FOR THE LOVE OF RELATIONSHIPS – Romance vs. mature love

Traveling on a cruise around the Fjords of Norway with 2500 other passengers who are mostly in the winter of their lives, I was struck by the mature love and kindness I saw all around me. Elderly couples were everywhere, many in walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters. Their partners were right beside them holding hands, carrying their bags, getting them their meals at the buffet, and sometimes even wiping their mouths with a tender dab of a cloth napkin. Most of the people I was watching were not particularly attractive, fit or physically appealing. Yet, their life partner focused on their every move. It appeared to me that this life journey expanded and deepened the love these couples appeared to have for one another. Self-love had been replaced by a deep mature love and service to the partner of their youth.

I am fascinated by this and wanted to explore this intimacy which, very likely, does not include romance as most would define or describe it. It is an intimacy that means vulnerability, authenticity, safety, acceptance, kindness, service, and care. This life commitment implies a level of trust that may be present in no other relationship in life; communication is honest and supportive of one another. Reading about mature, loving, committed relationships, they were described as inclusive of a sense of mutual support, fulfillment, and a focus on growth through the life span of the relationship. Descriptions included compassion and a loving bond, with real engagement where nothing is withheld from one another. Fascinating!

I am sure that if these individuals were alone and not paired up with a loving partner, they would not be traveling and exploring the wonders of the world. It might be too difficult for them to maneuver by themselves. I found myself curious about their story, how and where they met, the number of children they might have, where they lived, what they did prior to retirement, their shared history, and their secret to developing the mature love we all crave and long for.

Mature love can be a love story that might have begun with passion, romance, chemistry, and attraction. That then turned into a commitment to build a life together with responsibilities, disappointments, joys, sorrows, overcoming obstacles, planning, goal setting and mutual vision-casting. The romance changes and becomes defined by common experiences, deep roots, respect, and shared history. Intimacy changes from pure physicality to years of trust, safety, reliability, closeness, and respect.
According to Walter M. Bortz II, MD, author of We Love Too Short and Die Too Long, Sexual expression is not about performance or pleasuring, but rather sharing that oneness of spirit and connection which is extremely satisfying. The cuddle hormones of oxytocin and dopamine get transported through our bodies even when body parts are not functioning the way they used to. Research suggests that this type of committed, mature and sacrificial love enriches our lives and has immeasurable health benefits.

In our youth we declare that we want to grow old with our partner. Being on this cruise and observing how this youthful declaration was being operationalized and manifested, I was in awe of how mature love could be sexier than passionate romance and the key to vitality and happiness.