What is this thing called love?


Ah, love is in the air this weekend. The Prince and his new Princess entering wedded bliss in London on Saturday . . . and on Sunday what would have been my parents’ seventy-ninth wedding anniversary had they lived.

Demographers project that at least eighty percent of Americans marry at some point in their lives. And forty to fifty percent of them call it quits after about eight years. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.

So why do we keep at it?

Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University and author of The Marriage-Go-Round, offers this:

Marriage has become a status symbol—a highly regarded marker of a successful personal life. In the 1970s, when cohabitation began to increase and divorce rates skyrocketed, it seemed marriage might fade away. Four decades later it remains an important part of American life—not in its older role as the first step into adulthood, but in its newer role as the last step one takes after becoming an adult in almost all other respects.        

There are lots of theories like Prof. Cherlin’s, but the truth is, nobody knows why we marry.

The most frequent reason given? A funny thing called love.


Cole Porter wrestled with the mysterious concept of love in a song that became a classic:

What is this thing called love?
This funny thing called love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?
I saw you there one wonderful day
You took my heart and threw it away
That's why I ask the Lord in Heaven above
What is this thing called love?

Here is Sinatra’s memorable rendition, if you want to hear it as background while you continue reading.

After a marriage of fifty years, my opinion is that love is an act of the will, a decision, a verb versus an emotion.

Erich Fromm, in his pivotal work, The Art of Loving, says this:

Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.

And Philosopher Judith Butler:

Circumstances change, as do people. Commitment, then, should not be a blind, unalterable act but rather flexible and amenable to change, as should both parties in the relationship. If commitment is to be alive, that is, if it is to belong to the present, the only commitment one can make is to commit oneself again and again.

To gain true wisdom about this as well as so many other of life’s significant questions, I turn to the ancient Greek philosophers.

Sure enough, Socrates nails it: “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will be happy. If you get a bad one, you will be a philosopher.”

(Pictured above are my parents, Anita Smytana and Peter Yaremko, on their wedding day seventy-nine years ago tomorrow.)

If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my newest book, Saints and Poets, Maybe: One Hundred Wanderings, available at: Amazon

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