What Could Be Better than Romantic Love?


One of the most difficult things I've faced living in middle age in a decades-long marriage is having to let go and frankly, mourn, the reality that heady romantic love is probably something that will remain in my past.

I love romantic love. I love the drama, mixtapes, can't keep our hands off each other type of love. Give me as much eros as I can get. But as many of us know, while it's a great beginning, it's rarely what sustains a longterm relationship. If we're lucky, we can have both. Yes, great marriages can do romance. But I am currently of the opinion it takes a certain kind of personality to really pull that off. For the most part, mystery and newness are often where the passion lies. How many storylines do we watch on TV that we lose interest in once we know the answer to "Will they or won't they (get together)?" My bookstore has an entire aisle and genre donated to this question and Romance sells big. The pursuit in romantic love is almost all the fun. But once the pursuit is over the movies and books often end*. 

This isn't the case for everyone, but for me, letting the desire for intense romantic love go and accept that it's most likely something in my past has been...is...quite a process. It is such a pinnacle of bliss in our popular culture. Can anything compare? Is anything better than romantic love?

How would you answer?

Romantic love and especially the pursuit of it implies there will be a completion. Through romantic love we are drawn to a potential mate and partner. But once consummation happens and we get it out of our system, so to speak, reality invades our bubbles of bliss. Yes, now we have a partner to share Thanksgiving and a bed with. We feel, hopefully, more complete. But does that have to be the end of story?

I'm reminded of one of my favorite picture books, Miss Rumphius. Have you experienced it? MISS (in other words, not married) Rumphius, set in the early twentieth century, was a young girl with big dreams. She wanted to travel the world, which she did, and then live by the sea, which she also did. But her grandfather told her there was one more thing she must do.

In the evening Alice sat on her grandfather’s knee and listened to his stories of faraway places. When he had finished, Alice would say, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.

That is all very well, little Alice,” said her grandfather, “but there is a third thing you must do.”

”What is that?” asked Alice.

”You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grandfather.

”All right,” said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.

In the meantime Alice got up and washed her face and ate porridge for breakfast. She went to school and came home and did her homework.

And pretty soon she was grown up.
— "Miss Rumphius" by Barbara Cooney
You can purchase your own copy of "Miss Rumphius" by clicking on the image above.

You can purchase your own copy of "Miss Rumphius" by clicking on the image above.

Miss Rumphius, if you know the story, becomes known as The Lupine Lady. She made the world more beautiful by planting lupine seeds wherever she could. Did you know the meaning of the lupine is Imagination? To imagine something is to believe in something that does not (yet) exist. 

There doesn't have to be completion when there's imagination. With an imagination there doesn't have to be an end to our stories. There are other worlds and people and experiences that are not real to me yet, but they could be. Maybe if I use my imagination, I might even fall in love. Remember how incredibly intoxicating imaginative play was when we were young? Remember the worlds and scenarios we played in for hours? 

I think the one thing that could be better than romantic love is the ability to lose oneself in the pursuit of something. I think imagination could be better than romantic love because it's available all my life long and not dependent on my body being mating material, evolutionarily speaking. My imagination opens doors for me that are not dependent on someone else, like my children or partner, turning the doorknob for me. In other words, I can't control their love for me, but I can always explore a new world.

What do you think? Does this resonate with you? How could your imagination help you write and live a better story?

To fulfill (Miss Rumphius’s) final promise to make the world more beautiful, she had to imagine a world that did not yet exist.
— Niko Maragos

*One series of books where the answer to the question, "Will they or won't they?" doesn't end the story is the book series, "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon. It is listed as one of America's Top 100 Reads for a reason. Its core characters are married early on and several thousand pages later, that is still the case. It is easily the most dynamic and beautiful love story I have ever read.  Set in Europe, mainly Scotland, and the United States in the second half of the 18th century, I can't recommend it enough. I think the endurance of the protagonist's love over decades, including their erotic love, is why so many of us find it so compelling and arresting. Have you read them?