Back when my son was a child, he used to dig holes in the back yard. He would adopt stones that he liked and would line the shelves of his room with them. His mother used to complain of the grime he brought into the house, until, noting a sustained interest in geology; we got him a rock tumbler.
You may have had some dealings with a rock tumbler. It’s basically a drum attached to a small motor by way of a belt that rotates incessantly all the live long day. Put a few dull, brown, craggy, soil caked rocks in the drum, add a bit of water, shut the hatch, turn on the motor, and you can keep the whole family from sleeping for a week. When your Dad yells at you to turn the damn thing off so he can get some rest, you open it, reach in, and your unremarkable stones have transformed into smooth, radiant gems.
There’s a rock tumbler for people, too; a people tumbler. We call it love.
You think you’re familiar with love, are you? It’s the warm and cozy feeling you get when you look into your darling’s eyes. It’s the sweet sentiments you pick up in the greeting card aisle. It’s the powerful talisman you utter on your third date that accelerates your circuit of the bases. Love sells wedding dresses, tuxes, gowns for the bridesmaids, bouquets, fancy cakes, and extravagant receptions. It also sells funerals, headstones, more bouquets, and extravagant coffins. It makes the world go around. It’s a many-splendored thing.
As it often turns out, though, the warm and cozy feeling turns out to be little more than a glitzy advertisement on the package, a bait and switch scheme, a loss leader that lures you into the tumbler.
Love put you next to that snoring beast that snatches your covers in the night. It gave you to the shrew who wants you to put the toilet seat down for her, but won’t put it up for you. Love hitched you to the wife who hasn’t gone down on you since your wedding night. It married you to the husband who won’t talk about how he feels. Love is the thing that, when that maddening husband or wife dies, will make you keen over that extravagant coffin. Love is a many-splendored thing, isn’t it?
Consider one maxim you learn every time you dicker at the market: Whoever has the most desire has the least power. If you want something bad enough and depend on someone else to get it, you have to meet them on their terms. Love is guaranteed to put you next to a person who does not share the exact degree of all your desires. In every couple, there is always one who is more horny, more messy, more spendthrift, more absent minded, works harder, sleeps later, talks less, and is more likely to invite his or her relatives to stay for a week. That person will drive you nuts.
OK, so how does all that transform people into gems?
You could make like a cave man and bonk your woman over the head with a club every time you want sex, but she won’t hang around and braise your mammoth. Instead, you learn some patience, some compassion, you write poems, go to movies that make you cry, play the guitar, watch the kids, and master foreplay. You wear your snoring bandage, learn to compromise, and it makes you a better man.
You could drag your husband to therapy and threaten divorce if he doesn’t tell you about his feelings, but you won’t like what he has to say. Instead, you discover that commitment is not something you declare on one bright, over-planned day, but something you perform every hour for a lifetime. You realize that trust and forgiveness are not nouns that describe states; they’re verbs that indicate actions. You demonstrate tolerance, listen with your third ear, and cultivate understanding. You learn to agree to disagree.
Love will push you to your limits; it’ll take you outside your comfort zone, drop you off, and turn up the heat. Love is the means by which we evolved compassion, generosity, and empathy since those cave man days. It’ll polish you up and make you shine.
That is, if you stay in the tumbler and rock.
For further reading, pick up my book, Constructive Conflict: Building Something Good Out of All Those Arguments. You just read the first chapter.