My two daughters are now in the mode where their choice of movie is less Wallace and Gromit and more Love Actually. It’s not a massive problem, I don’t dislike RomComs, they serve their purpose and give hope to two little girls.
Before I met my wife, I used to think that they were silly, without purpose. I didn’t find love, didn’t find anyone who would treat me well, none of it. I thought the possibility of that was more than a little far-fetched. I was, quite simply, the “other guy” of the romantic comedy. I was the allergy-ridden ex-boyfriend of Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle. I was the nerdy guy that ended up not getting the girl.
But I got my romantic comedy. It ended up with the wrong ending, but I got it nonetheless. I met the woman far out of my league. She met a guy she thought would treat her like someone should be treated. I had been told by more than a few people that the crazy, silly things that happened throughout our relationships could have been perfect rom-com fodder. From getting blown off because it would take too long for Andrea to put her makeup on . . . to proposing to her at the airport before she got on a plane to be out of town for a week. The fact we shouldn’t have ended up together at all could make interesting and funny material.
But we’re not a Hollywood story. To start, real life was happening in-between the Ephron-isms that followed us around. We had serious problems at major points in our marriage. My wife got insanely jealous at one point and it created a serious problem for us, made all more awful by the fact that I just hadn’t realized that it was bothering her. I was so bewildered by the fact anyone would have thought I was that worthwhile that I didn’t take it seriously. But that’s the problem: my poor self-reflection also accidentally told her I thought she was settling when she married me. She never thought that. I always did.
But the whole rom-com point here is the fact that I am faced with having bigger discussions with these amazing girls of mine. It’s very hard to balance because I did have that kind of amazing storybook buildup and dating life. My kids saw us married, knew we had already fallen in love, heard the stories of our dating from our own mouths and the glassy-eyed, foggy-memoried tales from our friends and family. The tale is more than the truth. What my kids don’t hear about is the clinical depression their Mom faced; the lack of intimacy that grew because as the years wore on the date rape their Mom had endured ate away at her and at us as time wore on. It wore on, got worse and so did the arguments. It’s not a pretty chapter of our lives and I wish I could erase it, but it’s there, burned into the flesh of my brain.
I want my girls to have the Fairy Tale. I want them to get the right guy, not settle. They’re worth pampering and primping and loving.
Finally I’d come to the conclusion that I had to lay the cards on the table, at least with my oldest. The reality, I’ve told her this evening, is that her mother and I were friends long before we were married. It’s here we buck the Hollywood trend. The atypical script says “I don’t want to ruin what we have – I don’t want to ruin our friendship!” It’s wrong. Love can’t cover it all. If it did, Eric Clapton and Patty Boyd would still be married – the fairytale ending to Layla. But even when I was not dating Andrea, I wanted to tell her when things went right and have her comfort me when things went wrong. When she had a hard time I wanted to fix it. When she got stood up I wanted to kick the guy in the teeth. Love is amazing and beautiful. Friendship is permanent and fun and connected.
We were watching a television version of a Dickens story – the Mystery of Edwin Drood. It’s typical Dickensian melodrama, and it will come as no surprise to those who know me I am quoting Dickens. I love the language and the structure in the man’s writing. I own a 1900 copy of A Christmas Carol. I have read Great Expectations a number of times. In “Drood” the woman – magnet to the affections of the wrong kind of man – asks her guardian what it’s like to finally find true love. ”True love,” says the man to his ward . . . “is always returned.”
It’s a simple line but so true. What I want for all four kids isn’t the romantic comedy. I want they to love and find that, without reservation or hesitation, it’s returned with no price paid. Love is easy. True love is something that is given and received.
It’s hard when you’re 12 or 17 to see the Hollywood version and then hear your Dad tell you that that good looking guy who gets everything is likely never going to be “the one” but the decent looking guy who makes you laugh and holds you when things go wrong – he’s the guy. I’m their Dad, and after this last year, I doubt anyone will ever be good enough for them in my eyes. But I do think they deserve to be happy and loved. I just want them to realize and recognize it when it comes.
It’s amazing that after more than a hundred years Charles Dickens can spark such a philosophical discussion. But when my daughters see the romantic comedy and the instant attraction I want them to realize that it’s not always the guy you lock eyes with across the room. Sometimes it’s they guy who wipes your eyes when it doesn’t go well.
Andrea had stormy blue-grey eyes that were like the sky after a thunderstorm. Abbi’s are eyes of silver. All three of my girls – my late wife, Andrea, Abbi – the oldest and Hannah- my middle – smile with those eyes. The silver pouring into your soul. Both kids think that guys aren’t there who will understand them. But my Dad found a woman who laughed with him and understood how he thought. So did I, for awhile. It’s not impossible, it’s just a bit Dickensian.