Stephen Hawking teaches me about love

Upon reading AP and CNN reports that Stephen Hawking is quite ill, I started thinking about all of the times I had read some of Dr. Hawking’s quotes on time, chance, God, and the mysteries of the universe, and went in search of some of those that had been more meaningful to me.

Many of us have had the experience of having quotes mean different things to us at different times in our lives. There’s a line in Paul Simon’s song Graceland that is the best example of that for me (it reflected a family loss for me at one time, contentment in love another time, and then a heartbreaking breakup at another time). In regard to Dr. Hawking’s words, I found this quote that – if I ever stumbled upon it in the past – I don’t think I noticed it before. Now, much more experienced than the teenager I was when I first came across his work, it’s striking to me:

“It is no good getting furious if you get stuck. What I do is keep thinking about the problem but work on something else. Sometimes it is years before I see the way forward. In the case of information loss and black holes, it was 29 years.”

Of course, this could be about anything. The concrete example given here is about perservering even through frustration, but putting the frustration aside and making space for other thoughts, other projects, other successes, while the initial problem works itself out in the occasional thought or attention.

I think it’s like this with love, too. There are times in most relationships that bring us to a screeching halt and we don’t know what to do. There are moments of heartbreak, of loss, of wondering if or how you can move forward as a couple. Sometimes I think it is impossible to know “how” you move forward when everything has fallen apart, but maybe the answer is that you just decide that you will and that in the mean time, you focus on other things but still think about and work on your relationship. Maybe you take it day by day and make space to work in the garden, work on “work”, play with your kids, toss a frisbee with your dog, wash the dishes by hand, or find something fun that you can do together that makes you – finally (and maybe achingly) – laugh together or crack a smile.

Maybe that’s one of the secrets of couples who, at 20 or 40 years out, feel satisfied and thankful that they stayed together, even though there were times when they wondered how they would make it another day. Maybe they just decided that they would make it somehow, and they got lucky with a partner who decided they wanted to make it too, and so they set the frustration and anger aside at times, and just kept going. One grain of sand at a time until they’d built a castle.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at