John Allen Lee, in his book Colours of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving, defined the Greek word Pragma as a mature, realistic love found among long-established couples. Pragma is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance.
Some traits of a pragma love are
- Believing a loving relationship is desirable for a happy life
- Expecting reciprocation of feelings
- Creating a mutually beneficial and future-thinking partnership
Pragma is about cooperation or symbiosis. It is about practicality and the needs of the couple along with the needs of each individual. Pragmatic, which is derived from pragma, means “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.” This defines it best.
Pragma is not a sexy love. It is not a soul-possessing, fiery kind of love. It is not a love that takes hostages or subsumes one partner’s needs for the other.
It is, though, a love that doesn’t burn out, a love based on communication and action. It is a lifelong love.
The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that we expend too much energy on “falling in love.”
Rom-coms fed the angst of my tender teen heart. Between 1999 and 2003 when I was in high school, over 40 romantic comedies were released. 10 Things I Hate About You, Never Been Kissed, She’s All That, Serendipity, Shallow Hal, Sweet Home Alabama, and Love Actually were just some of my favorites. Ones I watched over and over and over again.
But very few of those deal with being in love. Of those listed, Love Actually is the only one that shows a long-term romantic relationship, yet it is also one in trouble as the husband played by Alan Rickman has just begun an affair.
I spent a lot of energy fantasizing about the falling process more so than the being in love process, and when I finally got into a relationship, I was woefully unprepared.
According to Julia Lippman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan’s Department of Communication Studies, young people’s minds are often molded by what they see in romantic comedies. “You’re old enough to be interested in figuring out how relationships work, but tend to have limited personal experience with dating to draw on,” she said. “Therefore, you turn to media for guidance. As we get older, we can become more critical about the messages we receive from the media.”
As an adult in my mid-30s with a few long-term romantic relationships and a marriage under my belt, I know what she means by that last sentence. I can’t quite stomach the heady sugarcoating of couples just coming together for the first time anymore. Show me the man that brings his wife coffee every morning. Show me the man who touches his husband’s arm to remind him to breathe when he gets too heated with the waitstaff. Show me the couples that stand in their love every day.
Pragma is precisely about standing in love. With about a third of first marriages in the U.S. ending in the first ten years, we should think about bringing pragma more into our relationships.
Here are the ways you can know you are standing in your love:
1. You work on yourself.
Standing in love implies that each of you are separate, but whole people, consciously remaining unique, consciously working on being the best person you can be. A relationship is only as healthy as its unhealthiest partner, and you know that whatever you do to improve yourself also actually improves the overall health of your relationship.
2. You forgive each other.
Blaming can kill love. You know that your partner’s views must be respected and honored, especially if they are different from your own. You strive to understand your partner. This doesn’t mean you will always agree, but you know that every connection and every disconnection must be the responsibility of both of you. It is a “we do this to each other,” and never, “This is your fault because you’re obviously the problem here.”
3. You give to your partner.
This isn’t about giving something up. You aren’t sacrificing your needs or desires to assuage someone else. You give without feeling obligated to. You give because you want to. In the act of giving, you know you are improving your relationship. You also know that, because of the mutual respect you both carry for each other, you are not the only one giving. You receive as much as you give.
4. You work together to achieve your individual and shared goals and aspirations.
Being yourself in a real relationship means that you are going to set your own goals and aspirations, like being a president for a Fortune 500 company or selling your first novel. You will also have goals and aspirations for you as a couple, like paying off a house or having a certain number of children.
Your individual goals need to be balanced with your shared goals. If your goal is to sell your first novel, but your partner isn’t able to watch the kids more often, you may need to come to some kind of compromise to help make things happen.
5. You make your partner a priority.
You listen to them. You value and respect them. You flirt with them instead of your new co-worker. You know that your partner has a choice every day whether to be with you or not, and you make a concerted effort to make them choose you.
The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that love isn’t a feeling, but a practice. We have to pay attention to our behaviors to nurture a long-lasting love. We can’t expect just the quickburn of falling in love to carry us through the tough times.
Pragma is far from scandalous or scintilating; it’s the well-loved, but warm and comfy sweatpants of love instead of that red see-through teddy. But what do we always want at the end of the day when we’re tired and worn out? Definitely those sweatpants.