In his New York Times essay “Taking Risks in Love,” social scientist and musician Arthur C. Brooks tells the story of how he met, fell in love with, and executed a plan to marry his wife Ester. Upon meeting Ester during a European music festival, and falling madly in love after hanging out with her for only two days despite a language barrier, Brooks returned to the States telling his parents he’d met his future wife.
What happened next is high-key amazing. Brooks says that to convince his future wife he was the man for her, he “tackled the project as if it were a start-up.” He learned Spanish. He quit his job and moved to Barcelona, where she was the only person he knew. And after two years of consistent work and courtship, Brooks convinced Ester to become his bride.
Being that I’m a recovering undercover overlover (à la flygirl Erykah Badu) and a closet hopeless romantic, this story makes me giddy. It encompasses the storyline of what would undoubtedly be my new favorite romantic comedy, and is the kind of show of love (and interest, hello?) that many women dream about. Brooks says these kinds of stories are common for those born in the ’60s and before. I agree.
One of the greatest love stories I’ve ever heard came from a mentor and Morehouse man, who knew his wife was his “one” when he saw her sitting and studying on the lawn at Spelman College—instantly. Alvin Wardlaw, who is past 90 now and still quite spry, says his future wife lived on the opposite side of Atlanta, and he would take the bus to her parents home to court her.
Because he could never manage to leave her, and the buses would stop running at a certain hour, many nights he’d walk all the way back to his side of town—miles and miles (during the dangerous days of Jim Crow, nonetheless). He says he’d have walked a million miles more just to see her smile. These stories seem like tall tales today, when I keep having to remind friends that a person who can’t be bothered to pick up the phone to call them really ain’t that interested.
Further in his essay, Arthur Brooks claims his twentysomething coworkers argue a love story like his (or Mr. Wardlaw’s) would never happen today, even though they all want the kind of ultimate companionship marriage offers. Although marriage rates have plummeted in recent years, a 2013 Gallup Poll says 81 percent of adults who’ve never married would like to. So why does marriage seem to be headed towards oblivion? Brooks says, “What we really need is more romantic entrepreneurship. And that requires cultivating two core entrepreneurial qualities: courage and mindfulness.”
In other words, we need to approach our desires for the ones we love, and with whom we want to spend our lives, with the same vigor that we treat the things we’re most passionate about: our careers, our creative endeavors and our causes. In fact, I used a similar analogy during a conversation (okay, argument!) with my partner (who is a producer and DJ).
I recounted conversations we’d had about his efforts to learn the craft of spinning records and rocking crowds—how he worked several jobs to save up for the equipment he needed, and how he spent over a decade perfecting his skills. I told him that I, and our relationship, deserved nothing less than that same kind of effort.
That conversation was revelatory and may have been one of the things that salvaged our relationship. We should expect boundless devotion from our partners and be willing to give it. Otherwise, everyone’s time is being wasted.
Back to Brook’s concept of romantic entrepreneurship. He says, “The most distinguishing characteristic of entrepreneurs is their willingness and ability to take a personal risk for the chance at explosive rewards.” Amy Bloom seems to agree with Brooks, writing, “Telling people to take a chance on love is like telling them to get wet when they shower: There is no other way.”
Deciding that the love we want isn’t worth the risks means that we are in no way ready for that kind of love. Period.
Zach Beach (who also writes about modern romance) describes mindfulness as “The capacity to pay attention to the present moment—or be with what is—without being judgmental or reactive.” Entrepreneurs have to practice mindfulness in order to make informed, logical decisions regarding their business. We should practice this same kind of mindfulness in our relationships, because being present allows us to connect in the most sincere and vulnerable ways.
More from Beach: “Research studies also show that mindfulness meditation strengthens emotional regulation, empathy, and flexibility in responses, all of which will help in deepening connection with another.”
Brooks’s advice to “Treat love as if it were a start-up that will change the world” is really, really the best advice ever.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter at @jonubian.