On a Friday night in LA, two strangers finally figure out the secret to lasting love.
It happened at a Tender Greens restaurant near the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. All the four-tops and two-tops were taken, so I sat at one of the empty long tables right in the middle. I pulled out my iPhone as my trusted companion and focused my attention on a few chats with friends. Soon, a man sat down, also alone, across from me and one seat over.
At first I ignored him, though I understood it to be a friendly, if not flirtatious, gesture that he sat so close when there were several empty chairs well out of talking range. A few bites into his meal he began to ask small questions, to which I gave smaller answers, trying to find the proper balance between “polite” and “I’m not ready.” I had recently separated from my spouse of 28 years, and I wasn’t looking for love at Tender Greens. By his fourth question, though, I became bold. I put down my phone and said, “Okay. You want to chat. I have an idea. I’m here for the next 20 minutes. Let’s neither of us give away any identifying information about ourselves, and have a TED conversation. Let’s make this the conversation of our lives.”
I moved to the seat directly across from him, we set our timers, and we talked.
I learned that he was a 44-year-old golf professional from New Zealand who was at the tail end of a divorce after 16 years of marriage, and had two young children under the age of 10. When I asked him what the most important thing was that his wife didn’t know he was thinking (or feeling) as they approached the end of their marriage, he told me that he didn’t want the divorce anywhere near as much as he thought he did. Given the choice between loving in the intoxicating “now” and loving in the monotonous “long,” he would choose “long,” if only he knew how to create the kind of love that can survive time’s frailties and tribulations—a love he wasn’t sure he believed was possible over any stretch of time for very many people.
So the conversation turned to, “How do we love long?” Which brought us to our definitions of love. He talked about how, by his estimation, love means a relationship of sustained intimacy. You share your thoughts, your feelings, your bodies, and over time you define these experiences—inevitably, and quite possibly inaccurately—as love. The trouble is, this sense of intimacy eventually dissipates as stories become known, feelings become anticipated, and sex becomes familiar. Love calms, tucking itself into the quieter places between two people and their shared routine, and sometimes it gets so quiet that it becomes inaudible.
“So, then, what is the basis for long love? Because it’s certainly not simply shared intimacy.” The epiphany came in the dwindling minutes of our conversation: Intimacy is essential, but it is secondary to something far more fundamental—namely, how a lover makes you better in the ways that matter most to you. It’s not about how you are better with them, but how you are better because of them. It’s not a by-product of their love for you. It’s by virtue of the way they naturally are—the things they value, the questions they ask, the thoughts they consider, the stands they take, the actions to which they commit.
An enduring love is one where the other, in their uniqueness and integrity of self, moves you to a higher expression of purpose, of living, of being, in your uniqueness and integrity of self. That’s what this stranger and I figured out at a Tender Greens in Santa Monica on a Friday night.
Then, as promised, we went our separate ways, without knowing each other’s names.
Dana Mintzer Leman is the EVP of RandomKid, creative director at TrumbLeman and founder of Gigs@MyDigs. She lives in Iowa.