Have you ever been in love? I have. It's fun! People ask, "Have you ever been in love?" and you get to say, "Yes. Yes I have." There's other good stuff, too, but I don't have to explain that to you. You've seen the terrible movies and heard the awful songs.
I've been in love. I've been married. I'm getting divorced, and I've learned a few things I can share with you about the stupid things people do when they fall in love. And I first feel comfortable doing it because of something I recently heard Gene Wilder say.
No, not that.
It was something he said in an old interview about the difference between "personal" and "private." Paraphrasing, he said the interviewer could ask him anything personal, because all of his thoughts and feelings and beliefs and values were "personal." However, he clarified, he wouldn't discuss what was "private," as in names, dates, times -- specific events of his life. I realized that even though I'd never put it that eloquently, that has always been my yardstick for sharing as well. And with that firmly in mind, here are four stupid things I've learned people do when they fall in love.
So you and your boyfriend/girlfriend have been together for a while now and things are going really well. Super. You're starting to think this could be it. It's time to commit. It's time to settle down with this special person who likes Shaun of the Dead just as much as you, who also hates peanut butter and jelly, who likes it when you do that thing with the thing in bed.
Yep, all the tell-tale signs of a solid marriage are there.
Now what? Well, if you're like most people, you're going to start wondering about the possibility of never being with someone else romantically ever again. This is it. This is the one for you. You're getting married and you can't have anyone else. So what do you do? How do you ensure that your mate is the best person for you? Well, one option is looking at everyone else around you and quickly discerning why they're not as cool as the person you love.
You can scan the subways like the Terminator: "Fat ass, annoying laugh, weird teeth, grating voice, selfish demeanor, rude, too tall, too short, likes Dave Matthews Band ..."
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I don't really have to explain why this is stupid, do I? Quite simply, if you need to tear down every other possible mate who crosses your line of vision, then you have some serious misgivings about your partner, or you're not emotionally mature enough to be committing to someone. It's true, there are other hot, kind, funny people out there besides the person you're dating:
And some of them look adorable in their Ziggy Stardust, Esq. costume.
But that's not the point. You're never going to get clarity about your future mate by tearing other people down. The only things that matter are you and your potential partner and how you work together. For example, knowing that you hate tofu and vegetables will only get you so far in your decision about whether or not to eat chicken parm every night for the rest of your life. (The metaphor was sponsored by the American Society for the Frequent Eating of Chicken Parm.)
So you got your partner, and he/she is awesome ... mostly. Well, that makes sense. After all, no one's perfect, and even if you're not looking for perfection, no one's perfectly imperfect in the exact way you are, so, yeah, the best you can hope for is "awesome mostly." But you have to be careful about the parts that aren't right. I mean, are you just upset that your boyfriend hates sandwiches when you're all about picnics? Then yeah, I'm pretty sure you two will soldier through that one.
But what if it's something more? What if only one of you wants kids or one of you is a hard-drinking, carousing bastard or one of you rarely bathes?
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Or all of the above?
Then that might be a more serious problem. And yet we're so content with the rest of our special little friend that we make excuses. "Oh, he'll grow out of it," or "Well, she probably won't be like this forever," or "I'm sure one day her vestigial penis will fall off and there'll be a perfectly functional vagina there." These are the kinds of rationalizations that only lovers make. Unfortunately, they're also the exact kind of lies that ultimately destroy love.
Don't walk into a commitment with expectations of change. This is it. This is who you're going to commit to. If that's not good enough, shut up and get going.
It's helpful to figure out what you do and don't love about a person, and it's healthy and wise not to delude yourself about things that won't change, but now we come to the tricky part: If you decide to be with someone despite certain obstacles, then that's your choice. You can't resent someone for the sacrifice you've decided to make. That defeats the purpose of sacrifice. And even more importantly, what if no one asked you to make that sacrifice?
I mean, feel free to jump into the volcano to ensure a good harvest from the gods, but like only if you were gonna do that anyway.
Marriages are sloppy and hard and complicated, so let's use a simpler example. Did you ever have a friend who wants to "come with"? Like maybe you and some of the guys decided to hit the Extreme Wings Sports Bar by the mall and you didn't think to invite your buddy Henry, because even though you like Henry, he hates sports and spicy food. It was nothing personal. Anyway, Henry's like "Hey, guys, what's going on?" and you tell him and he decides he wants to come, and he decides to do what it takes to be with you -- specifically, watch sports and eat wings.
"Great," you think, because you're a big fan of Henry and you enjoy his company as much as you like watching sports and eating wings, and now you have both. So next week, you invite Henry to come out with the gang, and he does. Then again, each and every week, until one day he turns to you in the middle of the mall parking lot and screams:
"I have done everything for this relationship! Everything to make this relationship work. If it weren't for my willingness to eat wings and watch sports, we wouldn't have even spent this time together!"
And y'know what? Henry's right. And it just doesn't matter, because Henry's sacrifice was a lot more like a lie. One he never needed to tell.
Let's be clear. We're not talking about lovers who sacrifice for each other. That's what love's about. Someone gets sick and the other one plays nurse. Someone is sad and the other stays in to play cheerleader. Someone is messy and the other one plays sexy French maid. Sorry, ignore that last one. I just started thinking about slutty Halloween costumes.
The meaning of love.
The point is, true love is all about sacrifice and doing for one another, but those sacrifices can't be made in secret at the start of a relationship and then whipped out as a debt to be paid.
I don't want to seem heartless. I'm not. Despite all my rhetoric and vitriol, I'm an optimist and I believe in love, but there is something that all lovers feel and say that isn't particularly helpful: "I can't live without you." Let's take a moment to listen to the greatest cover of all time, Harry Nilsson singing Badfinger's "Without You":
I have felt that in my life. That feeling is real. It exists. It's important, but it's not something you should think too much about. And as horrible as that sounds to say, I think I can prove my point. We know the world is sharp and difficult and filled with loss. Forget about divorce or breaking up -- let's think about death. Death steals loved ones and lovers from us all the time, and no one can minimize the grief and pain. But would you ever tell a widow, "You're right. You can't live without him. You should probably kill yourself now." Of course not. That would be just about the coldest, harshest, most terrible thing you could say.
"I'm not buying your book." -- OK, the second worst thing you could say.
Why? Because you know that life has value in itself, and that no matter how unspeakable the pain that comes from the death of a loved one, you still have a life to lead -- a life that deserves to exist. A life that is not defined only by its relationship to another.
You are you, and when you fall in love, you will be you in love. Another person might make you smarter and kinder, and hopefully you will be with that person forever, but believing that your existence ends with theirs won't help you be a better person or lover.
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