“Now or Never” Versus “Love You Forever”
Can one night make your dreams come true?
Posted Nov 19, 2019
Romantic love is often regarded as either a momentary experience (“now or never”) or a permanent one (“forever and a day”). Are those our only romantic choices?
One single night versus an ongoing development
“It’s now or never, be mine tonight... tomorrow will be too late.” —Elvis Presley
“Forever and a day, that’s how long I’ll loving you.” —Kelly Rowland
When it comes to the present and future, time cuts both ways: only the present is meaningful, while the future is insignificant; alternatively, the future, as it is forever, is what holds true meaning.
Romantic love often involves impatience, which expresses a narrow temporal perspective. In the words of Elvis Presley, “One night with you, is what I’m now praying for,” as such a night “would make my dreams come true.” Indeed, if a single night would enable your dreams to come true, why bother with profound qualities essential for satisfaction through many days and nights?
The saying “See Naples and die” carries a similar meaning: It can feel so fulfilling to see the beauty of Naples that once you have done so, you have experienced everything that is truly important in life. Similarly, in the movie The Hours, the character of Virginia Woolf says, “A woman’s whole life in a single day. Just one day. And in that day her whole life.” There are indeed circumstances—such as the day that the two lovers first met—in which one day makes all the difference.
Romantic relationships, however, are not based on a single night; they are about the ongoing development of a couple’s flourishing. Sometimes, a one-off or short-term experience can compensate for a long period of suffering. Yet, our main concern should be how to promote the continual enjoyment and thriving of our everyday romantic life.
Love is temporary
“The trees that grow slower bear the greatest fruit.” —Moliere
Romantic love is often described as either a momentary experience (“now or never”) or a permanent one (“forever and a day”). Reality, however, is not so cut-and-dry. Rather than one extreme or the other, the temporary experiences between the two are what really matter.
“Momentary” denotes something brief, lasting for only a very short time—the opposite of lengthy. “Temporary” denotes something that lasts for only a limited period—the opposite of permanent. Everything in human behavior is temporary, since human life is temporary. We and our beloveds are bound to die, and we are also likely to change our romantic preferences. This does not mean that all human experiences should be momentary or that we should not engage in profound romantic activities oriented towards the long term.
In my recent book, The Arc of Love, I suggest two major factors that contribute to the brief duration of romantic relations in our current society: the abundance of romantic options, and the greater diversity and flexibility of our romantic norms (Ben-Ze’ev, 2019).
The current romantic environment enjoys an abundance of romantic options. Such abundance places people in an ongoing process of choosing, thereby hindering their ability to establish stable profound love. This can lead to frustration, sadness, and feelings of loneliness. Consequently, a major common heartbreak on the road to profound, enduring love is the long, effortful—and often futile—search. This unpleasant effort, which often involves rejection and disappointment, motivates many of us to relinquish the possibility of falling in love.
The greater choice of romantic options is associated with increasing diversity and flexibility of our romantic norms. Such flexibility reduces the value of being with a partner for many years, as it sets the stage for other options that may be more enticing. In these circumstances, the likelihood of romantic rejection and separation increases.
What to do?
“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?” —Lao Tzu
Two simple solutions to the dilemmas above are to indulge in the moment and thereby ignore the immense role of time in developing profound love; or to live in an illusory world where love never changes, and thereby disregard the broader role of reality in love. The hard, and more realistic, option is to accept the temporary nature of love—as of life—but still try to establish meaningful love, incorporating both momentary, exhilarating experiences and ongoing, meaningful development.
Is this option possible? Yes, it is. Is this option easy? No, it is not. But we can contribute to making the option a more commonly chosen one. After all, to live without love is so hard—and, sometimes, the only mountain we need to move for love is ourselves.
Bauman, Z. (2003). Liquid love. Polity Press.
Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change Over Time. University of Chicago Press.