All life is motion: electrons circle an atom’s nucleus, planets hurl through space. Earth turns on its axis at a speed of roughly 1,000 miles per hour: day dissipates into night, night disappears into day. Life hibernates in winter only to be reawakened in spring. Nothing is stable— not even the ground beneath our feet. Seas crash into shorelines, transforming mighty mountains into minuscule grains. The land we stand on isn’t steady and unchanging— it’s composed of constantly shifting Tectonic plates. We imagine life is static but if we observed a map of our Earth 250 million years ago, it would look entirely different from what it does today.
The only constant in life is change yet nothing terrifies us more than the idea that things never remain the same. In love, we’re especially resistant to change. The moment we sense a shift in our relationship, we become overcome by a paralyzing sense of dread. Maybe after a few years together, our sex has become less imaginative and less frequent. Maybe our calendars are no longer bursting with social activities and soirées and concerts and comedy shows and parties. Maybe our love life seems like a pathetic exercise in monotony.
In the stable security of a long-term relationship, we yearn for the rapturous intoxication of young romance. What happened to the all-night conversations, the giddy school girl excitement of getting a text message from our beloved? What happened to the intense, impassioned, “I need to have you” sex?
In her immeasurably insightful book Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh suggests it is natural for some of the fervor in a relationship to fade. In much the same way that a flower wilts in winter, our romance will occasionally decay. Nothing lasts, all is flux, all is change. But there’s no need to worry. Our love will be reborn in another form in the spring.
Lindbergh spent nearly half a century married to aviator and American hero Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly across the Atlantic alone. In their 45 years together, Anne learned firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one half of a couple. In a lyrical passage of uncommon insight and uncommon beauty, Morrow concedes that nothing— not even love— is everlasting:
“The ‘veritable life’ of our emotions and our relationships…is intermittent. When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity— in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern. The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what is was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. For relationships, too, must be like islands. One must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits— islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, continually visited and abandoned by the tides. One must accept the security of the winged life, of ebb and flow, of intermittency.”
Ultimately, life is a pendulum that swings between opposite poles: hope and despair, joy and sorrow. The Lindberghs understood this fact perhaps more than any other couple. In their 45 years together, they experienced agony and ecstasy, storms of adversity and moments of calm. Called the “First Couple of the Skies,” Charles and Anne seemed to live a charmed life: over the course of their career, they flew tens of thousands of miles across four continents to explore transatlantic air routes. Their work took them everywhere from the Orient to the Amazon jungle. Both Charles and Anne were celebrated as heroes.
Despite their many triumphs, tragedy struck when their 20 month year old son, Charles, was kidnapped from his nursery and killed in the spring of 1932. Besides having to cope with the unimaginable loss of their son, Charles and Anne had to endure the ensuing media frenzy and the paparazzi’s unremitting flashbulbs.
Much like life, our relationships pass through cycles. The obsessive infatuation of a crush will eventually give way to steady companionship after a few years. At times, the flames of passion will burn ferociously; at others, our desire will only be a few smoldering embers. Over the course of a relationship, there will be affectionate nicknames and four-letter words, amorous whispers and enraged screams, moments of domestic bliss and nights soaked in tears. We must not glorify the honeymoon phase or fear our relationship changing as we get older. Each phase of life, each phase of love has its own lessons to teach us. As Morrow writes,
“Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.”
Want more wisdom from the lovely Lindbergh? Read the pioneering aviator on love’s many phases, why we should seek solitude and why we should shed the shell of our ordinary lives and go to the beach.