|A play on Michel's Stoic symbol.|
When I finally was able to obtain a copy of Musonius Rufus’ lectures (which are notoriously difficult to find in translation), I was pleased to read that I was, in fact, a married Stoic who was Stoicly married! And without even knowing it. As a practicing Stoic, I am concerned with ensuring that my emotional responses are appropriate, within reason. But I REALLY love my wife, a lot. My wife and I have been married (to each other) for 25 years now, and we continually get comments and questions about our ‘unusual’ relationship. We are still affectionate with each other, still attentive and more ‘in love’ than ever. How can I claim to be a Stoic, with the evidence apparently stacked up against me? I will let Musonius speak for me:
“…In marriage there must be above all perfect companionship and mutual love of husband and wife, both in health and in sickness and under all conditions, since it was with desire for this as well as for having children that both entered upon marriage. Where, then, this love for each other is perfect and the two share it completely, each striving to outdo the other in devotion, the marriage is ideal and worthy of envy, for such a union is beautiful.”
The solution to the paradox is in how we have chosen to define ‘love’. Popular romance novels, movies and TV have painted an extremely emotional definition of love. “You have to feel it,” we are told “and when you don’t feel it anymore, move on.” Tying the actions of love within the relationship to an emotional state subjects the relationship to the ephemeral nature of the passions. There is a better way, and we have proven it.
Love, for us at any rate, is not an emotion, it is a devotion. Of course there are emotional times, but these come and go with the years. Regardless of the emotional level, we genuinely admire each other's qualities, seek each other's advice, and support each other's activities. We call it the 'Daw factor.' When you engage one of us, you engage both, because one always acts as the back up to the other. We admit our mistakes, ask each other for forgiveness when we are wrong and forgive readily and easily. Early in our relationship, (we were both 19) we agreed to several guidelines. These have been ‘tweaked’ over the years, but are essentially the same as what they were when we first agreed to them.
1 - If we were to marry, we agreed that there would be no easy way out. Divorce would not be an option (short of some form of abuse).
2 - Arguments are a lose/lose proposition. Rational discussion, firmly held opinions, are welcome. But as soon as one of us got entrenched into a position emotionally, the first one to realize that we were getting emotional would back down, essentially give in. That is we would deliberately 'lose' the argument, but win the relationship. This has worked for us (both) so many times. The reason this works is that the ‘back down’ diffuses the emotion, and we usually pick up the topic later, and come to an agreement when cooler heads prevail.
3 - A relationship is not 50%/50%, nor is it a give and take. It isn't about whose turn it is to the dishes, who took out the garbage last time, or who owes who what. It is a 100% commitment. It is a give and give, that is, giving for its own sake, not with an expectation of some sort of return. We give to each other because we want to, for the sheer joy of the joy we bring to the other.
4 - (I learned this one from my father-in-law) Never go to bed angry. If there is any reason for tension, talk it out. And keep talking. We have talked into the early hours, sometimes all-nighters. We have even used this in raising our children, (all adults now) and they can share stories about late nights sat around on mom & dad's bed talking it out. This led to some bleary eyes in the morning, but usually they realized that the 'fight' was pointless. They still argue from time to time. But they always make up, usually within 10 minutes.
5 - Remember the romance. Say 'I love you' every day, as many times as you can, then do something to show it. Continue dating. We still go out to dinner, a movie, a walk, flowers, breakfast in bed. She tells me that after 25 years together, she still finds me handsome, and she is still beautiful to me. We each occasionally take a day off from work, just to spend the day together.
That is what the devotion of love looks like. It isn't a feeling, and not something we 'fell' into. It is better now than it was when we started, because we are both really good at it now. It is a skill that improves with use and time. That, to me, is rational love. And we are both so happy, so calm and comfortable in our love for each other. (I read this to my wife before sending it out to make sure that I was reflecting both of our positions on this).
"If one accomplishes some good
though with toil,
the toil passes,
but the good remains;
if one does something dishonorable
the pleasure passes,
but the dishonor remains."
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