I’m not a fan of love stories.
I realize this sounds odd coming from someone who teaches people how make others fall in love with them, but stay with me for a moment here.
The most famous, beloved love stories of all time all end in the death of one or both of the lovers. Tristian and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, Oliver Barrett and Jenny Cavalleri, Jack and Rose, Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, even modern books like John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars focuses on the tragedy of loss like a literary cheat code to make the love more poignant.
Meanwhile the love stories that don’t end in death tend to end with “and then they got together”. We get some final confirmation of their (implied) happily ever after – a wedding, an ironic repeat of dialogue from earlier in the story, something – and then the screen fades and the credits roll. It’s all very sweet… but we’re fetishizing the early days of love, when it’s all fresh and new and exciting. We rarely see a celebration of an old love – one that has withstood the test of time and has only been made stronger.
Which is why the love story I truly appreciate is the story of Gomez and Morticia Addams. When they were introduced to television the 60s they stood out in stark contrast from other couples – even ones in modern day sitcoms – as a pair who truly loved one another and have for a long time. In fact, whether in the 60s era sitcom or the movies from the 90s, Gomez and Morticia are, in many ways, the perfect couple… and many couples could learn how to make love last by following their example.
They Make An Effort
One of the things that makes a new relationship so exciting is that “new relationship energy”. Everything is new and amazing and everything about our partner is fascinating. But what’s even more intoxicating is that with a new partner, we start to see ourselves through their eyes; in many ways, we see ourselves the way we wish we could be seen. It’s an electrifying experience and it inspires us to try even harder. Put more effort in our appearance. We plan more elaborate and exciting dates. We give them little gifts just because we want to see them smile.
But in any relationship, habituation sets in. That initial rush of oxytocin fades away and the intensity of the initial relationship dwindles as you and your lover become more accustomed to one another. The new and exotic has become familiar, the novel is no longer exciting. You start to relax, and in doing so, well, your standards start to slide a little. You aren’t as worried about looking your best. You aren’t as worried that about what they’ll think of you when they hear you fart or see you first thing in the morning before you’ve had your coffee. You don’t work as hard at dating and those nights out have become evenings in. Once you got dressed to the nines to take on the city nightlife; now you’re both in your “couldn’t give a shit” sweats with an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D marathon waiting for you on the DVR.
This never happened with Gomez and Morticia.
Through decades of marriage and even two kids, they haven’t settled. They make a concerted effort to look good for each other, even when they’re planning a quiet night at home, watching the best comedies Chiller has to offer. They still treat their relationship as though they were on their first date – putting their best face forward for one another and bringing the best out in each other. This serves to actually make them happier with one another than if they’d let things slide; the opportunity to show off has actually been proven to make us feel better about ourselves. By simply making an effort, Gomez and Morticia help create a positive feedback loop that keeps the magic in the relationship.
Speaking of effort though…
It’s Not Work, It’s an Investment
One of the cliches about relationships is that they take “work”. If your relationship is failing, then clearly you’re not working hard enough. And once you absorb this metaphor it becomes clear that you’re just never of the clock. Any relationship past a certain point becomes a job and you’re pulling a double shift at the factory every day; – soul-sucking drudgery that eats away our time a little each day until we’re one step closer to the grave. Small wonder then, that we see the effort necessary to maintain long-term relationships as tedium, forcing ourselves into the coal mines and the foundries trying to keep the relationship going despite never having time off to stop and enjoy the fruits of your labors.
That way lies bitterness and resentment, no?
But look at Gomez and Morticia and you see another way of seeing things. After all, it’s clear that neither of them see maintaining their relationship as work… but at the same time, it’s not effortless either. That’s because they don’t see it as work; they see putting the effort into maintaining their relationship as an investment. It’s not a job as much as it is a garden – something that yes, does needs tending, but the results make the work all worthwhile. And more importantly, the tending of that garden is often satisfying in and of itself.
When you watch Gomez and Morticia together, it’s clear that they take pleasure even in the little things that help keep them together. Those little gestures of affection – tiny signs that they still care for one another – take little effort but offer incredible payoffs in terms of keeping the intimacy and devotion front and center in their relationship. When they take time to themselves, they don’t miss an opportunity to remind one another of just what it was that brought them together in the first place.
