Love is not a new invention (any doubt shall be crushed by the Song of Songs), nor is marrying for love. What is new is the presumption that one must have a certain ‘caliber’ of love (usually ‘true’) for marriage and that any love that reaches this ought to be allowed to move to marriage.
True Love is, as we have noted, a rather problematic concept. It’s place in the history of love is fairly new. If one takes a cursory glance at the history of romantic love, one sees several images, such as sickness, madness, or labor (as noted before). But what is rather uncommon (if not altogether unheard of) is the idea of true, or more perfect, romantic love. At best one sees the juxtaposition between love and marriage (such as in the case of Lancelot and Arthur; the former loved Guinevere while the latter was married to her).
Further, it is apparent that must cultures believed that love between married couples was possible and laudable. But it was not prerequisite. Arranged marriages worked because people had no expectation to be in love on their wedding night (Hollywood reconstructions aside); love could get in the way of this (Tristan and Isolde), but could also support it (Ferdinand and Miranda).
This brief (pseudo-)historical survey is not a call to return to a supposed Golden Age (not least because I am quite fond of the idea of falling in love). Rather, my aim is to point out that love is far less beholden to whims of chance and ‘chemistry’ than we have been taught to believe (I had written ‘like to believe’ but I suspect most of us would rather that love be much more under our jurisdiction and not Wyrd’s). There are certainly those elements, but like most things, we can have a vast influence (ask any person who has simply broken off contact with a beloved. They fade rather quickly – so long as the imagination is not exercised improperly).
Perhaps the biggest presence of this idea of True Love is in our culture obsession with divorce and other forms of restructuring marriage (make no mistake, the redefinition of marriage is buried in acceptance of divorce, first and foremost). True love is notoriously tricky (and one may find it only once in a lifetime) and thus the odds suggest that you’ll not marry the object of your true love. Especially that hindsight really does need glasses and in the throes of new love we are unlikely to remember that the first stuff was just as powerful. All we know is that the romance I cold, the silence long, and the sex boring. Clearly not True Love.
This is the fate of any love in pursuit of a relationship that defines Hollywood; it shall never be able to retain the seamless perfection and thus shall be replaced (as an aside, films help define what is perhaps the only thing True Love really has going for it: speed. When a couple has True Love everything runs so much quicker and all the connections more perfect). As always, the easiest way to ruin your happiness is to compare.
Love unto marriage is a project, a task, a journey. And the same effort needs continue in love through marriage. Lasting love is not beholden to the perfection that comes by chance but is born from the work of a couple who desires love. There are few couples who cannot fall in love and sustain that love through a lasting marriage. If we choose to pursue a hard love, a love that is small in the eyes of the world, we will possess a love that burns the brighter and will be in the stories of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all to whom our love overflows.