On Valentine's Day, one of my least favorite holidays ever, the USA Network played a day-long marathon of romantic comedies, otherwise known as chick flicks. I have no quarrel with these kind of films, in fact, some of them are very near to my heart.
I do have an objection to them being labeled "for women only," however. If men were honest, they would admit that the real point of these movies is that there is no better feeling on earth than love at it's newest, at its freshest. That moment when new love takes its first breath, first blinks in the bright sunlight and taps the shoulders of two individuals who have been looking for it their entire lives: "I'm here! Enjoy!"
This "best feeling in the world" also partially explains why people the world over have choose to have affairs or "emotional" affairs. The desire to recapture that "new love" feeling never quite goes away no matter how long ago we turned 17.
But that's the moment we wait for in these movies. The first hour and fifty minutes is nothing more than the preamble to the final moment of recognition when the couple reaches that mutual stage of admiration and desire and passion and love. Voila! The kiss, the embrace, the moment we want to see. (And if we're lucky, have experienced in our lives.)
It's just that despite the excitement and fireworks, it isn't real. It isn't real in the movies and it isn't real in life. And by real, I mean - lasting. It's fun and manic while you're in the throes of new love, but it can't possibly by definition stay "new love" forever. On a good day, that's where the magic really happens: When it's not new but it's still good.
Along those lines, there are those who say the best bit of love isn't the start, but rather the mellowing that comes along only after years of commitment and compassion for each other. Which brings me to one of my favorites authors, and how he handles this subject. The New Yorker has labeled Nick Hornby "a maestro of the male confessional." I love him - he writes male characters I want to know (and feel like I have known as a matter of fact.)
In his wonderful novel, High Fidelity, Hornby reveals the angst and turmoil of his storyteller, Rob. And Rob, in his own wonderfully insecure voice, tells women (and men) the truth about how we're different people (but not in an annoying and simplistic Mars / Venus way) and how we approach the same thing (love) from two different angles.
Rob and his girlfriend Laura are about to reconnect after a breakup and Laura tells him she isn't good at "the slushy stuff." I feel that way. I think many women do, partly because many of us believe we'll never measure up to the fantasy women who seem to capture the collective male psyche through the media these days. And Rob can't help but show his disappointment in her revelation:
"That, to me, is a problem, as it would be to any male who heard Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love" at an impressionable age. That was what I thought it was all going to be like when I was married....I thought there was going to be this sexy woman with a sexy voice and lots of sexy eye make up whose devotion to me shone from every pore. And there is such a thing as the look of love...it's just that the look of love isn't what I expected it to be. It's not the huge eyes almost bursting with longing situation somewhere in the middle of a double bed with the covers turned down invitingly; it's just as likely to be the look of benevolent indulgence that a mother gives a toddler, or a look of amused exasperation, even a look of pained concern. But the Dusty Springfield look of love? Forget it. As mythical as the exotic underwear.
...it's much harder to get used to the idea that my little-boy notion of romance, of negligees and candlelit dinners at home and long, smoldering glances had no basis reality at all."
And this bit of honesty: "I know what's wrong with Laura. What's wrong with Laura is that I'll never see her for the first or second or third time again. I'll never spend two or three days in a sweat trying to remember what she looks like, never again will I get to a pub half and hour early to meet her..."
That's true for everyone in a committed relationship, isn't it? Doesn't everyone get caught in the daily life that includes such unromantic moments as stopping for milk, unclogging the washing machine hose, working your way through paperwork and bills that are due or helping someone overcome stomach flu as they hang out in the bathroom for several hours? This isn't just about men although again, I'll admit to being an enormous fan of Hornby's male characters and the peek into the male mind he gives readers.
Sometimes the look of love is the glance you give someone during a difficult moment that says: Please stop talking. Trust me on this one. Stop right now. It's the look that tells them: The kids are making me crazy and I'm about to lose it, for the nine-thousandth time. It's the look that says: I'm sorry. Or please help me. Or thank you.
No one ever wrote a song describing the look of love in someones eyes as they balance the checkbook or sort the laundry or clip the hedges. It's those kind of elusive little details that never get the spotlight that make up a marriage, and a lifetime. The rest is just Hollywood; it's Dusty Springfield. And when the screen goes black or the song is over, you're left in the dark, in the silence with each other. Ready to start again tomorrow.