Truth . . . I am an incurable romantic. I love all things ridiculously sappy. I believe in soul mates, love at first sight, happy endings, and love that lasts forever. I used to be a closet romantic. Being a child of the 70s, the era of I am Woman, hear me roar, I felt slightly embarrassed by my romantic notions. So I kept them on the down-low, until I discovered social media. I am unsure of exactly how or when I revealed my secret to the world, but I am certain that regular over-sharing to my 357 Facebook friends played a role. In the end, no regrets . . . I had freed my romantic soul.
As a lover of love , one of my favorite guilty pleasures includes lying on the sofa and watching anything romantic. Mindless channel surfing can come to a screeching halt as soon as I spot Meg Ryan dewy-eyed, hopelessly looking for love. An old classic can reel me in as well . . . . . An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr . . . I cannot get enough of that romantic slop. From Pretty Woman (I know, I know) to Doctor Zhivago, and everything in between, I am emotionally committed to these stories. I settle in with a wad of tissues and a box of Hot Tamales and escape, immersing myself in these movies. In those 90 or so minutes, I am a believer . . . true love is strong enough to overcome the most impossible obstacles. Dreams really do come true.
I sometimes wonder why I am so drawn to extreme romanticism. My childhood was not filled with princesses and fairy tales. Sure, I liked them, but I was much more interested in The Jungle Book and Pinocchio. Those were my dad’s favorites. He told us these stories from memory at bedtime. Sometimes he read them from books, and eventually we saw the movies. That’s when I made an amazing discovery. . . stories from books could be told much differently in movies. I was grateful that the Disney version of Pinocchio spared me from seeing his little legs burned to crispy stumps as they had been in the book my dad shared with us. He never sheltered us from harsh truths . . . if you are a wooden person and you sit near a candle, you will catch fire. To this day, I can still picture Pinocchio’s confused little face as he looked down at his legs, charred off at the knees. Thank goodness Geppetto could carve up another pair. The only fairytales I remember my dad reading were Grimm’s, in the original grim version complete with hard life lessons. Not exactly material for sweet dreams or cultivating a love for the romantic, but we loved the time spent with my dad, and we poured over those books with their graphic illustrations.
As a teen, I watched That Girl reruns and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. If I fantasized about anything it was having my own apartment, a Mustang and a boyfriend who visited on occasion. I loved the idea of the successful single woman making it on her own. The portrayal of single living on these shows was positive, fun and exciting, an adventure. I dreamed of being that girl, that woman, strong and independent. In many ways, I am. I have a great career and a job I love. There isn’t a material possession I want or need. And, as evidenced by my recurring single status, there is no boyfriend, no husband . . . I have definitely made it on my own. Guess what? It’s mostly lonely. . . . funny there was never an episode about loneliness.
My early experiences and knowledge about love and romance I learned by watching my parents. I think we all did. As a child I couldn’t begin to understand adult relationships, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I knew from a very young age the story of my parents’ courtship. They married just six weeks after meeting on a beach on Lake Michigan playing volleyball. They were 19 years old. My dad had been a foreign exchange student from Italy, smart and handsome, and my mom was a local girl, the oldest of eight children, blond and beautiful. By the time they were 26 years old, they had five children, and had moved to California.
Going out as a family always drew attention. Seven of us, my dad with five girls (people always thought my mom was the oldest daughter), and my brother, the only boy. My parents were a good looking couple, my mom fair with clear blue eyes, and my dad dark and handsome. I loved how they looked, so young and beautiful, so romantic. Even now when I look at old photographs, I can conjure up those feelings of pride. But photographs never tell the whole story. My parents bickered and argued frequently. My dad had a quick temper, he angered easily, swearing in Italian. The smallest things would upset him. My mom, calm and patient by nature, disliked fighting. However, she stood her ground with my dad. Raised and angry voices were common in our home. We kids usually made ourselves scarce, avoiding the crossfire. My parents’ arguing and yelling left me feeling anxious and worried. Many times I wished, even prayed, they would divorce. But mostly I prayed that they would be happy.
Quarrels eventually ended. Each fighter going to their corner, followed by long and stubborn silence. While I don’t recall spoken apologies, I do remember small gestures expressing tenderness, love and even forgiveness. Nothing made me happier than to hear my parents laugh or show signs of affection. On long family road trips, I loved to see my dad reach for my mom’s hand across the console of our van, their hands clasped and hanging in the dark open space between their seats. My dad would give my mom’s hand the subtle little I love you squeeze, and mom would squeeze back. Listening to my parents talk about music, literature and history, sharing their common interests and enjoying each other’s company gave me great peace, relieved my anxiety and calmed my fears. No matter how bad things were between them, they always found their way back to loving each other. This was their dance. . . romantic.
Over the years I watched my parents’ love evolve. They still bickered, but it was mostly harmless. On more than one occasion my dad told me how he admired my mom’s faith, her patience and her artistic abilities. He still thought she was beautiful and he loved her long silver hair. My mom would say that my dad had mellowed over the years and she was happy to have stayed married during those tough times. She was proud of her marriage and her family. Both expressed gratitude for their good fortune, to have each other, our family, and to have lived such full lives. Their sweet, public displays of affection indicated that romance was still alive and well, even after nearly fifty years of marriage.
One would think that my parents’ marriage would have influenced my choices and my path in some way. Nope . . . a lasting relationship eludes me. . . .no relationships, no romance. Being single in my 50s was definitely not in my life plan. Neither was being married and divorced twice, but here I am. I think a lot about the relationships I’ve had over the years, not with regret, but in an effort to figure out how to get it right. My siblings and closest friends have strong and healthy relationships. I am not naïve. I know nothing is perfect. But, I watch closely, and carefully. What makes it work? I see genuine love, respect, care, admiration, common interest, tolerance, a spark or attraction, and a strong desire to be a couple, to go through this adventure called life with a partner. Sometimes, I think that might be the most important ingredient, a desire for partnership,, to take on the world together. In my heart of hearts I know that was missing in my relationships . . . and sometimes I was the unwilling partner.
The important lesson for me is that lasting love doesn’t exist without the partnership. I cannot skip Partnership 101, go straight to Advanced Romance and expect a relationship to last. Hard work, conflict, disagreements, love and romance can all coexist. My parent’s marriage was proof of that. That’s a hard lesson to learn at 54. But, I am grateful for the wisdom.
My romantic self has done some pretty stupid shit. I’ve given love away, and I’ve been careless with my heart. I felt sure that if I loved hard enough and gave more of myself, I would be loved unconditionally in return. I tried to solve every problem by throwing more love at it. Turns out, some relationships simply cannot be saved with love alone. . . .that only happens in the movies. Another hard lesson to learn so late in life. Better late than never, right?
At the end of the day I am still a sappy, hopeless romantic. . . .but I’m an older and wiser romantic . . . the best kind.
ps . . . I’ll be watching Love Actually for the millionth time this Christmas . . . join me 🙂