Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wife Rule #63: Love Stories are Lovely

My wife and I recently watched a movie adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. While I get much more of a kick out of watching Indiana Jones take on a whole army of Nazis than my wife does, I can't deny the authentic draw that a well-done love story has for me. Now don't get me wrong--the 200-hour version of Pride and Prejudice is strictly for chicks. But the newer two-hour version is delightful, and there are many other men who would back me up on this, most of whom are not male ballet dancers, which is a whole other disturbing topic.

So this has led me to think: what is it about a love story--a really good love story--that draws us all in and makes us care about characters that we don't know and that usually don't even exist? The answers to these questions are inherently obvious for an Indiana Jones flick:

1) He uses a whip to fight bad guys
2) He has a really neat hat and matching jacket, both made of dead cow parts
3) You get to watch him beat up Nazis and Communists (honestly, does it get any better than that?)
4) Again, he uses a whip to fight bad guys!

So it's easy to see the appeal there. But what about a love story?

1) No stray eyebrow, nose, or ear hairs to put the fizzle on the sizzle
2) No bad breath
3) No bathroom breaks
4) No walking in to the bathroom to brush your teeth, only to find yourself interrupting your spouse during his or her bathroom break. Ewww!

Hmmm, that's a pretty good list so far, but I think the best answers may even be a little more complex than that. So I'll try again. But first, we need to define what I mean by a "love" story.

Based on my exposure to American pop culture, it seems to me that the majority of the usage of the word "love" we hear is actually a misnomer for simple infatuation. Infatuation is fool's gold: shiny, easily obtained, and bearing some resemblance to the real thing, but in reality not worth much. It describes skin-deep, surface emotions of attraction that come effortlessly and are just as easily lost.

Although infatuation can initially serve to bring two people together, it does it in a self-focused way. In contrast, the method that real love uses to draw two people to each other operates entirely on selflessness--on both people having such a concern for the other's happiness that their efforts to make their lover happy exceed even their own desires for self-fulfillment, understanding, and happiness.

And that's where the magic comes. Two lovers entirely focused on serving each other unwittingly end up also achieving their own deep, defining, desperate desires for absolute acceptance and understanding; their instinctual yearnings both to give one's self fully to another, and to receive another unconditionally.

For relationships that start with infatuation, as so many do, life inevitably provides some critical period in which that infatuation must transform into real love via the alchemy of self-restraint and surrender to a greater goal. Without this transition, the relationship will eventually fail. In other words, the one who truly loves must be willing to sacrifice the powerful, short-term, self-serving urges of infatuation with an all-inclusive, long-term plan for the happiness of the one being loved.

When two such people are mutually directing such selfless efforts at each other, you have the recipe for a deliciously genuine love story. All the great ones have periods of conflict that stretch the relationship of the two lovers almost to the breaking point. It is then that the tremendous risk of loving is revealed.

For example, if Mr. Darcy had not been determined to save Elizabeth's family from shame, despite being esteemed as everything loathsome by Elizabeth, then the sweet heart-softening would never have been possible or necessary, and ultimately their relationship would not be meaningful to the rest of us. Instead of Pride and Prejudice we would have only Flirt and Fizzle, a story of fool's gold love that never amounted to much.

But with plot twists concocted to create moments of decision that give characters in love the opportunity--or necessity--of weighing their own selfish interests against their passionate quest to make their lover happy, it's no longer the story of two fictional characters. It becomes the story of you and the one you love.

Granted, most of us men aren't multi-gazillionaire bachelors with haunting, deep eyes like Mr. Darcy. And most women aren't as quick-witted as a carefully scripted Elizabeth, nor do they have a team of makeup artists operating on them at five minute intervals to make sure that they simultaneously look like they just woke up and just stepped out of a beauty salon, when Mr. Darcy appears in the early morning across a dark, misty meadow.

But despite these obvious differences between them and us, we share something in common: I don't know too many couples who are still together that have never had to make large personal sacrifices for the sake of their union. These seemingly trumped-up love stories seem real to us because they are about something that is real. And thus, when somehow, against all odds, the lovers in the movie eventually come together, their union is all the sweeter because of the terrible price they paid to get there--a price so many lovers understand because we have paid it ourselves.

It's usually at these points of heightened emotional drama in the movie that the wise husband smiles suavely at his spouse and collects a smooch. Mmmmm, that's real.

For some reason, that just doesn't happen much during Indiana Jones movies, despite his nifty whip and leather hat.


Jenny and Al said...

All you have to say is "Mr. Darcy walking along a misty meadow" or "Colin Firth in a wet shirt" and I get the chills. Ha ha! You should give the longer version of P&P more of a chance. :)

Brooke said...

Flirt and Fizzle! Hah. I love it. We're more like Whine and Winded, oh wait, that's just the kids.

Thanks for your complete abscence of pride and prejudice; it makes being me so much easier!