Do you know what I’ve discovered? Love can occur in a fifth of a second, and falling in love hits the brain like cocaine does “causing euphoria-inducing chemicals to be released in 12 areas of the brain that work simultaneously,” according to The Medical News Today.*
That explains why we are so obsessed with the concept of romance as Americans. Life is so hard and unpredictable, who wouldn’t want to remain perpetually high on love? I mean I “loves me some romance,” and I would kick any man out of my bed who couldn’t deliver in that department. But having been happily married for almost 34 years, I know that romance alone just doesn’t cut it (it ebbs and flows and never burns as red-hot as in the beginning). It would be like having a diet of all desserts, but no protein, veggies, or grains. Everything good about the body would decay, and so it is with marriage when it’s all sizzle and no steak.
Romantic love is when the chemicals in your brain kick in and you feel an emotional high, exhilaration, passion, and elation when you and your lover are together.—Sheri & Bob Stritof from The Everything Great Marriage Book (Adams Media).
I have discovered the problem with romance is that it is great when taken in context with a proper diet of true love, commitment, selflessness, loyalty, and grace, but it is a real bust when left to its own devices, and if most people were being honest they’d agree. But online dating sites, bachelorette reality shows, and Hollywood chick-flick producers earn a fortune packaging romance as a commodity and, we the consumers, hope it will lead us to that perfect mate for life where we will live happily ever after.
Those were my thoughts when my husband WW (“White and Wonderful”) and I took our seats one Friday night for a dinner to recharge our romantic batteries after a week of having our asses kicked by life. In my purse was the latest copy of Washingtonian magazine’s “Marriage: Making Love Last—and Who to Call When It Doesn’t (advice for everyone, including retired generals and their biographers),” which I wanted to talk to WW about to see if I could extrapolate a blog from it. But before I could mention the magazine theme this month, my attention was drawn to a rather odd man sitting across from us.
Sitting in a booth all alone was a nebbish-looking man (the spitting image of Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar in American Splendor), wearing a cheap, ill-fitting suit, and nervously bouncing his legs up and down underneath the table as if there were jumping beans in the soles of his feet while his eyes lit up expectantly at every pretty dark-haired white woman who entered the restaurant door. My initial reaction was to feel instantly sorry for the lonely diner and to feel an instinctive impending dread of what was surely to come.
Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar in American Splendor
ME: Babe, babe, look at that guy over there. I think he’s on a blind date. I wonder if it is one of those online dating thingies. Can you say: ‘Here comes the Dalai Mama’s blog for the week’?
WW: No, I cannot say anything about anyone without a vodka gimlet and some sustenance, and I need my “Lucille Ball” wife not to distract me from that goal or I’m going to keel over from hunger, and I won’t be a happy camper, believe you me. Waiter!
ME: Seriously, honey—work with me here! Pretend this is a James Bond plot unfolding. We’ve got one nebbish-looking white man, slightly paunchy, with a glass of red wine in front of him, and a single red rose dropping petals faster than I can say my name (who does that anymore—the single red rose thing?). From the looks of it, he must have bought that rose three days ago because it is as limp as a wet noodle. The dude can’t take his eyes off the entrance of the restaurant and he is sweating buckets. Look at his armpits and the front of his shirt—he looks like he’s having hot-flashes. Poor sweetie—I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
WW: “Poor sweetie?” What do you mean, “Poor sweetie.” How do you know he’s a sweetie and not a serial killer? I’m telling you “my chocolate Lucy,” mind your own business.
At that moment, an unusually tall brunette in 5-inch heels, a pencil skirt half-way up her ass, sporting a short biker leather jacket, and dog-collar choker, with her hair pulled up in a stern ponytail and her eyes encased in Goth carbon-black eyeliner and eye-shadow strolled into the restaurant looking defiantly for the guy that matched the picture on the paper she carried in her hand. Just as she was about to turn away and go back out the door, our waiter sprang into action and rushed over to the woman who looked like an escapee from a dominatrix film and asked if she was looking for “Dennis” ? As her eyes lit up in pleasant surprise, the waiter said, “No, I’m not Dennis, he’s over there” and gently steered “Ms. D.” to Nebbish’s table. The woman’s back stiffened and you could tell she was not down with the guy who looked nothing like our handsome waiter. As soon as I saw Ms. D’s reaction to Mr. N, I knew that lover-boy had not been honest about his profile and Ms. Dominatrix was going to kick his ass over the dishonesty, if given half the chance.
