Sex itself is a great anti-aging formula with no side effects. It has cardiovascular benefits and increases the production of hormones that diminish stress and improve mood. A good mood is the right state in which to enjoy all pleasures properly, especially food. The right frame of mind is vital to contentment, diminishing the urge for excess. But even more than sex, being in love is good for you. Gauguin in Tahiti created a wood relief he entitled Soyez amoureuse pour être heureuse (“to be happy be in love”). Not a bad recipe.
Perhaps this sounds to you like one of those “easier-said-than-done” prescriptions, on par with “eat right and exercise.” Nevertheless, I observe many women failing to embrace love as pleasure. Relationships and marriage can be pursued with the same grim determination that some bring to their careers. (There has even been a recent book about applying MBA training to finding a husband.) Romance is not a science but an art, no less so than the art of eating well. And it takes cultivation and refinement, if a relationship is to offer its fullest rewards.
In love we blend versatility with constancy, the stiff and the supple, the excitement of glamour with the pleasure of comfort. Contrasts and surprises keep love, as well as food, interesting. And we are not careless with our investments, as usual favoring quality over quantity. True love depends on truly knowing someone, and getting to know someone takes a very long while, often a lifetime. Perhaps this is why French women are better than any others I know at preserving spark and mystery even after ten, twenty or more years of cohabitation! It’s worth the money and effort. I am always reminded of Aragon, who said in what is probably my favorite love poem, “…il n’y a pas d’amour heureux mais c’est notre amour à tous deux,” which loosely translates as, “there is no happy love but the love of us two.”
Nothing promotes the continued spontaneity of love like laughter. French women dream of finding “un amoureux rigolo” (a love who is funny, makes us laugh). The old wisdom that laughter keeps us young finds empirical support in the fact that a 4-year-old laughs about 500 times a day while for the average adult it’s only 15. If that’s your idea of growing up, you can keep it.
The French woman understands intuitively: one does not laugh because one is happy; one is happy because one laughs. It’s both a physical and psychic pleasure: it is relaxing, stimulating, liberating and sensual. It’s a pleasant response to emotion that heightens the emotion itself. The physical act of laughing stimulates the production of hormones that elevate mood; it’s also a form of internal calisthenic that improves blood circulation and, yes, does burn more calories than sitting glumly.
Laughs are like wild mushrooms: they don’t deliver themselves to you—you have to go in search of them, whether by pursuing the unexpected or being totally crazy (dingue is the word we use) to keep the adventure of living adventurous. Whether in friendship or romance, one shouldn’t sit around waiting to be entertained. Take the initiative and make a rendez-vous with someone whose company you enjoy. (Don’t let a busy life or electronic communication gadgets be your excuse for excess solitude—it’s a talent but a rare one to be able to make yourself laugh.)
Years ago Edward’s mother, who, lucky for me, adores me, was much relieved when he finally proposed. But she knew for certain we’d remain together when later she’d ask him how it was going and Edward would say “she makes me laugh.” In fact, at holiday meals, I enjoy making his entire family laugh. Over the years, we’ve laughed a lot, and when I ask him, “do you still love me?” he always answers, “as long as you make me laugh.” I make sure I do.
Dr. Miracle was first to tell me: “tout est une question d’attitude” (“everything’s a matter of attitude”). The great Provençal writer Marcel Pagnol believed that God gave laughter to human beings as consolation for being intelligent. I prefer to believe he made us intelligent so we could appreciate a good laugh.