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So You're in Love, Huh? 

Readers come out of the closet

Once it got started, it didn't stop. It's been over three months since I wrote a column that questioned whether it was actually possible to fall "in love" with someone, and if so, whether it was possible to maintain that state indefinitely. At first, the letters and emails came only from folks who live in this county. Now they're coming from all over the country as the column makes its way around the Internet.

There's something about writing to a complete stranger they'll probably never meet that brings out the naked truth in people, no matter how pathetic they secretly believe their personal lives to be. People want to talk about this with someone and in their letters to me, they have.

In fact, a trend is developing. Very few people appear to be actually living out the great Western myth -- I am now more convinced than ever that "myth" is the correct word to use -- of love, of one person destined for another, of every great love story and Hollywood movie that ever was.

If what these people have to say is true, our society's ideals governing whether our romantic relationships are a success are wrong, and they need to be revised. In all this time, I've received only six letters from people in long-term marriages who claim to be as much in love with their spouses as they were when they first met them.

It's the rest of the mail from happy people that fascinates me. There are many people in Charlotte and across the country in great marriages to people they love, and the diversity of ways people find happiness in each other is amazing. They've been infatuated with the person they are married to, had crazy passion for them -- but been in love with them? Who knows? Deep soul searching about whether the relationship is right for them, how their relationship compares to that of their neighbors and friends, or to the gold standard of romantic love is no longer a part of their lives because they're happy.

Not happy because of who they married, but content in their relationship with them and fully capable of realizing the rare value of that. One common thread that seems to run through the relationships of these people, something inconceivable to many Americans trapped in marriages to the wrong person, is that these folks claim they don't fight. Sure, they get on each other's nerves, but very rarely do they disagree in a confrontational way. They claim they are extremely compatible, share common tastes and beliefs, are best friends, and more importantly, great roommates. Their homes are not places of new and added stresses, but refuges from the outside world. They work hard at their relationships but, they admit, part of it just comes naturally to them not because they are "in love," but because they are, essentially, well matched.

To a medieval troubadour with writer's block looking in from the outside, this kind of relationship probably did appear mystical, because when there's a true bond between two people, it shows. What the troubadours missed was that what binds these people together, the few who manage to achieve contentment, isn't magical, but logical. The compatibility they share is rare, likely only possible with very few people they'll encounter in their lifetimes. But the difference between these people and others is that they appreciate the quiet, sometimes boring contentment of a truly healthy relationship because they realize exactly how hard it would be to replace.

They can separate the romantic ideal from the realities of day-to-day life and as time passes, they value each other more, though they may have sex less.

"It's what happens when you go from friends to lovers to family," one guy wrote to me. "You can replace the first two, but you can't replace family."

Many of those who wrote to me had learned this the hard way -- through a divorce. Others delayed marriage long enough to watch friends and family members go through divorces and figured it out for themselves.

If Generation X and those after it want to avoid the mistakes our parents made, we've got to get rid of the old paradigms about love that our parents used to make decisions. We've got to lower some of our expectations and raise others to match the realities of living happily in today's world. And we've got to question this idea that there's someone for everyone, that everyone should marry because that's what people do. After getting to know those who are happy, I'm convinced there's a significant percentage of the population that isn't capable of what it takes to make a marriage work. These people shouldn't be encouraged to marry, because they'll never find happiness in it, nor will the people who try to change them.

There's a road to romantic happiness, and it's the one less traveled.

Contact Tara Servatius at tara.servatius@cln.com

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