I remember taking our frozen wedding cake out on our first anniversary, only to discover it was not the same cake we had put in the day after our wedding. The light, fluffy cream, the fresh fruit, and the delicate cake had not held up under the strain of twelve months in the seventh circle of my freezer. It was, in a word, inedible. We were hardly surprised, because pastry, although it is able to sustain life and provide enjoyment, doesn’t last forever.
Yet, people are shocked when they cannot freeze, like a sheet cake, the emotional state of their wedding. That sweet, delicate rush of feeling and excitement cannot be sustained forever. Time will eventually catch up with the heady infatuation that those newly in love feel. As others respond jadedly, with wagging fingers, “the honeymoon is over,” our first response may be to mourn it. When we want to cling to that first blush of romance, however, we forget that to stay forever in the first stages of love is to stunt its growth. It can only be harmful to freeze a living thing.
Love looks different after time, because, love, like people, is meant to grow. We all know that we aren’t meant to be children forever, but to grow into physically, emotionally, and intellectually mature adults. We often forget, though, that as adults there are so many ways in which we can and must grow. We aren’t meant to be the same people at 40 that we were at 20 or 30.
In certain kinds of melodrama you will hear the cliche, “You aren’t the man (or woman) I married.” It’s often used as an excuse for unhappiness, unfaithfulness, and divorce. Yet, the complaint, which seems so valid to many, is founded on faulty logic. It assumes that people are meant to stay the same and that love is constrained by time. Love which only encompasses one version, one age, or one emotional state of the beloved is false. It defines love as “I like the way I feel around you,” rather than “I would do anything for your eternal happiness.”
Real love recognizes that we will change, because we are alive, and it adapts with that life. Having a family guarantees that opportunity for growth will arise. Just the daily challenges of living with someone every day will mold the character, for better or worse, of a husband or wife. Self-sacrifice, the very stuff of love, cannot help but refine us.
Over time, as we grow, our perception of love develops as well. It starts to look less like romantic notes and more like bringing home dinner after a rough day with the kids. It starts to sound less like “you make me giddy” and more like “you keep me sane.” It starts to feel less like butterflies in your stomach and more like a strong pillar holding you up.
It’s not that marriage stops being fun, romantic, or happy. It’s not that you are no longer “in love.” Love is not fickle, it’s dynamic. What happens is that you begin to really understand how love means wanting the good of the other. The joy and sorrow you share begin to deepen and steady the love you shared as newlyweds, and the commitment, promises, and grace of the sacrament of marriage help maintain and mature it.
Human relationships based on true love, that is, the selfless, sacrificing love of God, are not stagnant. They are not meant to be frozen, but to sustain us through life and help us to grow.
My husband and I are not the same people who were married four years ago. The challenges of taking care of our family through good times and bad have begun the process of refining us and making us who we are meant to be. My hope for us is that we will not only grow old together, but also grow in love for God and, so, each other.