“Ron married Denise. Everybody knew it was wrong. Ten years later, she went to England and became a Lesbian, leaving him with three children. So then he married Judy, a home economist many years his junior who, he thought, would be good with the children, but she wanted to have her own cooking show on TV and went to Toronto. So he employed a nanny, very attractive, and when the inevitable happened, Judy returned and read the riot act, and after that divorce he married Inga, an aerial gymnast, who, it turned out, had a bad heart, which they found out about when she went plonk down into her bowl of breakfast cereal Christmas morning, an unusual death at such a young age but, apparently, it was because of the drugs. At least Ron was a successful lawyer so he could manage his own legal proceedings and didn’t have to go bankrupt like so many of his clients.”
The contemporary love story. No more red roses, blue violets, white lace hearts, the I love you forever vows. Does anybody love anybody any more? Even for a month let alone forever? Did they ever?
A brief glance at the classics reveals that, while some pretty deep love, or obsession, is possible, it is fraught with difficulties mounting to the insurmountable. Take Heathcliffe and Catherine. In Wuthering Heights, high on the list of great romantic novels, love is a ghost wailing at the window and piggy-hearted Heathclife, out of a sense of pique, refuses her entry. Oh sure, we’re supposed to believe this love goes beyond the grave, but who cares? Most of us are looking for something this side of the turf. Then there’s Jane Eyre (those Bronte girls did have active imaginations), who endures one catastrophe after another before finally getting together with the love of her life, Mr. Rochester, who by then has been through the fire, has lost the use of one of his hands, and is blind.
While Jane Austen’s romantic love is somewhat more optimistic, what an amount of scheming is required before the unwitting subject succumbs to the genius manipulation of the female. And would the contemporary woman bother? Whatever… Austen’s novels, steeped in the dark brew of irony, give comfort and delight as the lovers arrive safely in harbour and live, one presumes, happily ever after.
Fairly recent films on the subject of love are not exactly cheerful. The Fault in Our Stars is about terminal illness; The English Patient features a woman who dies in the desert abandoned by her lover (true, he doesn’t intentionally abandon her); Notebook presents us with a Romeo and Juliet situation (and there’s another one about love gone wrong) in which the lovers do finally manage to get together, but the writer throws in an ending around Alzheimer’s disease and death. Does that make it more romantic?
At the very least, love seems to mean having to go through an ordeal, amounting in some cases to hell, as in the case of Orpheus and Eurydice. Then there are the many stories in both fiction and real life in which someone doesn’t recognize love until it’s too late (Gone With the Wind).
And yet in the above examples, and anyone is free to compile a personal list, however things turn out, these characters are able to love. As we move into the second quarter of the new millennium, as we are more and more controlled by robots, the question we ask is, are human beings still capable of deep emotional love? Is the best we can do Fifty Shades of Grey?
A source suggests that we love where we find identity in the world. We find some element of ourselves in the other. We may not be conscious of this, most times we are not, but it is what draws us to another. Of course, then there are cases where we choose an opposite of that element. But, the point is that we instigate love and instigate these impossible situations where we find ourselves. In the case of unrequited love, we invest another with our feelings and then are disappointed if that person doesn’t reciprocate those feelings. In other words, we blame the other person for something we ourselves have dreamed up. What sort of craziness is that?
My personal favourite, Love in the Time of Cholera, asks the question – is love helped or hindered by extreme passion. In this novel, Marquez presents love as an emotional and physical disease (lovesickness). Florentino Ariza, passionate self-declared poet and extreme romantic, waits for Ferina for 51 years, 9 months and 4 days, although during these years, by his own account and admission, he has succumbed to 622 liaisons, while Ferina, practical, pragmatic, opportunistic, with very different ideas about love, has married a well placed doctor of the town. It is only as septuagenarians that they finally are together and live happily ever after on a ship travelling back and forth between ports but, significantly, never arriving.
Happy Valentine’s Day.