Must one sacrifice passion for stability in relationships? How long does the spark and excitement of love last?

August 01, 2019
Must one sacrifice passion for stability in relationships?  How long does the spark and excitement of love last?
Pomegranate White TeaHeartbeats by Jose Gonzales

Dear Erica,

In relationships, do you have to sacrifice passion for sustainability? Is it possible to settle down and have a healthy relationship with the same guy who makes you feel like the heroine in a romance novel?


Baffled in Brighton

Dear Baffled in Brighton:

A tricky question. If you see my previous response to Unsure in Uxbridge, I advise my readers to be wary of missing out on the love of your life because you are looking for some idealized hero who does not exist. However, if there is no passion, it is hard to have a sustainable relationship. Sex and sustainability go hand in hand. Anne of Green Gables might not have thought that Gilbert was her romantic hero, but all that romantic tension made it clear to the reader that they had some serious chemistry.

All good relationships have that initial spark. However, romance novels deal with the first step of a courtship, and as C.S. Lewis writes, “Mortal lovers must not try to remain at the first step; for lasting passion is the dream of a harlot and from it we wake in despair.” Or as Louisa May Alcott describes at the end of her novel, An Old Fashioned Girl, the happy, young couple, Tom and Polly, fall into the “the blissful state of mind” that lovers find themselves “rapturously existing for a month for two.” Note, how specific, she is, “a month or two.” Like CS Lewis, she realizes that the relationship must progress from that heady joy and excitement to something more stable and substantial.

Nearly all romance novels end with the courtship. We do not see a married Jane and Mr. Rochester arguing over who forgot to buy the butter, or Elizabeth nagging Darcy because the carriage is looking worn and she wants it to be replaced. In a romance novel, one never sees the effect that the daily squabbles have on a relationship. It is one thing to deal with standard roadblocks during a courtship(disapproving relatives, crazy ex-girlfriends, or if you are Jane Eyre, your lover's crazy wife living in the attic). It’s another thing altogether to endure your husband or lover never putting his socks in the hamper(Will they ever learn?), or asking them to take out the rubbish six times before they actually do it.

The tension and drama of “Will he call? Does he like me? Can we make it work?”, all those agonizing moments contribute to the excitement of dating. As a relationship progresses, passion does not disappear, but it does take a different more sustainable shape, and if you hope to feel like a heroine in a romance novel for the entire relationship, you will be disappointed and “wake in despair.” as CS Lewis so eloquently writes. For a look at passion in an old married couple, you should read Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons. The middle-aged couple, Maggie and Ira, bicker over all the mundane affairs of married life, but still have enough passion to make love at a funeral. One can only imagine what sort of tea they were drinking.

Yours truly,