The current generation is no different than any that preceded it in wanting to be loved. The young people of today also dream of finding the perfect someone with whom to share intimate moments. They too have fantasies of heading into the sunset of life hand-in-hand with a devoted mate.
Yet what do they see on television? Twerking, ogling, double-entendres and flat-out sleaze. The situation comedies over-flow with dysfunction and stupidity. The crime dramas chronicle brutality and betrayal. And the news programs, well they suggest that all of this nastiness is for real.
So where is the love? Some young people are lucky to be born into families where their parents love each other and hence provide a model of what it is. A growing proportion, however, see nothing of the kind. Instead they encounter single or divorced parents struggling to keep their heads above water.
Is it any wonder that so many of the current generation confuse love with sex? Should we be surprised that millions of them cannot tell the difference between falling in love and being in love?
Let us be clear, sex and love are not the same. When couples are fortunate, they can have both — and the two can reinforce each other. Nonetheless, the steamy passion of a new relationship does not last. It mellows with time.
The young who assume that lust alone can forge a lasting bond are mistaken. If that is all they have, they are sure to wake up one morning to discover that they no longer even like their paramour. And, by the way, he or she will no longer appear very attractive.
This said, there is an even bigger problem in the assumption that the rapture experienced while falling in love will be the glue that holds a couple together for the long haul. Infatuation too does not last. It is an ephemeral part of the courtship process, not a permanent feature of a stable relationship.
Somehow forgotten in the rush to find the perfect someone is that there are no perfect anyones. We humans — all of us — have our flaws. None of us survive the close inspection that accompanies lasting intimacy with our facades of faultlessness intact.
And so if love is to endure, it must be around a core of commitment. Two people must pledge each other their troth — and mean it. The old vow of remaining faithful for richer and for poorer, and in sickness and health, cannot be empty words. These must be backed by conviction and the hard work of settling the differences that are sure to crop up.
People who expect that once they fall in love all of their problems will disappear are in for a rude awakening. Intimate relationships entail a give-and-take and an ability to compromise. No one gets everything they want. No one gets anything for free.
Nevertheless, when people are committed; when they can count on each other through thick and thin; they discover that they are part of a caring relationship. Moreover, this caring is not trivial. It does not swing through the trees or light up the skies with fireworks. It provides something better: stability and comfort.
Life can be lonely. It can be fraught with challenges and disappointments. Yet having someone who cares — who really cares — can make the journey much easier. A secure attachment, not a passing fancy, is a bulwark against the harshest of fates. And because it is, it can be among the sweetest encounters we can have.
I know what love is. I hope most of my readers will be as fortunate!
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.