Taylor Swift’s hit song “Lover” is the perfect anthem for this Valentine’s Day, especially since she is in the midst of a very public romance with her latest boyfriend, Travis Kelce. “There’s a dazzling haze, a mysterious way about you,” she sings to her “magnetic force of a man.” This gets the start of a love affair just right. But the song’s refrain poses a harder question, the one that bedevils all romantics: “Can we always be this close forever and ever?”
For couples planning to get married, Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular moments to pop the question—for turning a romantic relationship into a “forever and ever” thing. But if you aim to put a ring on it, or have already tied the knot, it’s worth reflecting on the model of love and marriage that suffuses not just Valentine’s Day and Taylor Swift’s songs but countless movies, shows and books, from the latest offerings on the Hallmark Channel to Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega-bestseller, “Eat, Pray, Love.” This model is based on the idea of finding a “soulmate”—that special person who gives you an intense emotional and erotic connection, who makes you feel happy and fulfilled.
The problem with this model is that it offers a view of marital love that is hard to sustain—one focused on the ebb and flow of romantic feelings. Seeing marriage this way is attractive on its face, because romance is so charming. But as an ideal, it can make it more difficult for husbands and wives to embrace a richer, more stable and ultimately more satisfying idea of marriage, beyond the me-first spirit of soulmate love.
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