Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gratitude: the Romantic Sentiment that Gets No Respect

This post originally appeared on Books, Books, the Magical Fruit on 3/26.

My books feature characters who want more from love that what they see all around them. Something stronger, something higher, something worth pursuing. Part of that pursuit is usually an effort to understand love. We can’t make it soar higher or make it last longer unless we figure out how it works and what can harm it. This usually means the characters need to take a thinking as well as an emotional journey to attain the emotional altitude they seek. And this opens up all sorts of plot opportunities to explore. But regardless of the type of romance being composed, writing love stories requires the author to analyze the different types of emotions that blend together to define a relationship. Every relationship is unique, so the blend of emotions is just as unique.

I’ve always been fascinated that certain motivations in that possible blend of romantic feelings get discounted because they’re thought inferior or contaminating. Marrying for money probably tops the list and, from a qualitative standpoint, is probably one that most readers would agree on. But gratitude is another attribute often named as invalidating the integrity of a relationship. “She only married him out of gratitude,” is heard from the TV soap opera as a signal that the romance is facing certain doom in future episodes.

But does gratitude really deserve such a bad rap? We may want to take another look, because gratitude can be viewed as verification from the past that a lover can be counted on in the future. Yes, I think gratitude creates faith in its object for a victorious future. And gratitude is often the very basis for our best romantic memories.

In fact, I think it’s fair to turn the question completely around. Can any successful relationship that’s mature function without it? Can you show me a successful relationship where the lovers are not grateful to each other, and in manifold ways? If your lover takes care of many little things that matter to you, isn’t that something to be grateful for? And isn’t that gratitude bound to feed the relationship in a way that will make it richer and deeper? I see mainly good things coming out of a relationship that’s laced with gratitude. And the more, the better. Show me a relationship that’s healthy and vibrant, and I’ll show you lovers who have grateful memories.

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