full of romantic compromises. Since our lives are dynamic, our perception that someone is a romantic compromise can change. Like Susan and Lidia, people can accommodate themselves to partners who they once regarded as romantic compromises and can overcome their earlier perception; others might simply leave their compromising circumstances. In some fortunate cases, after compromising, people may find the love of their life—even at an older age. We can compromise temporarily on love, but we should never lose hope of a change stemming from within—in our attitude toward our partner, or from outside, by finding another partner. We should never settle on hope.

In some cases, it is better to stop looking and trying to do our best in the current circumstances, which may eventually yield a profound love. And if not, you might bump into ideal love without searching it. A futile search is sometimes worse than settling, as it keeps people frustrated. Sometimes it is not, as it keeps us hopeful of a better future.

There is no golden rule that can guide us in choosing our way in life. But it seems that the advice “to be happy with your lot” is one of the most profound paths to happiness. In some cases, such happiness lies in rejecting upfront romantic compromises, and in others it is found in accommodating ourselves to what we have and being happy with it.

I am sorry that I cannot present a neater, more clear-cut solution; life is far too complex, rich and various for any such solution to apply.

Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.

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