Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series on the lost art of romance. The first article is available here.
The all-too-common notion today that marriage kills romance and ends courtship could not be more false. And the impression we sometimes get that people no longer want to be married or get married is simply not true.
Surveys show that despite the contrary impressions we may get from media and other popular culture, nearly all Americans would like to be married and to have a good and lasting marriage relationship.
But are some losing touch with the things that make strong marriages? Are people forgetting that there are some ingredients that we have to supply if we want to find a reliable recipe for a romantic, happy, lasting marriage?
In our four decades of working with families and observing all kinds of marriage situations, we have become convinced that there are five elements that maximize the chances for a marriage to be nourishing, loving, enduring and — yes — romantic.
Don’t glance at this list and disqualify yourself if you are not observing all of its items, because the lovely thing about these elements is that they can actually be recovered within a relationship even if they have not always been practiced.
None of them are easy, though, nor should they be, because they are all part of the hard work that it takes to live happily and romantically with another person for the rest of your life.
We call them the five C’s.
Chastity and fidelity: The words sound old-fashioned to us today, which is an indication of how far society’s expectations have slipped. In a world that has become amoral on many levels, sex is often thought of as a form of recreation rather than a sacred gift that one can choose to share with only one other person. Those who make that exclusive choice find a higher realm of security and joy.
Courtship: Another concept that many seem to think is from a bygone age is real one-on-one dating. Dating can be not only the best way to get to know another person but also a wonderful and exciting kind of wooing — there’s another old word — and exploring and discovery that exercises both our creativity and our constraint. The alternatives of hanging out and hooking up have none of the beautifully romantic potential of real courtship. And courtship is not just something that should precede marriage; it should continue and even reach new levels within marriage. Married couples that still try to manage a romantic, weekly date, even if it involves a lot of logistics and baby sitters, seem to preserve and even build on the excitement and attraction they initially developed for each other.
Compatibility: This word, often used today as a justification for cohabitation (“to see if we are physically and sexually compatible”), should instead be used in an emotional context. When a couple thinks of courtship and dating as a way of getting to know each other emotionally and mentally, compatibility becomes a wonderfully interesting and nuanced question. And when it is pursued first, the sexual compatibility that comes later will be far more beautiful and rewarding. Then, as years go by, that closeness has the inexhaustible potential to continue to deepen and expand.
Commitment: It is the chastity, courtship and emotional compatibility that make full and total and joyous commitment possible. In a world that often associates commitment with a loss of freedom or independence, we need to know that exactly the opposite is true. When full and forever, unqualified and unconditional commitment is made to each other, it brings with it a kind of wondrous liberation and peace that can’t be found elsewhere. Everlasting but also forever capable of being renewed, exclusive commitment is the ultimate gift.
Celebration: Those who have found the joy of committed marriage — not an endless conflict-free bliss but a worked-for, stay-at-it kind of happiness — need to celebrate it more! We need to be advocates for the five C’s and let others know by our example and our attitudes that we have found the best, most efficient, most secure and joyous way to live.
Now, let’s end with this: Many people, when they read these brief overviews of the five C’s, have two conflicting and opposite sensations. One is the tendency to reject them — to feel that they are outdated and not possible in today’s world, that they are so far from the “norms” they have practiced and become used to that they are not even worth considering.
But the other sensation is a certain longing, a certain attraction to the kind of honor and romance and excitement that the five C’s arouse in the back part of our minds.
We are believers. We are converts to the wonder and beauty of this type of lifestyle. And we are practicing the fifth C right now, right here in this article — celebrating and expressing gratitude for what we believe is the happiest way to live, and suggesting that it is available to everyone, at any life stage and with any history, if they are willing to work for it.