Thursday, November 14, 2002

The Lie About Love and Marriage

Several young women at work (all under 30) were raving about the Jennifer Lopez interview with Diane Sawyer, in which J-Lo expressed her overwhelming love for Ben Affleck. She showed off her engagement ring and gushed about how romantic he is and how deep their passion runs.

As they described the show, all I could think was, This sort of thing on television is dangerous.

Millions of young American women watched that show and no doubt wished they could find a relationship as perfect as J-Lo and Ben's. They see her spewing lines like, "I am such a kind of artist in that way, you know...where it's just like, you know, the idea of love and fairy tales and romance and all that." In other words, she's in love with the idea of being in love.

Sorry, Jennifer, but that's not what marriage is about.

That's not a good basis for a long-term relationship. That's the sort of nonsense that gets you and lots of other young women in trouble. That's why your only anniversaries have been the paper ones, and the paper has been your divorce decree both times.

Take it from me, with the perspective of 19 years with my wife.

Love, romance, and passion are not the most important things in a marriage. At least not the kind you're talking about. I'm not saying that you don't need those elements, but you can't base a lifetime partnership on them.

No one ever steps forward in the media to expose this lie, perhaps because it's not sexy to bring up the more important concepts of compatibility, support, and the simple matter of just being able to put up with another person day in and day out.

You want to know what love is -- the kind of love that makes a marriage work?

It's the times you get into an argument with your spouse over something minor that annoys both of you, and one of you ends the discussion with "fine, we'll do it your way" -- and you can both accept that and go on with your lives.

It's coming home to find that your spouse has gone to the store and bought a box of Mallomars and not finished them all in one sitting so that there are a few left for you.

It's the time your spouse is snoring so loudly that it's measured on the Richter scale, but instead of giving them yet another shove, you just get up and go sleep in the guest room or on the couch.

It's not complaining when one of you loses your job and you have to eat cheese sandwiches for dinner every night because you can't afford to go out to dinner for awhile.

It's going to different movies at the same time because you don't want to be dragged into seeing "Jackass" any more than he wants to be forced to sit through "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood."

It's hearing your spouse say, "I have to get out of this house and be alone for awhile," and being relieved because you feel the same way -- and that's okay with both of you.

It was the night I held my wife's hair back as she threw up into the toilet with morning sickness in the first trimester of her pregnancy. There was more love between us in that bathroom than Jennifer and Ben can ever know.

Of course, they can't relate to most of those, because they don't live in the real world. They're rich and have assistants to handle the most mundane tasks. But I'm not just talking about money.

This is about her fairy tale world of adoration, worship, infatuation, and lust. She gets that from her fans (appearing semi-nude in public tends to bring that out in some people) and so it has become her reality. It's about as real as soap operas, which are another source of false inspiration to too many young women, and it can retard their ability to comprehend those things that go into a truly successful long-term liaison.

I'd like to see the expression on J-Lo's face the first time she watches Ben cut his toenails, and one of them goes flying in her direction. Or when he comes home from a workout and leaves his sweat-soaked t-shirt and underwear on the bedroom floor. Or when she sees him dressed for a night on the town and has to suppress the urge to ask, "You're not wearing THAT, are you?"

Remember a couple of years ago, when Julia Roberts was spewing the same sort of nonsense in every interview she did? At the time, she was dating Benjamin Bratt, and had to tell the whole world how wonderful he was, with all the dreamy, tender things he did for her, how he made her feel so special, blah blah blah. The first time I saw her babbling on about it, I knew the relationship was doomed.

Those are the hallmarks of dating, not marriage. All guys do those romantic things at the beginning, but we can't possibly keep that up year after year, or we'd die. Neither can women -- particularly after kids enter the scene.

Lopez told Sawyer that she's "smothered" with Affleck's heat (where did she learn that being "smothered" was a good thing?). What she hasn't grasped is that a good long-term relationship is like grilling a good steak. Yes, you need heat to make it perfect, but if you keep that heat on too long, you ruin it.

It's a matter of expectations. Spend your life looking for an eternally roaring fire, and you're going to get burned. Instead, set your expectations -- and that flame -- on low, and you'll be amazed how much more fun simmering is than smothering.