Making Love Isn't What You Think It Is

Although best known for his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, author Robert Fulghum followed it up with several terrific works.  In one of his lesser-known reads, Maybe (Maybe Not), Fulghum describes a confusing moment that he had with a friend from the island of Crete, for whom English was his second language.  The conversation gets interesting when the Cretan was confused by the English term, “making love.”  He objected to the notion that it should be a euphemism for having sex since true love is a far more serious concept.

“When two families agree that a son and a daughter would suit one another, it is expected that over time the man and woman will work at becoming compatible partners in the same spirit one might work at achieving competence in a life’s vocation. This is making love.

Time and experience—mistakes and difficulties—are all part of the equation whose sum is a lasting relationship. Love is not something you fall into. Love and marriage are “made”.

Thus, in Cretan terms, when a married couple have been overheard arguing or fighting, the Cretans smile knowingly and say, “Ah, they are making love.”

This rang very true for me in a couple of ways.  The first is in memories of a youth spent observing my parents, whose marriage lasted for several decades, “until death did they part”.  I saw that keeping a marriage strong involved a daily exercise of bridging the natural gap that exists between any two humans that experience the world through two unique perspectives.  It took countless tiny gestures, an abundance of patience, some swallowing of pride, and biting of tongues.  I can’t say for certain that they woke up each morning “in love” but I can confidently say that they “made” their love every day. 

My second thought rereading this passage is centered on the comparison between the lifelong exercise of “making love” with a spouse and pursuing excellence in one’s vocation.  It occurs to me that many people have the same romantic notion of expertise that others have of love.  One does not simply receive a certificate or write a book in order to be an expert in their field.  The idea of excellence to a true expert should be much like the idea of love on the island of Crete.  

To be among the best at anything, one should expect to do the work of “making” expertise every day.  This is a life-long habit of being humble and patient.  It is understanding that there is always more to learn and that the world will not stop changing, even if you decide to stop learning.  While time and experience are part of the equation, a lifetime of simply calling oneself an expert will compare poorly to the results of fewer years spent in the rigorous pursuit of excellence.

I am fortunate to be in a profession where I genuinely enjoy the process of constantly improving our processes and honoring my craft.  Sadly, this is also an industry where many participants decide way too early to put their feet up and rest on their self-proclaimed expertise.  I hope that you will look for the signs to tell the difference.  Keep an eye out for effort, humility, and an experience that adapts to changing circumstances.  Like in a marriage, someone’s commitment to you should not end after the honeymoon.  In fact, it should only have just begun.

I leave you with another excerpt from the conclusion of the “Making Love” chapter of Fulghum’s Maybe (Maybe Not).

“...the old lady went into the kitchen, insisting on helping with the dishes. She came to the kitchen door with a bag of garbage and barked at her husband of sixty years.  He groaned up out of his chair to do his duty, and she barked at him some more and he groaned back some more.

“What’s going on?” I asked Papaderous.

“It seems her husband did not eat all of his salad and was singing off key,” he explained. “They are still making love—it takes forever.”

Related: Have We Forgotten How to Admire?