For Valentine’s Day, I got my wife a dozen red roses and the complete, unabridged collection of Nicholas Sparks’ movies, all 11 of them, along with a super-sized box of Kleenex. She got me Russell Stover chocolates from Big Y and a dust buster.
Over the years, she’s forced me to watch everything from Nights in Rodanthe to Message in a Bottle because she thinks it will make me a better husband, although I have my doubts.
The DVDs also serve a more practical purpose. They’re like melatonin. They help her get to sleep and stay asleep. We have dozens of romance movies in a bin under the bed, and it’s a virtual medicine cabinet.
At one point, she watched It’s Complicated every night for months. Before that, she was hooked on Something’s Gotta Give and could recite Diane Keaton’s lines verbatim, although it took longer to learn Jack Nicholson’s. And before that, she played Downton Abbey, seasons one through six, into the early morning. She could even recite the lines with a British accent.
My parents shared this peculiar habit. They needed TV to sleep. My father, however, preferred war movies. Have you ever tried to sleep while Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is playing in the next bedroom? Apparently the sound of aerial bombing raids relaxed him, although I hate to think what it did to my poor mother.
My wife is right, though. I’ve learned a lot about love from watching romantic comedies. I learned you have to play hard to get, I learned you have to keep the upper hand, I learned it’s emotional survival of the fittest because once someone comes along who’s cuter, richer or funnier, you could lose the object of your affection.
In the era of recreational romance, you can have relationships with several people at the same time … or sex without a relationship. It’s all about manipulation and exploitation, which is probably why so many women trust their dogs more than men because a dog is loyal, obedient, fun and a good kisser.
In one film I watched, titled Something Borrowed, the characters were sneaking around cheating on one another. At the end, only the two attractive lawyers found true love. The forlorn writer ran off to London. It taught me that getting a law degree is the most important thing you can do if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life alone and miserable — regardless of what Jackson Browne says about “lawyers in love.”
Young people, especially, are always looking for love in all the wrong places, and they waste hours analyzing their relationships. The cost in lost productivity must be in the billions. In the olden days, people didn’t sit around moping and whining at Starbucks, discussing sex. They were too busy worrying about paying the rent.
Love is supposed to be for better or for worse and in sickness and in health, but in modern America, love is like shopping for the best deal at Nordstrom or Ocean State Job Lot, depending upon your tastes. Actually, it’s troubling that our conception of love comes from the entertainment industry and celebrities because they’re textbook narcissists and serial cheaters … and known for sex abuse.
For the rest of us, love pretty much consists of putting up with another person’s bad habits and morning breath and staying faithful, which is pretty boring by Hollywood standards.
The Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, who never had any of his novels made into romantic comedies, once said, “Learning to love is hard and we pay dearly for it. It takes hard work and a long apprenticeship, because it is not just for a moment that we must learn to love, but forever.” And forever is a long time.
Let me tell you about a love that will last into eternity. I was with an elderly couple recently, who after 50 years together are still laughing and joking with each other. (And they aren’t lawyers.) It was like their first date as teenagers at Friendly’s. He’s had years of health problems and she’s had physical challenges. But those problems fall aside in the face of true love. You see, love requires commitment and sacrifice.
OK, gotta go. It’s showtime for Dear John … or tonight maybe we’re watching The Last Song.
Joe Pisani can be reached at [email protected].