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So You're In Love, Huh? 

I've always been more interested in what we don't talk openly about in our society than in what we do. Even more interesting to me is what is acceptable for good parents not to talk about with their kids. Love, or the western version of the myth of love between a man and a woman who subsequently live happily ever after, is one of those things.

Think about it. Our parents teach us to drive, to balance our checkbooks, and if they do a good job, to juggle the responsibilities that come with being an adult. But the day-to-day realities of marriage to one person for decades? I didn't get that lecture, and neither did my friends.

In fact, I sometimes wonder if the last generation has so bought into the American greeting card myth of one person for each of us, one undying love in perfect harmony, that on some level they still believe in the myth as it applies to others, their children and their friends, still hoping that those they love can achieve it when the evidence all around them says they can't. Take my mom for instance. Last week she learned from a high school friend, divorced two times, that many of the women in their graduating class have ended up divorced more than once. Statistically, this makes sense. But she just couldn't get over it. It's as if she actually believed that she was the only one who ever struggled in a marriage.

As a kid, I tagged along with my father, the wedding photographer, to hundreds of weddings, sometimes two a day, lugging his equipment behind me. At 12, it was pretty much a given that if the bride cried at the altar, I would too, though I'd usually only met her hours before.

It just moved me. It seemed that there must be magical, mystical things going on up there between the bride and the groom, things I assumed would one day be revealed to me when I too grew up. I would find "the one" and when we met, we would "just know." Then we'd fall in love, have a huge church wedding and at the altar, I'd finally get to know what all those women were bawling about because it would happen to me, my sister and my friends.

Well, I'm 28 now, and quite frankly, I'm still mystified. What I do know is that by the time I was 16, word-of-mouth had decimated my magical little wedding world. So many of my bawling brides ended their matrimonial tour of duty in divorce court. Some even cried the second time they went down the aisle. But by then, I wasn't buying it.

Over time, I decided that we've been brainwashed. Our culture is crammed to the gills with images of this kind of love and the sex we're supposed to have when we find it. The real travesty is that our parents more than likely discussed the sex part with us but left the love thing alone completely. Instead, we learned what we could expect from movies, magazines, advertisements, family folklore and even the medieval literature we were forced to read in high school. All these things reinforced the idea that to choose a life partner based on logic, rather than feelings, was to somehow shortchange oneself. But no one ever explained to me in concrete terms why that was.

I wouldn't let supposed authorities on other subjects get away with this. If someone called me up tomorrow and attempted to get me to support their political position on an issue using phrases like, "I just know it's right," "it just makes me feel wonderful," or "you'd know it was right if you felt the way I do," I'd add them to my fruitcake file and make sure the call blocking on my cell phone picked up their number so they could never waste my time again.

Yet these are the same lines used by otherwise intelligent friends of mine to explain why they plan to marry someone. I've bought them wedding gifts, acknowledged that yes, they were good together, then left the hitching without knowing for certain exactly why they just married each other.

I think that we as a society need to begin discussing why we marry each other, the difference between "love" and "in love" and what purpose, if any, the whole thing is supposed to serve in our lives, and, more importantly, in our future children's lives.

The love myth started by the medieval troubadours may be as strong as ever, but statistics show that the concept is clearly flawed. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 50 percent of first marriages and 60 percent of remarriages end in divorce. So is it that half of us only thought we were in love? Or is it that half of us were in love, but then fell out of it? And if that many of us are falling out of it, then is being "in love," assuming there is actually such a state of being, a legitimate reason for getting married?

And should marriage even be just about us? According to Heritage Foundation statistics, half of the children born this year will see their parents divorce before they turn 18. The Federal Reserve Board's 1995 survey of consumer finance showed that only 42 percent of children between the ages of 14 and 18 live in a "first marriage" family. We know our marriages aren't working. But what we don't know is why, and our children are paying for it.

I think it has less to do with what happens a few years down the road and more to do with why we went to the altar in the first place. I think we are a nation of romantic pretenders who often haven't done the painful soul searching about the depth and strength of our relationships. I suspect that many of us get married because everyone we know is getting married, because our biological clocks are ticking, because we have great sexual chemistry with someone or because on some level we believe that marriage will somehow eliminate our loneliness or make our lives financially, socially or psychologically complete. Then, we spend the rest of our marriages pretending -- even to each other -- that they are something more than that until the lie we are living becomes too much to bear, and we heap our frustrations on the one person we are supposed to love the most.

Surely, there must be a better way. *

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