Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Love is delight: Part 5 in the “Love is...” series
Forget what love is. What is delight? It’s more than appreciation, brighter than joy, heftier than liking, more lightning-like than love.
It’s what you feel when your baby smiles at you. It’s the sweet shock of being home after a long time away. It’s being overwhelmed by the loveliness of holding your beloved in your arms. It’s seeing your spouse across a crowded room, after years of your being together, and feeling that little shot of Wow!, that terrific person is mine!
It’s something wonderful hitting you as being just a bit more wonderful than you ever expected.
Marc Chagall, The Anniversary
Here’s a quote from an Adrienne Rich poem on this:
You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone...
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show to you everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the
Now, just to make things clear, here’s what delight is not. You have the world’s longest checklist of what you’re looking for in a partner. 17 pages, 39 items per page, 663 items altogether, all checked off. Impressive as hell. Lots of wow. But where’s the delight? Do you delight in that person?
And what do all those checked-off items matter if you don’t delight in them?
Of course, it’s heaven if you do have that delight. Just ask Jacques Prévert:
Thousands and thousands of years
Would not suffice
To tell of
The sweet moment of eternity
When you kissed me
When I kissed you
One moment in the light of winter
In Montsouris Park in Paris
Upon this Earth
This Earth which is a star.
The importance of delight goes further. Get ready for a scary question. Do you feel your partner delights in you? This is one of greatest but least talked about human needs. When’s the last time you ever heard Tom Brady talk in an interview about how important it was to him to feel that Gisele makes him feel she delighted in him? But only the walking dead don’t need this.
Love dies from a drought of delight.
And the tragedy isn’t just that we don’t feel this delight. It’s that we don’t convey it, hit our beloved between the eyes with it, smack them over the head with how they delight us.
I see my husband and he’s still handsome to me and oh so smart and interesting and all that hits me and I feel the delight—“What a treat for me to have him in my life!”—and I treasure that feeling and...I don’t say anything.
I don’t know. Maybe there’s some wisdom in this. In our family, we say I love you every time we say goodbye on the phone. We know that’s how we feel, and still we say it to reinforce it. But who knows? Maybe delight is a currency that’s too easily cheapened. Maybe the shock that’s such an important part of delight would go—and delight along with it—if we kept talking about it.
Maybe I should apply to the National Institute of Mental Health for a grant to do a study on this.
It’s just that for sure I know we are starving for feeling we are being delighted in as well as being hungry to be with someone we delight in.
Delight is usually just a symphony of moments. Here’s the 8th century poet and scholar Bhavabhuti:
Deep in love
cheek leaning on cheek we talked
of whatever came to our minds
just as it came
with our arms twined
tightly around us and the houses passed and we
did not know it
still talking when
the night was gone
A symphony of moments that are all too fleeting.
But if you can’t capture these moments, you can look for them, mark them, say something about them. I think that’s the duty we owe love. If love holds our lives together, then sharing the ways we delight in each other is an important way we can hold our love together.
People—people like us!—say you should work on your relationship? Why? Because it’s like a car you want to keep running for a long time before you trade it in for a new one? Uh uh. It’s because you want to clear away all the crap that gets in the way of your experiencing as much delight as possible.
It’s why we travel, for goodness’ sake: to experience moments of delight. Why wouldn’t we make sure our relationships are full of the same kinds of joys?
This is where we usually try to bring one of our books to your attention. The fact is that our entire professional career has been about not just helping people keep their relationships going, but the love in their relationship. And not just the love but the delight as well. Why have a relationship if you can’t have love, and why have love if you can’t have delight?
All of our books are about this, one way or another. Our book Why Couples Fight has gotten tons of couples on the path back to delight by showing them how to eliminate the destructive battles for power and the hope-destroying unmet needs that had polluted their relationship and squelched the possibility of delight.