Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup

"We Greeks get married in circles, to impress upon ourselves the essential matrimonial facts: that to be happy you have to find variety in repetition; that to go forward you have to come back to where you began."
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Since I began doing the podcast, and thus revisiting the poetry that was the subject of my junior paper and senior thesis, I have been thinking about the message of most of that poetry. It is conveyed not only by Millay, Teasdale, Wylie, Taggard and Bogan, but also a large portion of all poetry, and popular music and cinema, and the message is roughly this: romance is serial novelty that ends in despair. And what's more, it is a despair that we, on some level, relish. This is what I was playing at, a bit, in high school; I stood back from the very real anguish of betrayal and unrequited love and viewed it with a certain satisfaction, because it looked like a movie. In college I managed to subconsciously protect myself by selecting such spectacularly inappropriate love objects that they wouldn't even engage, and I was ready for real, lifelong love when it emerged from the disguise of friendship.

Here is what popular culture teaches women (I'm not sure about men, never having been one): it is glamorous and genuine to love someone who does not, will not, cannot, love you back; someone who purports to love you now but will not stay; and (my least favorite) someone who is married to someone else.

The only alternative seems to be the "happily ever after" fairy tale, which some decry. But stories have to end somewhere, and I vastly prefer Cinderella waving from the back of her carriage to Francesca's children discovering that her married life was a lie.

A lot has been said about the heady experience of being "in love" versus the long-term reality of loving someone, so much so that I need not add to it. The conventional wisdom is that for a maximum of two years, people want to spend every moment with each other and go around plucking petals off of daisies and writing poetry; then, if they had the bad luck to get married within that time, they make a conscious decision to face the bleak "hard work" of marriage and monogamy. There are rewards, we are grimly promised, but somehow the tone of most media makes it hard to believe.

And, unlike most cultural phenomena that I decry, this one is not at all modern. There are some who suggest that the very notion that marriage and romantic love should have anything to do with each other is a recent phenomenon--but then there are plenty of ancient stories in which love leads to marriage, or wishes it had. It is true, too, that we humans crave variety.
There is an undeniable thrill in trying something new, and in a sense we give that up when we vow ourselves to one person. But it is bizarre to pretend that there is anything admirable about beating your head against the wall of unsuccessful relationships. It's really not much of a sacrifice to build a life with someone who wants the best for you.

So in answer to C-Belle's question, "to what extent does practicality nullify romance?" I can only pose another: What is romance? The trembling uncertainty of the first kiss, or all the have-a-good-day and welcome-home kisses of a lifetime? And one answer is this: every morning since I was a senior in high school I have started the day with a cup of coffee. It is always a cup of coffee, never tea or cocoa or Postum. Every day it is new, and every day it is wonderful.

I do wish there were more poems about happy love, but I can't blame the poets. I haven't written a good one in seventeen years. I live it instead.

1 comment:

C-Belle said...

I was talking to a friend just this morning about the various orders of needs. "Lower order" needs would include: food, shelter and so forth. "Higher order" needs would include artistic/self expression, etc. And at a fundamental level, basic needs have to be met before you have the energy to focus on higher order needs.

Because you are right - there's nothing better than wrapping one's hands around a morning cup of coffee, and knowing that you will do that every morning. Right now, I'm just gearing myself up for that. Because there's nothing better than that java jive.