One of the reasons so many relationships don't last is that we confuse "falling in love" -- the temporary, emotional, hormone-infused high -- with the act and art of loving, the sacred work of relationship. Additionally, our culture of immediate gratification and the "grass is greener" syndrome contribute to our jumping in and out of relationships, often prematurely.
When in the throes of "falling in love," especially during the honeymoon period, ego boundaries collapse and we feel a sense of oneness with the other. It's as if we are seeing through rose-colored glasses and the other person can do no wrong. That is, until the honeymoon period ends after six or nine months, maybe longer if we're lucky... and haven't moved in together yet.
As Scott Peck brilliantly describes in The Road Less Traveled, this phase of falling in love is precisely that -- a phase. It is a trick of nature, I think, to ensure the survival of the species. The hormones take over and blind us to flaws, foibles and imperfections. At some point, perhaps when the other squeezes the toothpaste or replaces the toilet paper in the wrong way, ego boundaries come up again and suddenly we are asking ourselves: "Where did the love go?" Reality sets in. Too often, at this point, we walk away in search yet again of that elusive feeling of being "in love."
Peck's great service is helping us to understand the difference: Love is not a feeling, he writes, but an act. It is when we stretch our boundaries, sublimate or override our desires, our preferences, for the sake of growth -- the spiritual growth -- of another. Love requires that I expand beyond my comfort zone to include another.
None of this is to berate or lessen the emotional experience of being in love. There are few feelings that are as all-encompassing, delicious and that bring such ecstatic excitement, such juicy joy. Even the anticipation of being with our beloved can be rapturous. By all means, when you are blessed with it, enjoy it, revel in it, relish it, stretch it out as long as you can.
Rome and Juliet, one of the most stirring, romantic and tragic stories ever told, captures that uncontrollable urge to almost devour the other person. If you have not seen the Franco Zeffirelli movie, you're in for a treat: It's an exquisite production with eye candy galore. More recently, the scene by the stairway outside of Heath's apartment in Brokeback Mountain captures that longing and passion, that same forbidden, desperate, doomed love.
Yet one of the reasons Romeo and Juliet's love is immortal is that they never got past the honeymoon period. We never saw what their relationship was like when they were married with children or having to host both families at a holiday dinner.
Even the feeling of love can outlive the honeymoon. The more we get to know each other, and as we realize that both partners are committed to their own growth and that of the other, the giddiness of the honeymoon period is slowly replaced with more grounded feelings of appreciation, respect, companionship, and ideally, reverence, especially when we are practicing the art of conscious relationships. Passion is possible, in and out of the bedroom. Sex can actually get better as we access higher and deeper levels of mutual surrender and giving ourselves away.
It is at the point when the honeymoon ends that the real work of loving begins.