Nature on My Mind

Our mood is more connected to our environment than you may think.

When I Stopped Loving Him, I Was Ready to Marry Him

Love and marriage

“Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Marriage: A souvenir of love.” Helen Rowland

“Jewish women do not believe in sex after marriage.” (from the movie, Suzie Gold)

People usually get married after they have fallen in love; however, there are cases in which people get married after their love has faded. In these cases, love is compromised for the sake of other aspects, such as a comfortable life or consideration for other people's feelings.

Here is the true story of Natalie, a beautiful and talented woman in her early 50’s. She has two daughters and has been divorced twice. She had a similar reason for marrying both of her husbands: she had stopped loving them. Love and marriage may go together like a horse and carriage, but in her case, it was the evaporation of love that went together with marriage.

Michael was Natalie’s high-school lover. They were together for 5 years before getting married. In the first two years passionate love prevailed, but then she gradually realized that he was no good for her and that she wanted and deserved more from the relationship. However, Michael could not provide more, and she felt that he was her inferior. He still loved her and it was at this stage that he proposed marriage; surprisingly, despite the fact that she no longer loved him, Natalie accepted the proposal.

Natalie now believes that she accepted the proposal out of respect and loyalty to him. She thought that after they had been together for so long, he deserved the chance to marry her. When they were in love they did not think about marriage, but when her love was fading, Michael wanted to make sure that she would not leave him, and Natalie, who was not fully aware of how much her love had dwindled, considered it appropriate for him to propose and for her to accept the proposal. She hoped that perhaps her love would return. As the wedding approached, her doubts about the wisdom of marrying Michael increased, but it was too late to pull out. On their wedding night, Natalie felt sad that she had compromised herself by marrying without love. Within a month after the marriage, she realized that she had made a grave mistake. They divorced two years later.

Some time after her divorce, Natalie met Steven and they fell passionately in love with each other. They both worked in public relations; he was in the creative section, while she was in the design department. Although they worked separately, they talked a great deal about their work and enjoyed discussing other issues too. Natalie greatly appreciated Steven and thought he might make a good father. They did not marry but they had two daughters; Steven did indeed prove to be a good father. When they first met, she did not think he was inferior to her; they perceived each other to be on a similar level. But as time passed, Natalie’s career flourished and Steven’s career headed in the opposite direction. Natalie began to view Steven as less than she had thought him to be and to consider herself as superior to him.

His lack of success at work prevented him from being a good father—he no longer had the patience and energy for their two daughters. The great passion of the first years disappeared. Natalie no longer loved Steven romantically but she respected him as the father of her children and as a friend. It was at this period of time that he proposed marriage. Even though she did not love him, Natalie accepted his proposal for reasons similar to those that led her to agree to marry her first husband. She thought that Steven deserved the chance to marry her after the eight years that they had been together and because he was the father of her daughters. During the wedding Natalie felt bad about compromising herself again and soon after the wedding she became certain that she had again made a serious mistake. Six years later they divorced.

Now Natalie no longer believes in a true love that can last for many years. She is still seeks romance and has tried many paths that became available and gone though many open doors. She has no regrets about any of them. Although these paths were not serious, many of them proved quite enjoyable. She has recently been reading stories about love affairs that occur in old age, and she jokingly says that she hopes to find a genuine lover by the time she is 83.

Although Natalie tasted passionate love with her two ex-husbands and a few other lovers, she does not believe that profound passionate love can last for a long time. In her view, such love usually lasts only for a short time.

Taking into considerations the three major types of compromises in the romantic realm—(a) compromising on the overall value of the person; (b) compromising on the value of the person as a partner, and (c) compromising on the nonromantic activities within the given relational framework (see here)—it seems that Natalie has experienced all of them. Her two husbands proved to be compromises of the first type. Once she felt this way, the other two types of compromises quickly arose as well.

Natalie’s position might not appear so strange if we take into account the possibility of a separation between love and marriage. Indeed, in certain periods of history, romantic love was not connected to marriage; both were considered to have different purposes. Moreover, it has been claimed that Western culture has no history of happy romantic love within marriage. Indeed, David Barash and Judith Lipton argue that "we don't normally speak of a passionate marriage. A good marriage, a happy marriage, a comfortable and compatible marriage, yes, but only rarely a passionate one." They further argue that a passionate marriage would be exhausting, as to "live in a state of perpetual passion would be to forgo much of the rest of life, and, in truth, there are other things. Love can deepen and broaden… but it rarely becomes more passionate." If this is indeed true, Natalie has no reason to feel bad that she accepted marriage proposals even though she was not passionately in love with either proposer.

One way of coping with the problematic connection between romantic love and marriage is to accept that marriage should essentially involve a companionable love rather than a romantic one; if romantic love and passionate sex do occur in a marriage, it should be seen as a lucky bonus. If Natalie had accepted this, then she could have been satisfied with companionable love; she would not have been disappointed and might have stayed in her marriage for a long time. If this view is correct, why did Natalie feel so bad at her weddings, and why did she divorce her two husbands? Probably because, despite her expressed disbelief in long-term love, she was in fact unable to relinquish her yearning for passionate love in a long-term, committed relationship.

Natalie’s position can also be described as one that expects less from marriage. Lowering our level of expectation might reduce the risk of disappointment and can temper our excitement, yet it does not offer a solution to the issues that arise in long-term relationships; it merely indicates one way of escaping them. By analogy, cutting off one's head to prevent headaches is not a recommended course of behavior. A better way of coping might be to expect less in one domain of love (such as sexual desire) but to expect more in others (such as in caring). It seems that a complete lack of love cannot sustain the continuation of an intimate relationship over time.

Natalie and her two husbands were hoping that the wedding would encourage them to work harder to maintain their committed relationship. However, this hope proved groundless, as very few relationships are saved by such false and cosmetic means.

What is most unique in Natalie’s experience is that she and her two husbands did not feel the need to marry while they were in love—their love kept them together and was the best assurance that their relationships would continue. When Natalie’s love began to fade, her lovers became aware of this and tried to regain her love by marrying her. She did not think that this would make her love them again, although this possibility did occasionally occur to her. Natalie is a kind and sincere person; she agreed to give the two marriage proposals a chance even though she did not believe in them. Natalie’s lack of love (accompanied by a sense of shared history and compassion) was the chief reason that she agreed to the marriages.

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, I know that you are not so good for me, and I know that I am not madly in love with you, but you still deserve your chance with me. So please be kind and love me so that we can be happy for at least the first two years.”

Nature on My Mind