Sunday, June 19, 2011
This question has been cropping up lately, in various forms. It wasn’t a consideration when I was in my twenties, and surely not when I decided to marry my ex-husband. Once we were committed to one another, the goal was to make it work, despite our practical differences and sometimes what seemed like insurmountable obstacles, such as financial issues and a difference in our short term goals.
The goal to make it work – that decision – goes a long way. It’s the fuel in the relationship gas tank, at least for the first few years, and for some, it can keep the relationship running for infinite miles. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, especially in marriages that are working on some level – and especially when there are children involved.
But is practicality, the glue for many marriages, ironically a commitment preventative for singles or divorces? Is it different when you’re in your thirties or forties, when you’ve experienced enough to spot the impracticalities of a relationship early on? Do you obey the stop sign, or do you listen to your heart that’s screaming “go!” and floor it?
Car metaphors aside, are we overthinking? Does knowing too much, does logic, get in the way of our emotions? Is it used as a defense mechanism that blocks us from giving something a chance to develop, or does it protect us from wasting our time and getting hurt?
I stayed in on Friday night, and after pretending to watch “Dark Knight” (perhaps to pay the late Heath Ledger respects, except he didn’t look like I remembered him), I found myself watching the last half hour of “The Bridges of Madison County” (sob). I read that book over ten years ago, when I was embarking on the marriage journey, and even back then it filled me with romantic yearning. What was Francesca going to choose? The practical - her life, home, and family that she had invested in, the only life she knew? Or was she going to throw it all away for her one true love, despite its apparent infeasibility? Clint Eastwood’s character says, “This kind of certainty comes only once in a lifetime.” For him, an unmarried maverick, the decision was simple.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that I happened upon this film at this time. Now that I’m back to being single and meeting potential long-term mates, practical considerations seem to be more flagrant than ever. After all, they are the required facts on an online dating profile. Is the guy age appropriate, does he live in New York? Is he divorced, does he have children? There’s a reason this checklist exists, and a reason why we choose to contact that person, or click “next.”
But what happens when you meet someone you really like, who defies the checklist? Do you throw logic to the wind, and go there anyway? It’s likely that the next guy I fall for will be the opposite of a young cub: older, divorced, and who already has children.
What if he doesn’t want to have any more kids - when I do? Would I be an irrational fool to attempt the potential for love, or an even bigger fool to turn my back on it?
You could say that I’ve already been there, with my past two young cub relationships. I acknowledged our potential issues, but chose to obscure them, in order to give things a chance. It’s no big surprise however, that the practical got the best of us. It’s no big surprise that my relationship with a guy eleven years my junior could ultimately not go the distance. Or that he’s now dating a girl fourteen years my junior; more appropriate for him and his life stage. It’s no surprise that my recent relationship stalled only four months in, when I knew going in that our timing and needs were not in sync. I don’t regret these relationships, but I can conclude that while love existed, it could not transcend our practical differences.
In the end, Francesca chose her family. After her death, she left a letter (had there been texting back then, the whole story - perhaps the whole love affair - would have turned out differently) to her children: “I gave up my life for you.”
I’d seen this movie before, and I knew how it was going to end, but yet this line surprised and saddened me. Did she really give up her life – and true love - for what made sense, and did she regret it?
Does it have to be one or the other?