“Your eyes that once were never weary of mine, are bowed in sorrow in pendulous lids, because our love is waning.” W.B. Yeats
We all know that reality is stranger than fiction. For the most part, people’s imagination cannot conjure up predicaments that are as illogical and down-right weird as events in their personal love life. In my experience the older I am, the stranger things get. I attribute this change in perspective as resulting from my increasing detachment from career goals, a contentment in my relationships, and my lack of interest in most things material. Old age perhaps. Nevertheless, marriage relationships, and their portrayal in film, offer a good example of the widening gap between fiction and reality.
Relationships, loving partnerships in particular, illustrate the gap between our imaginations and facts on the ground. Marriages that are considered perfectly normal, some even exemplary, actually turn out to be completely dysfunctional. The first time I discovered this phenomenon was in my later teenage years. I was very close to a school mate and his parents, whose marriage seemed to be a model of positivity and love. They often touched one another on the shoulder or back while working in the kitchen. Whenever I visited their house we all had spirited, happy discussions and convivial meals. One night my friend and I were up late, having a few beers, and studying for a first-year university science exam. Suddenly he started crying and told me he couldn’t stand living at home. His parents had been sleeping in separate rooms since he was a young boy and rarely spoke to one another in private. I was stunned. He went on to say that they were only staying together for their children.
Since my early exposure to the hidden aspects of marriage, I’ve come to look much more carefully at people’s relationships. I’m now of the opinion that most marriages have degrees of dysfunctionality and compromise. The emotions that dominated close relationships in the beginning often override common sense, and intuition, and you fall into situations that you could not have imagined. Then one day you wake up lying beside someone you don’t even like. But, people learn to cope. They keep up the appearances of a “normal” relationship, as defined by fictional models embedded in our culture. And the more their relationship deteriorates the greater the acts of deception. One of the “telltale” signs of a strained marriage involves public displays of affection… I’ve discovered that the more holding hands, hugs and kisses, the more a marriage is in trouble, with the exception of newlyweds. Couples who are insecure in their relationship feel compelled to show otherwise in front of others. It is a fascinating phenomenon and a story I’ve seen repeated over and over.
The number of divorces in our society peaked in the 1980’s at approximately fifty percent of all marriages. And as I said earlier I believe part of the blame lies with Hollywood movies and their unrealistic portrayals of love and marriage. In general, they set the bar impossibly high. A purely romantic and rosy depiction of marriage was all too common…loving embraces, staring into each other’s eyes, laughter and, of course, wild sex. These depictions seem solely confined to the early stage of a relationship when attraction is at its most intense level; the physical, mental and emotional longing to be with one another… a stage of irrational infatuation. It is important to wait for the dust of original attraction to clear before a rational judgement of your partner can occur because we all know the “fireworks” do not last.
The reality is that love is not an adjective. True love is not only something that happens to you it is also about your contribution. Sure that crazy and exciting first love is amazing but the lasting variety involves doing things for someone else. And the important characteristic of real love is selflessness. The more you are truly motivated to do something that will only benefit the other person, with no expected return or reward, the greater the measure of your love. This is a love inextricably linked with friendship… a rounder, more complete kind of love. It lasts. This sort of relationship is impossible to portray in movies. As a result, we get two dimensional portrayals of love in film. Cinéma vérité it is not. Attempts to fictionalize reality will always fall short.
The lesson to be learned is not to rush into a long term relationship. Those original feelings, the lustful infatuation, that “love at first sight” is not to be trusted. Don’t get trapped in a loving dilemma… As Rilke’s poetry describes, “Beloved, lost to begin with, never greeted, I do not know what tones most please you”. Always remember that the fictional portrayals of love and the ideals set by film, and often society itself, are ethereal in nature…like the mist in the morning by the ocean. Wait till those trade winds strengthen and clear your view. Look for things you like about a person…besides nice breasts or sculptured abs…before locking yourself into a relationship (like buying a home together) or rushing to the Alter. Try to imagine what it would be like to be sitting in a rocking chair beside your “beloved” 50 years from now. If that feels right and good, then follow your instincts. Love and friendship grow together like the eternal fires hidden in the depths of a volcano, invisible and warmly glowing, in the sub regions of your consciousness. Don’t be seduced by eruptions!
All of these thoughts are based upon my experiences and, in particular, my own meticulous deliberations that preceded my marriage proposal to my wife, of now over 45 years, Sue. We courted for a full three weeks before I popped the question… I wanted to be sure. I believed I'd found a friend for life and didn't want to miss the opportunity. The actual proposal was made while we were dancing like fools close by the “Joy of Life” statue in Hyde Park, London, England - it was a good omen. Later that day we went for a celebratory dinner at an intimate Italian restaurant near Kensington Gardens. As we passed through the park we walked under the statue of Peter Pan who examined us with watchful eyes as we circled under him, laughing arm in arm.
Let’s give the last words to Kahlil Gibran:
“But let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of heaven dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your soul. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.”