Sunday, May 06, 2007

Pieces of Forever
(Based on a True Story)

A certain cynicism infects some of us at an early age.

Whether it's caused by watching parents argue, seeing grandparents slink away to separate bedrooms, or witnessing even the happiest of couples spiral into the bitterest divorce, ideals of love and romance are reduced to a startling conclusion: love — that is, love equally reciprocated — does not exist over time.

Even science tells us that every seven years we've all but lost the cells we had seven years previous. We're changing, day after day, and unless the person we're with keeps up with us (that is to say: you change in sync), there's a good chance every few years you'll want to trade in the person, in much the same way you desire a new car after outgrowing the previous.

I was seven, maybe eight, when these ideas first occurred to me. A big breath of fresh air walked into my life in my late teens when an 80-something woman at my church found her way back into the arms of her high school sweetheart. And there in front of me in a nearby pew, he'd caress her hands and peck her cheek. He'd hold doors open for her, and she'd smile this wonderfully beautiful smile, her eyes twinkling.

They were proof for me that it is possible, if only for some — never mind that it took decades apart for them to pick up where they'd left off (the golden rule of cynicism dictates that if they'd spent the past 65 years together, there's a chance they'd have despised each other within 10).

But watching them together was nevertheless refreshing, and stood as a reminder that we can find comfort in other people, if only for a little while.

I saw another such couple this past week, dining at a local restaurant. They were in their early-70s but had something in common that my previous Dido & Aeneas did not: not only were they talking and laughing at one another over the table, but they were also wearing wedding rings.

"You're always slouching," she said smiling, tugging on his fingers. "Sit up straight so you don't look like an old man."

She sat up straight, thrusting her shoulders back to demonstrate.

He smiled and complied — if only for a brief second.

"How's this?" he asked, relaxing a bit. He then grabbed her hand, his thumb resting on her wedding ring.

"Perfect," she said. "Just perfect."

Amazing! I thought. I wonder how long they've been married?

Later, after my dinner arrived and was righteously consumed, I caught them again while exiting the restaurant.

"So do you think your wife would be angry if she knew where you'd been?" the woman asked.

"Honey," he said, kissing her cheek, "I bet that miserable hag doesn't even realize I'm gone."


Lee said...

Oh man. I had a feeling something like that was coming. I'm totally with you. I think it is a farcical societal expectation that we should be able to choose one individual, often when we are quite young, to love AND LIKE for the rest of our everchanging lives. The "happily ever after" fairy tale does us all a disservice. We're all set up to fail.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Lee. I don't think there is a "happily ever after". I do think that there is a chance that you can find someone you can be with for the rest of your life where there are more good days than bad days and the two of you are there for each other when push comes to shove.

A friend of mine says the "Fireworks" chemicals in your brain only last for about the first 12-18 months of a relationship. After that, you're on your own. I believe the Fireworks can come back from time to time.

I understand why people have affairs. There is something missing in the relationship and they don't know how to find it within the relationship. Just because I understand it, doesn't mean I like it.

If you are lucky, you will find a few people in this world that you can talk to and who get you. If you are really lucky, you find someone like that who is single and you fall in love. If you keep talking, things can keep evolving. Everyone changes. It helps if you change together. I know all too well how important communication is in a relationship and how quickly its lack can kill one.

But somewhere in the back of my head, I still believe there is someone out there. I know it is nuts but...

Winter said...

Oh sh*t. I was actually starting to believe.

Lee said...

Just came from Winters. Thought I'd ask you to post a pic of yourself, so you don't feel left out. ;)

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Lee - I do think "happily ever after" sets us up for failure, insofar as we expect nothing less than perfection in our significant others. This contributes rather substantially to the decay of a relationship.

But I'm also a bit with BPP in that I like to hope that it's somehow possible to find somehow who sheds those cells every seven-years in much the same fashion we do, thereby resulting in something nothing just sustainable... but something worth sustaining.

Regardless, the best we can do is respect one another, work to keep things interesting, and not get too caught up in the conclusion long before it even begins. We'll just speed along to the "misery" aspect without allowing ourselves the proper joy of a beginning.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Winter - I'm not saying nothing ever works. I just wish I got to witness more of it.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Lee - I know your heart wasn't in the request, so that doesn't necessarily make me feel any better. But I REALLY appreciate that you tried.

Matt said...

I once lived happily ever after, for a time.

Third, I've read that our caveman brains are wired to compel us to say in pair relationships for approximately four years--the amount of time required to successfully bring a human child to a viable age on the African savannah.

Thanks for putting that disclaimer on my blog link, btw. That makes me happy.


thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Matt - I don't know about other people, but checking your blog from my work computer would be grounds for dismissal... in my defense, you put your own 18+ warning at the top... even if it is in jest.

disgruntled world citizen said...

old couples are the best. they give me hope.

Stacy said...

Don't SAY IT!!!
I believe in love, I believe in love.. .

michele said...

I gotta say that the 7 year thing makes sense... though since my first marriage lasted 14 I guess I skipped the problems at the end of the first 7...

I sometimes think that our expectation that we will live happily ever after, and our societal arrangements that encourage that do us all a disservice. If we have so much difficulty staying with one person for so long, why did we ever decide that monogamy was the best thing for all of us? Maybe we'd all be happier if we _didn't_ expect to stay together forever and accepted that we might change partners several times during a lifetime... as much as I hate to say biology is destiny, I gotta wonder what our society would be like if we accepted that people might be naturally inclined to change partners every few years. Maybe we'd all be happier...

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Michele - But that's so discouraging, isn't it? To admit to ourselves that we're not wired for long term romantic relationships. Regardless of what our genes can sustain, I suspect most people -- myself included -- would prefer something that lasts. Or I should say: something that lasts not because we refuse to give up no matter how bad it gets, but because it's just that good.

But you've got to work to keep it that way, and sometimes that means compromising, considering how your actions impact your s.o., etc. And most people just aren't willing to do that.

I guess it's fair to say our survival instincts (me first) are generally at odds with how we prefer to see ourselves (us first).