Love and Marriage

More than two million couples get married in the United States every year and the most popular month for such nuptial agreements is the one now upon us: June. This custom is at least as old as the Roman Empire, what with June being named after “Juno,” the mythological goddess of marriage.

Juno, as complex a character as any marriage, was also a war goddess and was frequently portrayed in full battle gear. Maybe this is why G.K. Chesterton was fond of quipping, “Marriage is an adventure…like going to war.” Chesterton was right. Both love and war eventually require the laying down of arms. The two require surrender.

In our militaristically-charged society it is easy for us to think of surrender in relation to warfare. Images of Appomattox, V-E Day, or a president landing a fighter jet on an aircraft carriers come to mind. Two contestants meet in battle. One wins and one loses, mission accomplished. These are the pictures that pervade our consciousness. But love is a surrender as well. It is the giving up, giving in, and giving over to another.

We rarely use the word “surrender” to describe this experience (though some of my Christian brothers are keen to use the word “submission” endlessly in the context of marriage). No, we prefer the phrase, “falling in love.” But what is this “falling” other than powerlessness? Is it not a white flag of the heart raised in surrender?

Sure, the science behind love is fairly mundane: An outside stimulus triggers the release of dopamine, the body’s busiest and most potent neurotransmitter. This floods the brain with emotion and more happy-cuddly-feelings than can be processed. With these charged neurons banging around inside, two people can find themselves inescapably attracted to each other.

The attraction leads to pursuit, conversation, to more and more time being spent together. Eventually, the attraction may lead to a more intentional commitment until one day – maybe in June – the two are standing at an altar. Promises are spoken. Rings are exchanged. Pronouncements of “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do you part” are made.

What is happening in such a case? Much more than a chemical reaction, for sure. The two are giving up the life they once had for a new life, a life of surrender to each other. They have fallen in love and into love, love being the only force that now compels their actions.

Certainly, not every marriage is a fairy tale. Love goes wrong, couples fall apart, and those who were once committed partners can find themselves facing irreconcilable differences. Yet, when a relationship flounders, it’s not a failure of emotion or the drying up of dopamine. No, it’s the taking up of arms that destroys love, for in the immortal words of the Apostle Paul, “Love does not demand its own way,” and that is the love that never fails.

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