They stay in communication. They share their dreams and concerns with one another. They take care of one another, making each other’s well-being a priority. When the Addams are left homeless and penniless in The Addams Family movie, Morticia takes on a job to support the family without another word. Gomez, on the other hand, goes out of his way to help his precious Tish any way he can when she’s starting to feel overwhelmed by the stress of their new child in Addams Family Values. And this is important because…
They’re A Team
One of the keys of any happy relationship is very simple: you’re in this together. Yeah, it’s important to have some time to yourself – in fact, getting some space could very well be part of what keeps the spark alive in your relationship – but at the end of the day, a relationship is about one “we”, not two “me’s”. Yes, you’re individuals, but the point of a relationship is that you’re stronger and better together than you are separately. And that means taking equal responsibility in the relationship. This doesn’t necessarily mean splitting the chores down the middle and making sure everything is shared 50/50, but it does mean shouldering equal levels of the work to keep the relationship together.
In the case of Gomez and Morticia, it’s clear that they compliment each other. Gomez attacks everything with zeal and almost childlike wonder while Morticia is very clearly the steadying influence with a calm and collected intelligence that keeps him on track. They have their own interests – Gomez has his cigars, chess and model trains; Morticia has her gardening, music and black magic.
However, as different in temperament and affinities as the two may be, they are equal partners in the relationship. They co-parent their children, attending parent-teacher meetings, plays and recitals together.
And when trouble strikes, they don’t stop to apportion blame or criticize one another; they drop everything and face it together. They aren’t keeping score about who did what, they’re focused on making things better. They understand to their core that together there’s nothing they can’t overcome.
They Find Glory In The Struggle
Every relationship, no matter how strong or happy will hit the skids eventually. It’s inevitable; there will always be conflict and hardship. It may be a fundamental difference in lifestyles or values. It may be that one or both partners fall on hard times and this directly affects the relationship itself. There may be an infidelity or an argument that rages out of control.
But while every relationship has it’s trials, not every relationship can survive them. Even if you make it through the immediate ordeal, your relationship may well have seen it’s final days.
You see, one of the most telling signs of whether a relationship has what it takes to go the distance is in how the couple sees adversity. Do they see it as something that nearly broke them, or do they see it as something that they overcame together? A couple who sees their relationship history as “chaotic” or “troubled” is basically doomed. But a couple that sees the struggle as being their crucible, the trial that made them stronger? That’s going to be the couple that survives.
Gomez and Morticia live this credo. They may be knocked down. They may struggle. They may argue and fight like cat sith and hellhounds… but at the end of the night, their story is one of overcoming difficulty and being all the stronger for it. Those fights reinforce their commitment to one another. Those hard times are the fires that temper the steel of their relationship and their devotion together. Their shared love for one another, their mutual goals and values help them steer through the storm and come out triumphant on the other side.
And whatever doesn’t kill them had better run faster than they do…
Marriage Isn’t The End of Sexual Adventure
One of the oldest cliches about marriage is that it’s the end of sexual excitement. Those days of swinging from the chandeliers, sneaking off to bone in semi-privacy and trying every position under the sun comes to an end as soon as the ring goes on her finger, dooming you both to boring, bog-standard missionary position sex once a month, if that. Worse, when you have kids, you can kiss any sort of sexual experimentation goodbye.
When a relationship goes on for long enough, we start to see our partners (and ourselves) differently than we did at the beginning. You’re adults now. You have responsibilities. You can’t be tying one another up or inviting a third party in to put the “try” in “triangle”. You can’t do those unbelievably kinky things you’ve read about with your wife… she’s not just some bar skank, she’s the mother of your children.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Part of what make Gomez and Morticia such a striking couple is how passionate they are. They’ve kept the spark going in their relationship because they’ve never stopped seeing one another as sexual beings. Sex and sexual satisfaction is one of the most important factors in a relationship’s long-term success… and Gomez and Morticia know it.
But just as importantly, they haven’t let marriage and children keep them from exploring the boundaries of sexual pleasure. Boredom – especially sexual boredom- is the death of passion, Novelty, however, is the antithesis of boredom. That novelty is part of why so many people cheat – they want the thrill of the new again. But for Gomez and Morticia, the sex has never gone stale because they’ve kept the novelty factor high. Sex isn’t just bodies to them, it’s high art. The two of them have an incredibly rich and varied sex life even after all these years because they don’t see marriage as being the death-knell for sexual adventure. No matter what else has happened in their lives, they still recognize that they’re both highly sexual beings. They keep their passions high by letting their freak flags fly proudly, exploring their kinks together (and inventing more than a few of their own.)
Yes, people look at them oddly – a pair of grown adults carrying on like teenagers. But that’s part of what makes them work. They’ve thrown off society’s rules and expectations about what a long-term relationship is “supposed” to be and made their own rules.
They’re weird. They’re creepy. They’re a little kooky. Mysterious and spooky.
And after decades together, they are still totally, madly, passionately in love with one another.
We should all be so lucky.