Several times a year, a recurring dream will force me to compare old love and new love. I am immersed in old love every day, as Wendy and I approach our 28th anniversary. If I had to pick one adjective to describe old love it would be "secure". We are safe with each other, and I mean that in the best possible way. We will walk through life together, hand in hand, til death do us part. But it's much more than fidelity. I know what she likes, and she knows what I like. I know how to wash her hair, down to the middle of her back, and she knows how much butter and salt to put on my baked potato, with none on the corn. We really do finish each other's sentences. Our love is wonderful, joyful, and passionate, but above all, it is familiar and safe.
I might forget what new love feels like altogether if it weren't for the dreams. I am younger in this dream, perhaps 30 years younger. The setting is a house I use to live in, or my college dorm room, or sometimes an unfamiliar location. A young girl sits beside me, a girl who has been my friend, but could become much more. Sometimes she is a younger version of Wendy, not long after we first met, sometimes she is another ex girlfriend, and sometimes she is merely a creation of my fantasies. We touch, gently, my hand to her hand, and I experience once again the euphoria of new love. I wake from my dream with my heart beating fast. Honestly I do miss those emotions, and I think Wendy does too; she smiles when she tells people how we met and how we fell in love, even if she is just retelling the story to me.
I think the rapture of new love is due in part to its lack of security, which stands in stark contrast to old love. I touch her hand, and she could pull away, but she doesn't. I say I love her, and she could sit in awkward silence, or suggest that we slow down a bit, but instead she says, "Oh I was hoping you would say that. I have loved you for so long, and didn't know how to tell you." I gently kiss her on the cheek, and she could pull away in alarm, but instead she kisses me back. The positive resolution of "She loves me, she loves me not" is the spark that ignites the passion of new love.
don't get me wrong, I never want to experience new love again, outside of my dreams / memories. At my age I need the security of old love. When we see commercials for dating sites on tv, Wendy and I hold hands and express our profound joy and relief. "Thank God I don't have to bookmark that one."
Distilled down to one sentence: new love is there to create an attraction, have sex, and reproduce - old love is there to cement the bond and raise and nurture children to adulthood. These emotions are evolutionary adaptations in species that raise their young cooperatively for an extended period of time. Thus love is somewhat explained, to first approximation, but that doesn't make it any less magical or any less wonderful. Personally, I don't think science or understanding detracts from the beauty of anything, ever - in fact the beauty is often enhanced. Isn't a rainbow even more amazing when you comprehend it as a result of color-specific refractions?
While holding each other close, I imagine my mind joining hers in something similar to a Vulcan mind meld. This isn't an asymmetric form of mind reading, where I can read her thoughts and she is unaware, as in What Women Want, rather, it is a joining of two minds together. "Our minds are merging, our minds are one." Would that be a good idea? Would it enhance our love for each other? It might, but only if the meld lasted for a few minutes, whereupon we retreat once again to our separate, isolated worlds. A permanent joining would be disastrous. A dozen times a day she does something that irritates me in a small and insignificant way. It flashes through my mind and is quickly moved to the trash can, primarily because the irritation is my fault, not hers. She's an angel to me, and to everyone else. The irritation is usually my own impatience or selfishness, but no matter, the thought came, and would be part of her thoughts. It would harm her, and our relationship. Conversely, if I'm annoyed with her a dozen times a day, she must be annoyed with me a dozen times an hour. "Why did he do that? Couldn't he wait for a commercial? doesn't he ever clean the railings? I know we're not going out, but his hair is a hot mess!" All these thoughts stay inside her head where they belong. Monitor yourself for a day and see how many times you are annoyed or critical of your partner over trivial matters. Sharing most of ourselves, and keeping a few secrets, is the delicate balance that makes a marriage work.
I don't usually turn to Gilligan's Island for wisdom, but there was at least one episode that qualifies. In Seer Gilligan, Gilligan discovers a bush on the island whose sunflower seeds empower the castaways with the ability to read minds. Everyone knows what everyone else is thinking, and arguments quickly ensue. The Skipper knows that the Professor secretly blames him for the shipwreck and their internment on this "uncharted desert isle", Ginger and Mary Ann squabble over chores and responsibilities, and the Howells are embroiled in a lover's spat. Gilligan, who has the lowest IQ on the island, burns the bush, an everyone wants to know why. He says, "we never fought and argued before we could read minds. now that we can't read minds, maybe we could be friends again." Everyone agrees he is right, and wise indeed.
When a negative thought must be verbalized, Diane Sawyer asks us to remember that "A criticism is just a badly worded request." This maxim did not originate with her, but she considers it vital for a marriage, or any relationship, and I quite agree.