I just finished reading Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love. In de Botton’s words, the book is about “a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, [who] fall in love. They get married. They have children. Society tells us this is the end of the story. In fact, it is only the beginning.”
While The Course of Love is about marriage, I find the thesis applies to almost everything in life, including having a baby, starting a job or a business, writing a novel, moving to a new city. The beginning is often exciting. Standing at the edge of a new endeavor, we are able to see the big picture and feel the thrill of embarking on something long desired or refreshingly unexpected. The real challenge comes as we begin to settle in. The everyday complications appear, issues—unavoidable in any scenario—arise, tedium sets in. And yet, as de Botton deftly shows, if one keeps on the course of love—for spouse, child or business—chances are high that a deeper, albeit more subtle, beauty will reveal itself.
It’s easy for me to see the truth of this concept when it comes to child rearing. I recognize that the hardest parts of motherhood have produced the most fulfilling relationship with my son. Spending endless nights nursing him as a baby and then soothing him as a toddler; sitting by his side through heart-felt outbursts over his age-appropriate limitations; worrying incessantly about his nutrition, health, and wellbeing; changing countless diapers—have all earned me the number one spot in his heart. But it’s more than that. Being in the thick of those moments, which are at times excruciating, is also extremely rewarding. Having full access to my son’s inner world and watching him develop his personality, character and outlook on life is an incredible privilege. It can be messy and emotionally draining—I swear I started getting gray hairs after he was born—but unparalleled in its beauty.
Lisa Berry’s journey with Love Your Body is another perfect illustration. As LYB celebrates its one-year anniversary, I think back to how deeply Lisa longed to develop the concept. The vision is bright and beautiful: to meet women where they are. To provide them high-quality, comfortable, stylish clothes that will take them through their day, making them feel more confident and happy. The everyday operation of the concept has not always been easy, yet the challenges have brought out the best in Lisa, and she has developed incredible relationships through the journey. It’s her hard work and struggles that have resulted in truly rewarding experiences.
Bringing this back to marriage: Every single weeknight, my husband comes home from work and immediately jumps in to help me with the kids. He has a long commute and a taxing job, yet he doesn’t skip a beat. The second he walks into our home, he immediately reaches over to take our 5.5 month old from my arms, starts playing with our two year old, and asks if he can help with dinner. Instead of taking 10 minutes to settle in (which would be completely justified), he puts my needs first and sweeps in to help. It’s unbelievably romantic, even if it’s not the kind of romance that will ever make it onto a Hallmark card or the movies. It’s also the kind of romance that took us six years of marriage, two children, and many conversations about needs and desires to develop.
Thinking back to all the work we have put in to get to a place where he is able to give me exactly what I need without me having to ask for it, it’s clear that the journey has been much more worthwhile and satisfying than even the flutters of a first kiss or the thrill of an exotic first date.
Alain de Botton is right. It’s in the thick of the often-messy experience that you find the true richness of life. It is in this space that we’re able to see what we’re made of, discover who really stands by our side, and build foundations that hopefully wear so well they look better with age.