MS. D: So you’re Dennis, huh? I’ve just got to say this, right up front and right now (God, I’m so tired of this shit); you don’t look anything like your online picture. What the fuck—the waiter looks more like this picture than you do! Wait a minute. . .is that it, did you submit the waiter’s picture for your profile?
MR. NEBBISH: Um, no . . . it’s mine. Ha, ha . . . don’t get bent out of shape over a silly picture. I mean what’s a picture compared to a heart? At least I wasn’t crass and I didn’t send you a photo of my “little Dennis” (if you know what I mean) like some stories I’ve heard about online—right? I mean, no, I didn’t mean to say that; I mean, yes . . . I mean maybe my waiter friend helped me out just a little and loaned me one of his photos. . . Oy!
As “Dennis” tried to present his decimated rose to compensate for the awkward “little Dennis” joke and his pathetic life, he inadvertently knocked his glass of red wine all over the table. And as I watched the back of the woman’s neck turn beet red as she sat down across from her buyer’s remorse, I frantically searched for anything to write with to help hapless Dennis salvage his date (it turned out my lip liner would have to do). The woman’s back was to me, but I could see the man’s face without a problem and he could see mine. I heard nose-diving snippets of one-liners from Mr. Nebbish accompanied by the high-pitched laughter of a hyena as his friend, the waiter, tried to rush in menus and sop up wine to help out the situation, while Mr. Nebbish’s nerves and the pitch of his voice became more strained: “Ha, ha, you are just like my twelve-year-old daughter—she gets a little potty mouth when she can’t have her own way—you better sit down ‘little girl’ (ha, ha, ha)!” At that point I held up my frantically scrawled napkin sign for the nebbish that screamed, “Abort, abort . . . DROP THE KID ANALOGY—it’s too soon,” but Mr. Nebbish ignored me and heroically forged on with his rehearsed death march, “I thought we’d start with a bottle of bubbly, and then move on down the road to my favorite gourmet restaurant (Chipotle) for a romantic dinner.” At that point, WW went to the men’s room (either to really do his business or escape my embarrassing, busybody antics), and I grabbed WW’s napkin and scrawled another sign, “No, no dude—can’t you see she’s just not into you—ABORT, ABORT—save your pride—save your balls!!”
When Dennis started throwing out more desperate lines like, “I rode in on my Harley” (sure you did, Dennis!) and “Maybe I could bring my daughter next time” (Oh, Dude, there will be no next time!), I saw Ms. Dominatrix excuse herself to go to the restroom all the while proclaiming she wasn’t blowing Dennis off, and that she’d be right back. As she left with her coat and purse (that’s a sign, nebbish-man, for the next time—nobody takes their coat and purse to the restroom unless they are leaving), I shook my head in devastation for Dennis and mouthed the words, “she’s not coming back, Dude—I’m so sorry!”
A Chuck Ingwersen Cartoon
After the angry Dominatrix stormed off into the blue, and the dejected Dennis rode off into the sunset, WW and I talked about what we had witnessed for the rest of the evening as we cuddled and sipped champagne on our couch while a romantic comedy streamed across the TV in the background. We had met some forty years ago, five years after the landmark civil rights case of Loving vs. Virginia that made it possible for interracial couples to marry without being in violation of the law and being thrown in jail for disobeying that law—especially in Virginia, the state where we currently live.
ME: Honey, do you think we would have ever met if we had to rely on a dating site?
