How can romantic love last a lifetime?


Emma Foster

“Love is an enigma—an ineffable urge of the soul.”

The Question
Growing up, I dreamt in happily-ever-afters. I would replay Allie and Noah’s consuming love from “The Notebook,” Carl and Ellie’s gentle love from “Up” and Hercules and Meg’s sacrificial love from “Hercules” over and over again. You could say I was half toasty from the thought of love and half pensive about its proximity to reality.

For me, romantic love still has its allure, but the idea of passion lasting a lifetime has lost credence in modern times. Many studies support this notion in an attempt to scientifically prove the decline of romantic love. From the American Psychology Association, one 1981 study by Elaine Hatfield, Ph.D.—a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii—performed a series of interviews that assessed the level of passionate love in a random sample of 953 dating couples, newlyweds and older women who had been married for about 33 years. The result? They found that passionate love decreased precipitously over time.

However, is it safe to generalize faltering love to every past, present and future couple? I have to admit, these findings are puzzling. Movies taught me that love is an orenda—a mystical force present in all people. Sometimes, it’s clear from the start, like Carl and Ellie’s love, forever together until death does them part. Sometimes, it rumbles in the pit of your stomach, like Allie and Noah’s love, wavering back and forth until destiny finally brings them together. But could it be that these films are exaggerating the steadfastness of love, hiding the volatility of a relationship? In other words, how on earth can romantic love last a lifetime?

As a person who has only vicariously experienced romantic love, I sought genuine advice from seasoned Castillejans, and here I found the key.

Imagine a pillow, your pillow. Imagine that it’s twilight and you’re cuddled in a cocoon of warmth, nestled in your voluminous blanket. Now, imagine that the night is getting hot and your pillow is getting much too warm. So, as all human beings do, you turn it over to the cold side. A sizzling feeling, is it not? It’s all about comfort. We want to feel our best wherever we are and whoever we’re with.

Romantic love is the same way. People search for a love that makes them feel good, that makes them melt and that makes them them. Madame Repellin taught me this. From many years of marriage, she wisely revealed that “you [should ask yourselves], ‘Can you be yourself with the other person?’ The person should be with you because you are you, and you are with the person because they are them.” But some nights, you won’t be able to find that cold side of the pillow. Romantic love, as Repellin said, “is complex and is difficult in the way that we are human beings. It’s not a machine. It’s not something you can break or fix, so it’s something that’s complex, and something that you captivate. Your life is not a smooth river, not all the time.”

The longevity of romantic love is the persistence of comfort. Ask yourselves, “Do you feel like you belong?” Determine whether you do or will ever have a cool pillow side with your person. It’s important.

Imagine a lava cake, coated with melting vanilla ice cream. Imagine fresh strawberries, plopped with whipped cream on a hot summer day. These duos are perfect complements of each other because they’re compatible. The chocolate and vanilla settle on your tongue in perfect harmony, and the sweetness of the strawberries and a dollop of cream fill your mouth completely. Like these intuitive pairings, romantic love between two people depends on compatibility. Mr. Barriger taught me that.

From 20 years of marriage and 14 years in a committed relationship, he provided valuable insight about how to really make a relationship work. He remarked, “You can’t force compatibility if it doesn’t exist, and I think one of the mistakes many of us make in our young life is we figure that we can change someone. I think that’s fraught with all kinds of problems. It’s really hard to change people. We are who we are.” According to Barriger, it’s also essential to “start with a basic line of compatibility, but,” he added, “It doesn’t have to be compatible with everything. You just have to have some real strong common or shared interest or things that you care about together.”

But another question remains: after you find your compatible person, how do you sustain the relationship? How do you prevent your vanilla ice cream from melting away completely, leaving only a soggy pudding behind? The answer is clear: “Continue to make the relationship special,” Barriger stated. “I think everyone does it in their own way. One of the things for us is that we always think of our weekend as Friday through Monday night, and we always have dinner together. We always have candles at dinner.”

So, to make a relationship last as long as a lifetime, choose your ice cream with diligence, and select your favorite box of strawberries with care. Determine whether your person is compatible with you. And to continue a reciprocal relationship, make every day special. It doesn’t have to be fancy or intricate—quantity doesn’t equate to the intensity of your love, but quality does. Be with someone who lights up your life, your heart and your candle.

Imagine a fire. A wild one. The one that cripples crops and swallows homes whole. The image is ferocious, all-consuming and somewhat majestic, is it not? Despite its impressive size, this fire must eventually die out, and it’s not easy for it to repeat itself again. Now, imagine a candle. A soft one. The one that dances against the shadows and flickers in the air. The flame does not last as long as the wildfire, true, but you can light the candle, again and again, a soft orange hue against the dark. Romantic love that lasts a lifetime is because of the flame. Ms. Kauffman taught me that. A lasting love, Kauffman said, is “not about keeping a fire burning. It’s about igniting the flame over and over again.”

Married since 1982, Ms. Kauffman herself has dealt with this effort. She shared that “you have to figure out what feels romantic to the other person.” You have to be able to communicate yourself so that you and your partner feel appreciated. Feeling appreciated is not selfish. Feeling a sense of validation is not egotistical. It’s a way of understanding yourself and showing your significant other that you care. Romantic love is all about caring.

The End
As we arrive back home from our love expedition, I can conclude that romantic love can last a lifetime. Allie and Noah’s love, we can have. Carl and Ellie’s love, we can have. Hercules and Meg’s love, we can have. Love is an enigma—an ineffable urge of the soul, but no matter how strange the feeling is, seek comfort, compatibility and communication, and see where your heart leads you.