The Ordinary Misery of Extraordinary Love
Start Valentine's Week by examining when the journey for love injures and why.
Posted February 11, 2019
This Valentine’s Day, I’m trying my hand at what I like to call “Real Talk Poetry:”
Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
Put away the laundry
And call Comcast, too.
No? Not for you?
Consider this anecdote: She, lamenting the changes of her body with this most recent pregnancy, stares at herself in the mirror and pretends to talk to herself, not-so-secretly intending for her husband to hear, “I look like a fat sausage.”
Like an actor awaiting his well-rehearsed cue, he eagerly responds, “But a *beautiful* fat sausage!”
Her vulnerable free associations flash into a hot rage, “You moron!” she shrieks. “You think I look like a sausage?!” He tenses, rolls his eyes and exits the room. Just like that, the call for connection has ceased. Drawbridges up. Entry ports closed.
The choreography of our long-term romantic relationships has to be among the strangest and most difficult on earth. One and two: talk like this! Three and four: Now shut your mouth like this! Five and six: I say sausage but don’t you say sausage!
If you’ve been partnered for more than four days, you know it's not for the faint of heart. In the oddest of processes, we stumble across these foreigners while walking, flying or swiping and we convert them to experts of our own specifications. Quickly, even enthusiastically, they learn rules about comments that are funny in one context and hurtful in the next, about how loudly they are allowed to chew, and about what footwear is appropriate after Memorial Day. We are eager students because, in this early stage, these feel like the best lessons to learn. Love is the strangest of magicians, taking what is ordinary and making it spectacular. Sleep is no longer necessary; work no longer prudent; and life no longer scary. Above all, love makes us believe in the possibility of everything.
And it is this that becomes our undoing.
Because you cannot reconcile how you traveled to this place of transcendence only to travel right back to the aisles of Super Target where you lose your shit because your husband thinks organic bananas are a luxury item. Love and Time are the Unstoppable Force and the Immovable Object. Against the rub of Time, long-term romance creaks against the weight of dishes, bills and debates about who’s really doing what in terms of mental labor. The vibrancy in our relationship that was once so obvious now hides under the machinations of daily life and we forget.
But then something happens—a diagnosis, a trauma, a change, an affair—and, suddenly, we again hear the crescendo of a music that had, for a while, been nothing more than a beige background hum: Wives, rife with exhaustion, hold Saturday morning dance parties so husbands can sleep. Husbands wake up early to warm cars and shovel driveways. Beneath the scratchy glow of florescent hospital lights and beeping machines, our partners swallow not only their terror but ours, too. They stroke our barren wombs; they care for our aging parents as if they were their own; and they hold us together when we experience grief so violent we’re certain it will crack us in two.
In these moments, we forget organic produce and we remember exactly what it means when they say, “Love never fails.” But like every great performance, the show comes to a halt and the music ends. And in the saddest magic show of our lives, these moments of transcendent connection disappear. We return to the daily drone of our plainly ordinary lives. Here, we are no longer vibrant and possible, but dull and mortal, and it is here that we break:
- It’s a cold winter night on what feels like the 112th day of January and he is leaving, this time for good. The children feign sleep under their covers, but they are wide awake, frenetically encoding frequencies about the limits of love.
- Thirty-nine years have passed, the equivalent of a lifetime. As they compose their silent memoires, the pages are filled with stories of love not given and chances not taken. What had, all those years ago, seemed so fertile has been made barren by years extreme weather—the heat of rage and the freeze of neglect. Now, they struggle to breathe against the math of too much damage done and too few minutes on the clock.
Eerily, this essential journey for healing connection can leave many of us more injured than before we started. A good question this Valentine’s Day is why? For all of us, our deepest longing is intimate connection. Intimate connection is as romantic as it is biological. When this connection fails, it feels like we are shattered into a million tiny pieces. This, of course, is the origin of the term “heartbroken.” Much has been written about how love can break your heart. The problem, though, is that your heart was never actually the site of the injury; it was always your brain. To some, this may seem like a meaningless distinction, but when our relationships get knotted enough to leave us bound in despair, it’s important to trace the rope back to its place of origin. To understand, we must go back to the beginning.
Join me here tomorrow for Part 2 as we take this story all the way to the begining and examine "The First Love Story."