WW: No! You weren’t into “white men” in your radical 60s, remember, so you would have never checked “open to dating all races” even if it had been legal and socially acceptable. What was that famous line of yours: “There ain’t nothin’ no white man can do for me!”
ME: Well, you wouldn’t have checked the box that said “I’m into hot black chicks,” either. The only black person that you ever remotely knew was the mailman and only because your dog, Trixie, used to chase him down the street and try to bite a hole in his ass. That damn family dog of yours never chased anybody else except the black mailman. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when your mother wrote and told us that racist dog of theirs had died.
WW: But that’s my point: we had to meet each other in settings far away from our families, had to work with each other in a theater group as we grew as friends, and had to mingle with each other as part of a group of accepting and inclusive friends to break down those racial barriers, or our love would have been squelched before it could begin. Who knows if that couple tonight could have made it or not? All they saw were the stereotypes of each other. They never got to the issues of the heart. Maybe nebbish-man was the softening around the edges dominatrix-woman needed and she was the steel nebbish-man needed to strengthen his spine. It was one nebbish and dominatrix demolition derby in that restaurant tonight and “never the hearts did meet.” This online stuff is a tool but only a tool. If people don’t really take the time to go below the surface, it’s a faulty tool at best. But once a couple gets together, I suspect it takes investment and hard work. And speaking of investment, I’m tired of talking about those people we saw tonight; let’s turn off the TV and put on some music of our own.
(And so to the mellifluous strains of Marvin Gaye singing, “Let’s get it on. . .” WW and I forgot all about nebbish-man and dominatrix-woman and did our own wild thing—the romance that keeps us “keeping on” even after all this time).
I am discovering that “romance” is simply the ticket into the amusement park: the sexual attraction that hooks up the lovers and gives them a jump-start at the beginning and continues to turn their engines throughout the course of the relationship. But romance was never meant to be the whole enchilada (mixed metaphor intended).
I may be wrong, but to me, marriage is 90% hard work and 10% “a thrill up your spine.” There is no “perfect solution” to finding a perfect mate to take this journey with—no matter what eHarmony promises. I believe you can meet a potential mate wherever people gather—either randomly “falling in love” on a glorious sunny day or methodically letting an algorithm guide you to each other through a dating service. Your husband or wife will either be the best thing that ever happened to you or he or she will be the relationship from Hell and no matter how you met your mate, both people will still have to give it all they’ve got to make it work and keep the marriage vibrant. People always ask me, “what’s your secret to a long and fulfilling marriage,” and lately I’ve been telling them, “It’s the ’4-Hs’:
Humility: a thirst for knowledge of a higher power (cause you could be wrong about so much shit today as well as tomorrow) and the ability to readily express to your God and partner: “I’m sorry; please forgive me!” goes a long way in going the distance
Humor: a ready ability to laugh at oneself and never take oneself too seriously—ever
Honor: a never-ending sense of wanting to empower one’s partner and love what he or she loves—always
Hearing: an ability to be the world’s greatest listener to your partner’s incessant chatter (hopes and dreams)—knowing that you love it when he or she listens to your bullshit
Humility is so important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your frustration about the ways your spouse is an asshole. You need to remember that the ways you are an asshole are being tolerated by your spouse.”—Richard B.Smith, DC Psychologist Specializing in Marriage and Family counseling as tagged by Washingtonian/Dec 2012
“Develop a poor memory. That is, do not collect grievances and throw them in your spouse’s face. No one wants to hear, ‘This is just like the time on our honeymoon when you . . . .’”—Emily Yoffe, Who Writes the Dear Prudence Column for Slate as tagged by Washingtonian/Dec 2012
“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”― Dave Meurer
“Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery.”—Erma Bombeck
“One of the nicest things you can say to your partner, “If I had it to do over again, I’d choose you—Again.“—Unknown
WW (“White and Wonderful”) and the Dalai Mama blogger
*Christian Nordqvist. “Fallin Love Hits the Brain Like Cocaine Does.” Medical News Today. Medilexicon, Intl., 27 Oct. 2010. Web.
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