Dani Shapiro’s story: “It was with great trepidation that I set out to write a memoir about my marriage.
We talk in our culture about marriage in either terms of romantic perfection — what does happily ever after even mean? — or in the blistering, miserable terms of bitter divorce.
But what I wanted to explore was the beauty, along with the troubles, of duration.
In these 20 years together, we have become the people we are in part because of each other.
What does it take to walk alongside another human being over time? How do we form ourselves and against another person who may, or rather, will, grow at a different rate and in different ways? In any long marriage, no matter how happy, there is disappointment, anxiety, disturbance woven into the intimacy and love.
While I was writing “Hourglass,” my 93-year-old aunt, one of the wisest people I know, called me one afternoon. And, as we were chatting, she asked me how my husband was doing. “How are his spirits?” she inquired. It was a rough moment for him professionally, and her gentle question made me cry.
My aunt paused, and then she said, “I remember a particularly difficult 23-year period.” And I thought, what, 23 years? She went on to say that, on the other side of those years was incredible bounty.
Even though a difficult period lasting decades is daunting, to say the least, I also understood that I was on the receiving end of a great piece of wisdom, the kind that perhaps can only come from having living for most of a century.
We never know what’s around the corner. So often, we succumb to our own terror, and we flee, either by actually leaving or just simply shutting down.
There is something exquisite in sharing life in all its complexity, a common language made between two people who have grown together, apart, together, apart, a dance over time.”
(Interviewed by Judy Woodruff, “Marriage is a Dance of Growing Together, Apart, Together”, PBS News Hour)
The ‘smug marrieds’ may have good reason to feel pleased with themselves as experts now confirm that long-term committed relationships are good for mental and physical health and this benefit increases over time. In an editorial published by student BMJ, David and John Gallacher from Cardiff University say that on average married people live longer. They say that women in committed relationships have better mental health, while men in committed relationships have better physical health, and they conclude that “on balance it probably is worth making the effort. (Matthew Hunt, Marriage & Committed Relationships Improve Health, CounselingonDemand.com)
Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo attributes all kinds of mental and physical benefits to being in love. She says it can help you think faster, to better anticipate other people’s thoughts and behavior, or to bounce back more quickly from an illness. “The empirical tests I’ve done in my lab suggest that, in many ways, when you’re in love, you can be a better person,” she said. While she acknowledges that many types of relationships can be healthy, she believes that we are all searching for a “true love” to complete us, that humans are hard-wired for monogamy and that there is indirect biological evidence for fairy-tale tropes like love at first sight.
Falling in love, according to Dr. Cacioppo, is an intense workout for the Angular Gyrus. “The way you make it stronger is by forming new associations — by learning, by traveling, by exploring new concepts and cultures, and, yes, by being in love,” she said. “And because the angular Gyrus is connected to so many different integrative parts of the brain, forming connections there can help you be smarter in situations that are not necessarily related to your significant other.”
She hopes her research will embolden people to have a more expansive view of the value of romantic love, instead of regarding it as just a mushy feeling sequestered in our private lives. “People have this misconception that, when you are in the first stages of love, you’re distracted and you won’t be focused at work, but I beg to differ,” she said. “Based on this science, we might want to hire people who are passionately in love because they’ll probably be more motivated and creative in their work.” (Stephen Heyman, Don’t Know What the Angular Gyrus Is? Your Heart Does, Modern Love, NYTimes)
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