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Janice Stensrude
published in Uptown Express February 1994

I am not of the school that believes passion disappears as a normal course of remaining with one person. I am also not among those who believe that continuing to experience these feelings on a regular basis throughout a long marriage is a sign of stunted growth. I am among those who believe that long-term passion is indeed rare, but nonetheless alive and well in remote areas of our universe.

One of my favorite movies, written by, directed by, and starring Alan Alda, is "Four Seasons." This 1981 release is a funny, poignant study of the dynamics of couple friendships and long-term marriage. In response to his friend's curiosity about the level of marital bliss, Alda's character replies, "There are times you hit lows and you can't stand things about each other--like the way her teeth click when she eats, the way I smell my sweatshirt before I put it on. Sometimes we drive each other crazy. And then there are times we go through a period like the one we're in now. It comes over us like an unexpected wave. Puppy love. I can't wait to see her, and then when I'm with her my heart beats faster. You'd expect it with a stranger, but not somebody I've spent half my life with. It's wonderful."

That's what I'm talking about. If someone wrote those words, then someone else shares my vision--someone else knows in the deep recesses of their being that this is so.

Years ago I saw an interview with Paul Newman when he and Joanne Woodward had been married about ten years. It was on a movie set, and the interviewer asked him what it was like watching his wife work. He replied that she was the sexiest, most exciting woman that he'd ever met. Present tense!

Some years ago, at a point in my life when I was struggling to accept that permanence was not a characteristic of relationships and that eternal love was for romance novels and people who died very young, I met a farmer in the deep rural south. I was enjoying our conversation when he abruptly excused himself. "I have to go fix breakfast for my wife," he explained simply. "She's got arthritis, and it hurts her so much in the mornings. We've been married more than fifty years, and she's the love of my life." His voice was tender at the last words, and his eyes reflected his words, as if past and present had merged to touch his soul with the memory of all that was good and gratitude for the present. I cried. I drove away and cried for two hours. I cried in relief. It really existed. I wasn't wrong. It really existed!

Since that moment my life has been more peaceful. Undying love and unending passion have not become a part of my life, but it's out there. That reality continues to feed my soul. I touched it.

There are a number of very good books available these day--books about soul searching and finding the meaning of life and enjoying it all a bit more or even a lot more. It seems to be a common thread in them all that it is necessary, first, to face the fact that the early passion in a relationship is going to go away and it is NEVER coming back. Repeatedly, I read that undying passion is not only abnormal, but impossible. Why would so many thoughtful, loving people continue to insist that it can't happen? I have come to the conclusion that those who have written these otherwise superb and extremely valuable books, share the characteristic of having lived much of their lives in their heads. Dealing with their own disappointments and finding their own paths to satisfying lives, they have found it necessary to release the dream of unending passion in order to get past their disappointment and get on with their lives.

I found it intriguing that Hendrix's books on Imago therapy repeated the notion that passion is a fleeting emotion destined to die in the birth of the next stage of relationship development. Imago therapy assumes that long-term passion is unnatural. Imago therapist Tony Carol cites research that "proves" passion is time limited and biologically limited. Yet Imago promises to teach skills that allow couples to re-experience some of the romantic feelings of their early relationships. I support and applaud these efforts. But I ask our great thinkers to ponder: If it can be taught as a superficial skill to elicit a temporary thrill, isn't it just possible that it was there all along, and some people do it so naturally that they never thought to discuss it?

No doubt, believing long-term passion is not attainable will stop people from thinking about it long enough to get on the road to recovery and stop blaming their partners for its lack. I have observed that some people deliberately move away from their passion because, for most of us, it interferes with daily life. I recall a friend a few years ago stating, "I am so glad he moved in so we can get on with our relationship. Being in love almost ruined my business. I couldn't think of anything else and I was almost broke!"

In other words, some of us can take it, and some of us can't. Those who find it easy to blend passion into their daily existence, giving it its room to breathe and allowing it to settle gently in the back recesses of consciousness in order to get in a day's work, have the gift for unending passion.

Perhaps the rest of us will have to settle for training ourselves to periodically elicit a simulated response to revisit for a moment those feelings that we were unable to weave into the warp and woof of our everyday lives. It begins to sound like eating ice cream until it makes you so sick you don't want to eat it again for years (and then you go to Baskin Robbins because the ice cream that made you sick came from Marble Slab). Or having such a good time at a party that you stay too long and drink too much--and how often can you go to work on two hours sleep with a hangover. Perhaps we banish passion because we stuff ourselves with it. the obsession is so disruptive to our lives that we knowingly release it to achieve a respite from the flame, to find a moment of welcome boredom, an uneasy version of peace. Maybe passion is unable to survive our addiction to boredom, the favored pastime of a desensitized, materialistic society.

I propose that, as the notion of "marriage for love" matures (it's barely a hundred years old, you know) and we begin to alter our vision of what marriage should look like and feel like, we will find that unending passion and undying love is a most natural state, which is most at home in a long-term, stable relationship. If, indeed, we create our own reality, why can't we paint passion into the picture?

We teach to learn. I suspect that people, like the Alan Alda character and the old farmer--people who have it--don't write books about getting it.

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