There was something disturbing about Romeo and Juliet’s relationship—if you can even call it that. Within less than a week, they profess their undying love to each other and get hitched. Juliet delivers her famous “parting is such sweet sorrow” line, and the next time Romeo sees her, she’s unconscious from a potion that was designed to work for 42 hours, just enough time to trick her family into thinking she’s dead so that she won’t have to go through with the arranged marriage to Paris. Romeo, with whom she has had about three conversations, was supposed to find her alive and whisk her away to a life totally cut off from her friends and family for all of eternity. GOOD PLAN.
I think we celebrate tortured romance in art because conflict is inherently dramatic, whereas doing the laundry for 20 years really … isn’t, but we’ve fallen down somewhere when our ideal of love is agony. Worse than that, is uncertainty: Do you know how exhausting it is to be with someone you’re not certain of? It’s so exhausting. It doesn’t leave you room to have a life of your own because you’re so busy watching your own soap opera. Some of my Facebook acquaintances, I don’t know how they hold down jobs and still have time to keep track of who lied to them about who was still sleeping with his ex even though he promised last time was the last time and whatever.
Before Mr. A I kept auditioning losers and wondering why it wasn’t working, and I’m talking about a cokehead poet and a guy who made a lot of money and thought that was as good a reason as any to order me around. In actual fact none of those relationships were designed to be relationships at all. They were designed to be sideshows, distractions from life. They weren’t life. They weren’t about building a home or a life or a place or anything bigger than ourselves together. It’s no wonder we would end up making each other miserable even though we had all kinds of chemistry and things in common. We didn’t have a life in common, and we didn’t know how to make one. We didn’t even really know we had to.
A lot of our ideas about love are poisonous. It’s not just the “love is drama and heights of ecstasy and depths of despair.” It’s the “love is HARD WORK” stuff, too. People say relationships are work, that marriage is work. They usually mean drudgery, like ha ha, sometimes he wants to watch the game instead of Sex and the City with you. But work is joyful, work is purposeful, work gives shape to your waking hours and improves the world around you, or at least it should. It should reward you as much as it wears you out.
It should be the good kind of worn, like after a hard workout, when your muscles are tingling and you feel like you could go another mile even though you know in a minute you’ll collapse into the embrace of a pizza. If it just grinds you down, if you’re always watching the clock, if you’re making cute little jokes about hanging in there until Friday, you need to find something else to do, and if you’re dragging yourself through your relationship with the idea that suck and yawn is what it’s supposed to be like, oh God, no it’s not.
I think we spend so much time rationalizing the bad stuff, calling anything that isn’t constant implosion boring, making the lows about the corresponding highs as if the latter justifies the former, we overlook all the ways in which love is every day:
I think there’s another kind of cherishing that is possible, one that doesn’t kill us. Last month, I went with my parents to the dentist to get a cavity filled. My mother went to get some groceries while my father and I were in the waiting room. I noticed that he had his phone clipped to his belt.
“That looks so dumb,” I said.
“Well, I don’t miss your mother’s calls this way.”