Even though I've never been married, I have been "in love" a few times. I've had a lot of time to ponder what real love looks like and what it doesn't. I wanted to share a few thoughts about it. Feel free to drop a comment and agree or disagree.
When I adopted my daughter in 2004 I had been in the dating world for more than twenty years and I was an expert dater. I could tell within 5 minutes of talking to someone whether I would ever want to see him again. I saw the comedian Sinbad once talking about how when he first took a woman to dinner he could tell by the way she chewed her food if he ever wanted to see her again. That made me laugh because it was so true. Yep, when you spend years of your life dating, you become pretty cynical.
Becoming a mom meant putting dating behind me, and it was, frankly, a huge relief. I quit obsessing over my hair, my clothes, working out, my fingernails, etc. I threw away my daily notes. I used to keep notes on everything I wore so I wouldn't repeat an outfit too often. My daughter needed all my time and attention and I was happy to give it to her.
I think what prompted me to write this blog was the fact that I have given up processed sugar and I am making a huge effort to lose weight. My mother said to me the other day "Dee, you're a cute girl. When you get this weight off you can start dating again." She looked startled when I laughed at that. One, I am a 54 year old woman, not a "cute girl" any more. Two, the last thing in the world I want to do again, ever, is date. I would be saying that even if I was a size 4, believe me.
Dating is such a false construct it amazes me that anyone who dates ever finds true love. You are trying your best to look right, act right, say the right things.
Everyone has tests. I had them. If I showed a guy the movie The Producers (the 1967 original with Gene Wilder) and he didn't think it was hysterical, I never wanted to see him again. A guy friend of mine told me if a woman didn't lean over and unlock the car door for him, after he had opened her door for her, that he dumped her. (Nowadays car locks are different of course.)
When I think about real love, I think about the folks I know the best, my parents. They were really attractive when they met. However, there was a lot more.
They got married and had kids, and lived through many ups and downs, and aged. There were times in their marriage when things really weren't going well and Mom wasn't sure she could hang in there, but she did. Dad used to share some frustrations with Mom, with me. I heard both sides. It was not all smooth sailing.
Below, one of my favorite photos of them, taken when they were in Venice in the late 1980's.
Because of them, I have a good idea about real love.
Here's everything I know about real love:
It has nothing to do with looks.
I think most people fall in love based on looks, frankly. It's a threshold test. You either have the looks someone else likes, or you don't. I never seemed to attract anyone who attracted me. Even online dating didn't work. In fact, it was disastrous. As much as I hate to admit it, I went out with guys sometimes that I had met online and thought were interesting, but in person I was NOT attracted to them. I would always rebuke myself for being unfair and uncharitable, but there it was. I was no better than anyone else when it came to attraction.
Rob Wilson, my last Twenty Questions interview, said that studies have shown women are attracted to men by how they smell. If a man doesn't smell pleasing to a woman, she rejects him. It's a primal thing, obviously. He said birth control pills eliminate that and so women sometimes come off the pill and try to get pregnant and realize they are not attracted to a guy at all because he smells wrong. That may be how divorce lawyers stay in business.
I never took birth control pills. Never found the right guy, either. Obviously my nose didn't lead me down the wrong path, thank God.
I have been lucky in my life to be able to closely observe, in addition to my parents' marriage, 5 other marriages of people truly in love. I have 4 uncles and they all had long-lasting, happy marriages. Ditto for my mother's parents. My dad's parents apparently had a lovely real love but they died before I was born, unfortunately.
Real love should be the goal for anyone dating. Surface love won't last.
A friend of mine once told me on his second date with the woman he eventually married, he ate dinner at her apartment and then became violently ill, throwing up. She didn't stop seeing him after that. Her kindness that night told him they were falling in love, not just in lust. They had a happy long-lasting marriage until her death.
For anyone looking for real love, think about the person you're with. If they don't look their best, do you still care? Can you picture yourself cleaning up after them if they have stomach flu? Can you imagine staying with them if they are paralyzed? What if they have very different political opinions from yours? What if they go bald?
These may sound like silly questions but I think they are valid ones. Real love isn't about surfaces. It's about souls. The term "soul mate" is a cliche, but it's true. The person who really makes you laugh - who wants you to laugh and be happy - that's a strong clue. The person who doesn't scold you if you gain 10 lbs. - that's a keeper. The person who can share a long car ride with you in total silence and you're still comfortable with them -- that's a keeper.
I am not looking for anyone, but I am not closed to the idea, either. I am, however, no longer "a cute girl." That's OK. I am going for "a cute old lady" status now. Hopefully, maybe one day I can meet a cute old man who makes me laugh and want to go for a long car ride...