Posted Monday, May 4, 2009, at 6:24 AM
Following my resolution to enter into other people’s interests , last week I watched the movie Twilight with my older daughter. This wasn’t a sacrifice for me; I love Stephanie Meyer's books (oh, how I love children’s literature ), so I was curious to see the movie.
I found the movie interesting for many reasons not relevant here (other than to say I’m thinking about Jung generally, Frazier’s The Golden Bough , and George Orwell’s discussion of "good bad poetry" in his essay, "Rudyard Kipling"), but in particular, I loved the depiction of wordless, instantaneous, passionate love.
Many of my happiness-project resolutions are meant to help me be more tender, more loving, more lighthearted, more appreciative … more romantic.
My husband and I met when we were in law school. I still remember the first time I saw him walk into the library—a shock ran through me, and I could practically feel my pupils dilate. He was wearing jeans and a rose-colored Patagonia pull-over (which I still keep in my closet). I walked over to a friend and whispered casually, "Who is that guy?"
Our law school is small, and our social circles magically started to overlap, so I met him, and my crush deepened. One important night, we sat next to each other at a dinner party. There was that afternoon when we ran into each other on the law-school staircase in front of the stained-glass windows.
But he had a girlfriend, and I had a boyfriend. Then he broke up with his girlfriend. A week later, on May 1 (I just looked up the exact date in my calendar), I broke up with my boyfriend. It happened in the morning, and I went out into the courtyard and made a general announcement of the breakup to a bunch of friends—to see what his reaction would be.
No reaction. "Hmmmm," I thought. "Maybe I misread this situation." Had I imagined what I thought was between us? After all, the two of us had never talked about anything of importance, certainly not about "us"; we’d never spent any time alone, only in chaperoned groups (except that once he’d asked me to breakfast at the Copper Kitchen before our Corporations class, an occasion so thrilling to me in prospect that I slept only a few hours the night before); and neither of us had ever made even the smallest romantic overture toward each other.
But that same afternoon after my breakup, he told me he was going to walk to Wawa’s (the New Haven version of QuikTrip) to get a Coke, and did I want to come? I did. We walked to Wawa’s, then back to the law school, and sat on a bench beneath some blooming magnolia trees. He said something completely incoherent, then took my hand; this was the first time we ever touched. At that moment, if he’d asked me to marry him, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised, and I might well have said yes. (We did get engaged several months later.)
Now, so many years later, is it the same? Yes and no. Yes, because I still love him passionately, and more deeply, because I know him so much better. No, because he’s passed through my heart and into my soul, and he pervades my entire life, so now sometimes it’s hard to see him. Married people are so intertwined, so interdependent, so symbiotic, that it’s hard to maintain that sense of wonder and excitement.
If I’ve learned one thing from my happiness project, it’s that if I want my life to be a certain way, I must be that way myself. If I want my marriage to be tender and romantic, I must be tender and romantic.
Am I tender and romantic? Am I appreciative, thoughtful, forbearing, fun-loving? Or do I march around the apartment snapping out reminders and orders? Am I quick to feel annoyed or aggrieved? When we first met, I honestly wondered whether it would ever be possible for me to read when we were sitting in a room together; I found it so hard to concentrate that I couldn’t make sense of anything more complicated than the newspaper. Now, I find it hard to tear myself away from my work and my email to hold up my end of a marital conversation.
So, inspired by the springtime, and the memories of early love brought back to me by Twilight , I’m going to redouble my usual efforts to keep my resolutions related to love. Think of small treats or courtesies . Leave things unsaid. Give proofs of love . Don’t expect praise . Take time to be silly. Admire. Fight right .
Have you found any good ways to stay tender and romantic in a long relationship?
Here, to me, is the great mystery: We’re perfectly suited to each other—but how did we fall in love before we knew each other at all? How is that possible?
* The movie also reminded me to Be Gretchen and accept my own taste in music, and not to wish that my taste is different from what it is. I loved the song from the Twilight piano scene, "Bella's Lullaby," and instead of dismissing that pleasure, I let myself enjoy it – and in the process, came across this engaging post by the composer Carter Burwell. (To listen to the song, listen to the clip on his post, or this preview .)
It reminds me of another soundtrack song I love, The Promise , from the mindblowing movie The Piano . The pairing of the two songs/movies is interesting, because The Piano is about wordless passion between adults, with their complications, instead of teenagers.
* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the "at" sign, then gretchenrubin dot com . (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write "Resolutions Chart" in the subject line.