I may have found my future wife,” I said to my father over the phone. But there were a few problems. I had met her on a week-long trip to Europe. She lived in Spain, and we hadn’t met for more than a few dates. We didn’t even speak the same language. My father was amused when I said she didn’t know I planned to marry her. But, I was only 24 years old and in love with her. I couldn’t resist embarking on an adventurous, romantic adventure. After one year in New York and two disappointingly brief visits, I left my job and moved to Barcelona to learn Spanish. I hoped that she would love me if she understood me.

I was the feeling of falling in love. It was euphoric at moments but also dangerous, fraught, emotionally draining, and risky. Before moving, my long-distance relationship with Spain was full of frustrating phone calls, intelligible letters and constant miscommunications. It was not necessary to have a Ph.D. social scientist–future me -to present young me with scientific evidence that romantic passion can bring about a lot of unhappy feelings. If I were shown evidence that “destiny beliefs”, such as love or soul mates, can predict low forgiveness when combined with attachment anxiety, I would say, “Well, duh!”

Although falling in love can be thrilling, it is not the only way to happiness. It might be more accurate to say that falling in love can be a high-stress but a necessary stage to reach the kind of relationships that truly fulfil you.

Passionate love is the period when you fall in love with someone. Often hijacks your brain in a way that can cause joy or despair. It is thrilling, but it cannot be considered to bring contentment. It was linked to suicide during certain historical periods.

Yet, scientific research has shown that romantic love is one of the most reliable predictors of happiness. Since the 1930s, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has examined the relationship between people’s lifestyles and well-being. These patterns are not surprising but important. The study found that the happiest and most healthy people aged 65 didn’t smoke or quit smoking early. They drank moderately, sometimes not at all, and were mentally active. These habits are not as important as one major one: Stable relationships, especially long-lasting romantic partnerships, are the most important predictors of late-life happiness. People who are in the best health at 80 years old tend to be those who were most happy in their 50-year-old relationships.

The secret to happiness is not falling in love but remaining in love. Research has shown that only 2 percent of people are married later in life. Relationship satisfaction is the key to well-being. This depends on what psychologists refer to as “companion love”, which is a relationship that is less passionate and more based on stability, mutual understanding, commitment, and affection.

You might find “companionate” a bit disappointing. It was the first time I had heard it. This was after the amateur romantic comedy I mentioned above. I can assure you that I didn’t move to Barcelona as a knight seeking companion love. Let me tell you the truth. She said yes, and we have been happily married for over 30 years. Communication has improved. We text at least 20 times per day. It turns out that we love each other as well. She was once and always my romantic partner, but she is now my best friend. 

Being rooted in

Friends can enjoy each other’s company and find joy, fulfilment, and meaning. They bring out the best of each other; they tease one and have fun together. This friendship was famously shared by President  with Grace. One story states that the first lady and president were visiting a poultry farm when commented loudly to the farmer about how amazing it was that one rooster could fertilize so many eggs. According to the farmer, the roosters were doing their job over and over each day. She smiled and said, “Perhaps that you could point it out to Mr. Coolidge.” Noting this comment, the president inquired if the rooster served the same hen every time. The farmer said that there were several hens for every rooster. The president replied, “Perhaps you could point it out to Mrs. Coolidge.”

No matter how promiscuous the roosters may be, companionate love is more romantic than monogamy. This is not something I am saying as a moralist. Still, as a social scientist: A 2004 survey of 16,000 Americans found that “The happiness-maximizing number sexual partners in the preceding year was 1 for both men and women.”

However, companionate love and deep friendship should not be considered exclusive. Researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that married couples aged 22-79 had higher levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction, and depression than those without close friends. While long-term companionate is necessary for happiness, it’s not enough.

You will not be surprised to learn that I enjoy reading ,  Browning about passionate love. However, my Spanish romance is best expressed. In Don Quixote, Cervantes sings about his beloved Dulcimer.

This perfectly conveys the passion of passionate love. It is important to remember Friedrich Nietzsche’s unpoetic words: “It isn’t the absence or love that makes marriages unhappy but the absence or friendship.” Although Nietzsche was never married, he was rejected three times by the same woman. It seems that Nihilism isn’t a great aphrodisiac. But he is right.

Data and studies aside, my personal experience with happiness and companionate loves is the best evidence. After three decades of trying to find the perfect romance, my Dulcimer has been there for me through all the good and bad times. We share our joys and tremble in fear together, afraid that one of our three adult kids might run off to Europe, chasing passionate love.

We look forward to many more years of friendship and love together. Then, hers, I pray to God, will be my final breath. Her image is one of my many substances.


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