When my dad met my mom, he had no doubt he would marry her. They met one Sunday in the mid-‘50s at a Methodist church on a tree-lined street in a small, picturesque town in southwest Ohio. She was the visiting cousin of his best friend.
My mother looked like Elizabeth Taylor. She was drop-dead gorgeous: great legs, hourglass figure, lustrous black hair, exotic almond eyes. Thankfully, these were the only features I inherited from my mother. It is a considerate mother indeed who bequeaths only her positive characteristics and carefully reserves her most damning flaws. Violins played inside my father’s head. It was a very Frank Capra moment. A few short years later, he was a marine at Camp Pendleton with the name “Betty” boldly emblazoned across his arm. How much more romantic could it get?
That was pretty much the pinnacle right there. They married, of course. And after three kids, many passionate and violent fights, alcohol and drug abuse (hers), and affairs (his), they divorced. They were my very own Liz and Dick. But today – 24 years after my father left my mother for the unattractive sister of a girl I went to school with – while she waits for a body decaying from a lifetime of substance abuse to gasp its last hurrah and he shares a home with the woman who is not even a shadow of my mother, the former marine continues to mow his lawn and drive his step-grandchildren around sporting a tattoo that he refuses to remove, to the chagrin of his current wife. That is sweet. That, my friends, is romantic. That is love.
I don’t know anyone my age with stories to tell of meeting “the one” and knowing it. I know of several older people, like my parents, who tell stories of “love at first sight,” but I don’t know of any younger people with those types of stories. Have we become jaded? Do we no longer believe in the possibility of soul mates? Is that something that is dying along with the greater generation?
Did the cultural changes that came about in the ‘50s and ‘60s which brought more freedom in sexual morals also bring death to the idea of true love of the type our parents shared?
I hear a lot of friends my age (I am 46) say that they don’t know any married friends who are truly happy. Every once in a while, I will hear someone venture to say, “Well, I know a couple who really is happy.” Then everyone cuts that person off with, “Well, how do you know they’re happy? After all, no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors.” True; we really don’t. And more often than not, most seemingly happy marriages are mere facades, even if the couples themselves haven’t figured that out yet. But we sometimes seem almost too eager to point this out, as though we don’t want to believe there could be any happy couples out there. Why is this?
Could it be because, if there really are some happy couples (speaking in the long-term – couples who have been together 20, 30 years, not six months), then are we not completely justified in our cynicism? Maybe we want to believe there is no such thing as romance, no such thing as true love – because, if so, then we don’t have to feel like cowards for flitting from relationship to relationship. Yes, that’s the word – cowards.
What has happened to our generation? Where has our courage gone when it comes to relationships? I have a girlfriend who can’t go out with a group of girls to a club without taking a Xanax first, because her anxiety at going out in public and possibly meeting a man completely overwhelms her. She is beautiful and smart, but her confidence and courage are completely non-existent in a social setting.
Committed relationships take courage. Dating takes courage. Opening up and becoming vulnerable takes courage. Saying “I love you” first takes courage. Saying “I love you” at all takes courage.
One girl I know is 30 years old and is recovering from the break-up of a dating relationship of only several months, but it’s the longest relationship she has ever had, and she is heartbroken. She purposely does not open herself up in relationships because she dreads the hurt that the inevitable break-up brings. What she doesn’t realize is that love brings with it possibility of great happiness and risks of great pain. It is these possibilities and risks that make us human, that make us alive. Without these feelings, and without the possibility and the anticipation of these feelings, what else is there to living? Working? Wow. Okay. What else? Without joy, without agony, and the growth to our spirit that these bring to us, what is the point of living?
As much as the passion and the pain sometimes hurt, there is an old marine that would tell you having the tattoo and the memory removed would hurt more.