Fall­ing, stay­ing in love

Albany Times Union - - FAITH & VALUES - By Ma­bel Gil ▶

Ro­man­tic love, the ex­pe­ri­ence of fall­ing in love, is an emo­tional high in which we in­tensely love one an­other, our­selves and our sur­round­ings while some­times car­ing lit­tle for com­mon sense or con­se­quence. We all want to know why this won­der­ful high stops af­ter a short time.

When the chem­i­cal in­ten­sity of the brain set­tles down to a calmer state, some cou­ples are deeply dis­ap­pointed. With­out the ex­hil­a­ra­tion, they no longer be­lieve they are meant for one an­other.

They have af­fairs or di­vorce and re­marry, seek­ing an­other hit. They have not learned that all re­la­tion­ships even­tu­ally fiz­zle out into an ev­ery­day rou­tine. They have a choice: ac­cept the new dy­namic and look for ways to en­rich their lives with new ma­ture love, or chase that ro­man­tic cock­tail from re­la­tion­ship to re­la­tion­ship. If they have chil­dren, they can dam­age these frag­ile peo­ple who de­pend on their ma­ture love for one an­other and their fam­ily.

I am 96 years old and the mother of 10 chil­dren. I am pro­gres­sive minded, fiercely de­fen­sive of women’s rights, and I am so tired of see­ing beau­ti­ful fam­i­lies split apart be­cause our cul­ture leaves no room for habits that nur­ture ma­ture love, which at times can feel mo­not­o­nous com­pared to fall­ing in love. I tried with­out suc­cess to find re­search sup­port­ing or dis­put­ing my be­liefs on this. So in­stead I present my heart­felt, ex­pe­ri­ence-based be­lief: Fam­ily meals keep fam­i­lies in­tact.

I truly be­lieve that mak­ing fam­ily meals a pri­or­ity is pro­tec­tive for the whole fam­ily. This can trans­form a cou­ple from two peo­ple who are in love into a part­ner­ship of two ded­i­cated to head­ing a house­hold. When cou­ples work to­gether each day to get din­ner on the ta­ble, then un­plug and share a meal, they cre­ate a rou­tine that pro­vides for their fam­ily’s phys­i­o­log­i­cal needs, safety and so­cial be­long­ing.

Through­out the cen­turies, the hu­man fam­ily ate to­gether. Com­mu­nal eat­ing is uni­ver­sal, mean­ing it is seen in all cul­tures with­out ex­cep­tion. The mod­ern chal­lenges of the high cost of liv­ing with stag­nant wages have pushed aside fam­ily meals, and fam­ily co­he­sive­ness is suf­fer­ing as a re­sult. My re­search on fam­ily meals af­firmed that chil­dren who reg­u­larly eat din­ner with their fam­i­lies per­form better in school, have fewer drug prob­lems and lower in­ci­dence of obe­sity and eat­ing dis­or­ders and more pos­i­tive fam­ily dy­nam­ics. The cou­ples them­selves are united through the act of pre­par­ing and shar­ing meals. Their con­sis­tency and de­pend­abil­ity cre­ates the foun­da­tion for a fam­ily to reg­u­larly check in with each other. Eat­ing it­self re­leases dopamine, the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter that started this whole mess. Its re­lease in small, reg­u­lar in­ter­vals can be the glue that trans­forms a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship into ma­ture and last­ing love. Al­most a cen­tury on this earth has taught me that if you can find a way to eat to­gether, every­thing else will fall into place.

Ma­bel Gil worked for the state Task Force on Food and Farm Pol­icy for 17 years and re­searched the Good Faith Donor bill, which bol­stered food banks in New York.

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