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The simple secrets of lasting love

Spanish Dancer, 1971, by Ruth Bernhard

By Brooke Welch

For the last six years, I have been working at Toujours, the petite lingerie
shop on Sacramento Street just around the corner from Fillmore. I’ve been a salesclerk and bra-fitter, but also a therapist and a shoulder to cry on.

Perhaps the best perk of working in a classy little neighborhood lingerie shop is the opportunity to meet lots of people who have loving, lasting romances — not just relationships, not just marriages, but actual romances — the kind we all long for and dream about, the blushing, giggling, toe-curling, hot, satisfying relationships that last.

In my first year in the shop, I met a man who was shopping for his wife. He had a smile on his face as he handed me a simple cotton gown and fleecy robe and said, “Wrap it up.”

“What’s the occasion?” I asked. He answered, “We’ve been married for 25 years, and our anniversary is coming up.”

“Wow,” I said, “what’s the secret?”

He paused for a moment before answering. “Whoever you are,” he said slowly, “whoever your partner is, you will change. You can rely on that. The key is to be curious about the changing. Be open and curious about the pull of your own heart — and be open to, and curious about, the ways your partner will change. It’s not easy, but it is an adventure in love.”

What began as an attempt at small talk became something much greater. In that moment, I knew I would learn more than lingerie from this job.
Since then, I have often asked similar questions. “Got any advice?” “Any words of wisdom to share?”

As we approach another Valentine’s Day, a day for lovers of love and romance everywhere, I offer you the simple secrets of lasting love, as revealed in a neighborhood lingerie shop.

1. Be honest. It seems obvious that if you want a successful relationship, you shouldn’t lie to your partner. But the essence of this commitment is deeper than you may think. The first person you must address with honesty is yourself. A couple is made up of two separate individuals. Each person must be able to own who he or she truly is, and then support each other in this endeavor. One woman stated it this way: “Let him have his life, and don’t make him feel bad about it. Do the same for yourself.”

2. Be friends. Successful couples enjoy one another. One woman stated, “We hang out together, like good friends” and then giggled in a way that suggested she relished their time together. This does not mean they have all the same interests and goals. In fact, doing everything together seems to be a certain road to disaster.

While we’re on the topic of friends: Get some. People who have lasting, satisfying relationships with a partner have lasting, satisfying relationships with others. You will have more appreciation for the time you spend together if you take some time apart, and you will likely discover things about yourself that will make your time together more interesting.

3. Accept change. Bonfire Madigan, a young, used-to-be-local musician, once wrote, “Change is necessary, inevitable and good.” Make this your mantra. It is the essence of that first, fateful conversation I had in the shop. By accepting the inevitability of change, you can make friends with it. If you befriend change, you will become curious about it, and if you are curious about something, you tend to stay in a relationship with it.

4. Keep smiling. Almost everyone I’ve talked with says how important it is to keep your sense of humor. “If you can’t laugh, you’re lost,” said one. Let down your hair and let out your joy. Be the couple that makes everyone sick with all their inside jokes. Laughter is good medicine. It relieves stress, lifts the mood and can make a minute seem like a lifetime, in a good way.

5. Don’t skip the sex. A mutually pleasurable physical relationship is essential to a lasting, successful partnership, and not just for those with a penchant for lingerie. Sex can help build intimacy and trust. By being a giving and grateful sexual partner, you will let your lover know you care about his or her pleasure, too. And it can be fun. “He still pinches me every morning on the way out the door,” said one satisfied customer.

If you are not getting what you want or need from your sexual encounters, do something about it. There really is no excuse for living unfulfilled today, with all of the manuals and videos and other ways to learn what feels good and is satisfying. Of course, this will take honesty, and require you to be friends, and it may change as the years together go by. You will have fun trying, and you may even have to laugh about it now and then.

Here’s hoping you get the love you’re seeking this Valentine’s Day.