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“Grow old with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.” Robert Browning

In 1993 a singer named Haddaway performed the song, “What is love?” Overnight, it became a smash hit.  A few years ago, Pepsi Cola used this peppy, engaging tune for a commercial. To me the whole display was so riveting, I just wanted to sing and dance along with the ensemble. As you listen more closely to the first few lyrics rather than the tune, “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt no more,” the message seems less lively, conveying heartbreak over lost love or unrequited love.

So what actually is love? Well, as we know there are many kinds, but for today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I will focus on enduring love between two adults in a marriage or similar commitment. Initially, this love unfolds in the form of passionate or romantic love, the first bloom which is often yearned and enjoyed in those early stages of a relationship. It is usually fun, exciting, sensual, a rush! As the dazzling sparks of the fireworks begin to diminish, however, many people confuse this with “falling out of love.” Such bewilderment can create havoc in one’s life. Based on this, many embark on a life-long quest of finding the perfect one, “the soul mate” while already in a binding relationship. In fact, a few years ago, I read somewhere that Valentine’s Day is often thought of being a Private Investigator’s lucrative dream come true. On this special day of love, someone will provide gifts to their spouse as well as their paramour. If the aggrieved spouse has any suspicions, the PI is hired and figures out where and when to catch their prey.

There has been much debate about whether or not humans have the capacity for monogamy. I happen to believe we do with hard work and realistic expectations. Also, being human myself who makes a living as a therapist, I am aware of our proclivity for wanting new and exciting. There are very few people who are not tempted at some time in their life especially as living takes on a vanilla, routine mundanity.  For some who wish to spice up their life, it is developing a new interest or hobby. For others, it is having an affair.

I am not here to judge infidelity nor do I suggest it as a solution or healthy means of escape. As someone who used to see couples and continues to see individuals, I have witnessed pain and despair which emerge as a result of this breach. Along with many therapists, I have been a confidante to the injured party. Occasionally, I have had the experience of sitting across from a participating party who is torn about whether to stay or leave their spouse for another person. Both situations have reinforced my belief that sometimes the good-enough-marriage would survive if one hesitated before reveling in a passionate, fantastical tryst. What the affair often does is create a kaleidoscope of vibrant, swirling colors while exacerbating the repetition of marriage to a dull black and white rerun. Affairs are not real life, and they can take one to a point of no return from what is safe, familiar and constant.

In this day and age of openness, permissibility and, at times, casualness to intimacy, some people live alternative lifestyles which are often sanctioned by all adults involved. Although it is not my thing, if a couple agrees to participate outside the scope of expected norms, so be it, but frequently, those extracurricular activities transpire under duplicity. Therein lies the problem! Both partners are not willing participants in such an arrangement. If discovered which is often the case, a crisis ensues, creating angst and instability. The betrayed individual may have great difficulty forgiving never mind trusting again. Sometimes there is no remedy, and divorce is inevitable. Other times, the couple work on their marriage, and very, very slowly, recovery occurs. Some say it can make a marriage stronger. I respectfully but adamantly disagree. The couple may overcome the schism and develop healthier ways to relate to each other, but they certainly could have done without the pain of deception and betrayal. If anything, the breach leaves a residue of suspicion and doubt which may diminish but for some never fully be eradicated.

For those who manage to stay married or committed without transgressions or for those who have painfully survived one, observe the evolution of those early fireworks. By maintaining patience and perseverance, you have been privy to something wonderful, not perfect, but lovely and enduring, sparks eventually rising into a a long, steady, magnificent flame. St. Valentine is smiling from afar. Happy Valentine’s Day!