In a 2005 interview with Larry King, Billy Graham said of his wife Ruth, “… I love her so much. And I love her more now — interestingly, I love her more now, and we have more romance now than we did when we were young.”
Romance ... in old age? Young people snicker at the thought. At best, they write it off as the childish sentimentality and clouded memory of doddering old age.
But what if ... what if they are wrong? What if a couple married for so long really do experience romance that is strong, that stirs the blood? My friend, Frederica Mathewes-Green, described Ruth and Billy’s relationship as having “all the lamps still blazing.” Many engaged couples dream of “growing old together;” they just find old couples amusing and can’t picture them with their “lamps still blazing.”
How can young people comprehend “old love” when their only experience is “new love” that is framed by flirtation, excitement and pleasure? Youth experiences the heights of soaring passion but often doesn’t quite know how to cope with the aftermath when their emotions plunge into deep valleys where they question the validity and transience of love.
In the absence of a marriage commitment, they have good reason to fear ... and to feel exploited. After the intense and volatile emotions that are unleashed in the early explorations of new love, feelings can rebound from a crest of great excitement and exuberance to an undertow of emptiness or isolation. Tears of happiness can suddenly turn into a seeming desert of loneliness. These realities of our emotional makeup speak to the need for the security of vows of commitment “‘til death do us part.”
New love is about a couple learning to cope with what it means to be naked, not merely physically but also emotionally. This is especially true when they have said by their words and actions not just “I desire you” or “you excite me” but “I need you.” Often the more intense and complete their intimacy, the more exposed they feel afterwards. And there is something in our nature — particularly in youth — that rebels at the experience of being vulnerable, that feels angry at having self-sufficiency and independence eroded.
Lovers can be, and usually are, intensely territorial, responding with anger and outrage at any hint of infidelity by their mates or encroachment by a flirtatious interloper. At the same time they feel unease as they realize that being a couple increasingly diminishes their autonomy. Add to this a confusing mixture of needs, the fact that freedom-loving young lovers are driven to one another’s embrace not merely by physical desire alone but by a deep, though often unrecognized, emotional need to belong. Surely, we mate because God hardwired us to do so.