Occasionally an announcement would come over the address system at my school: “There will be no public display of affection at Lincoln High School.” PDA, as it is sometimes called, was forbidden and a cause for disciplinary action. I was never sure what the principal was referring to, since I had witnessed neither kissing nor hand holding in the halls. Apparently, however, some couples had found a way to do some surreptitious smooching leaning into their lockers.
Such discomfort surrounded public displays of affection, much less of any sexually suggestive behavior, that all sorts of boundaries were common. On television, couples slept in twin beds. The first appearance of Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show only showed him from the waist up since his pelvic gyrations were not seen as appropriate family entertainment.
Imagine my reaction back then if I knew that I would some day see couples in parks “carrying on.” In Portland, where I used to live, there have been complaints about a full range of sexual activity in doorways and sidewalks. In New England we seem to remain more subdued, though our weather may play a part in it!
PDA seems to be defined very differently around the world. Here an occasional quick kiss seems to be allowable, as long as the couple is either heterosexual or family members. I don’t know how it is other places, and would welcome any shared insights from my readers.
Back before the internet, email or cell phones, when long distance calls were expensive, people stayed in touch through the mail. And those in love sent each other love letters. Some families treasure old love letters that were saved and tucked away only to resurface after a death. Unfortunately, my mother destroyed my father’s love letters to her, so I never got to read about the beginnings of their relationship. But I have words of love about my grandfather from my grandmother.
In general, I think, love letters went back and forth when couples were separated by distance. During the wars letters, heavily censored, kept couples connected. When I was in Oregon and the logger was in Alaska, we wrote letters. When I was in Massachusetts for a month, a romantic interest and I kept up a steady stream of letters. Most of those were about ideas, books and music, not what one typically imagines when thinking of “love letters.” But the “I miss you” and “I really miss you” can only fill so much paper!
I can’t imagine that people today are sending many love letters. Even our local card store has replaced its abundance of cards for a small corner offering. The rest of the place was turned over to gifts and clothing. And here postage has now gone to 55cents, a pretty strong disincentive to write when email is free.
Still there is nothing like the physicality of a hand written letter. There is the particular handwriting of the other. Sometimes there is even a little token enclosed, a sticker or a clipping, or a photo. I can’t imagine people hanging onto emails in the same way that we hung onto letters. And while I used to read and reread letters, I never do that with email and certainly not with texts, no matter how filled with kiss emojis.
We have all heard the expression “love is blind.” I never took much time to think about that sentence until the last couple of days. As I did so, I realized that love, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, is often blind.
Many new born babies look like Winston Churchill to the casual onlooker. Their little heads are often squished and sometimes pointed after their perilous journey down the birth canal. Here love blindness comes to the rescue. Every woman I have ever known thought that her new baby was the most beautiful creature ever. One look in those eyes and we were goners. We were surprised that everyone else wasn’t similarly enamored. Amazingly enough, it turns out that this also rings true for grandchildren. No wonder we show off pictures of the new babies and drive around with bumper stickers proclaiming “Ask Me About My Grandchildren.”
But while blind love paves the way for intense parental connection, it can also be perilous in romantic situations. I was once engaged to a man I thought intellectually deep. I was blind to the truth until a good friend said point blank, “All still waters don’t run deep; sometimes still waters are just still waters.” Thank heavens she broke through my blinders and I called off the engagement.
Worse still is the blindness some people have towards their addict partners or children. In this case, we call blindness “denial” and are baffled that they can’t see what is so obvious to the rest of us. In the name of love we can refuse to see the truth. True love in this instance needs to be clear sighted, not blind.
And then there is the blind love that allows us to settle down with one partner, overlooking his or her faults. When we love like that we grant the other the grace to be real, warts and all. So it isn’t really blind after all. We just choose to focus on the good. And if we have chosen wisely we might wonder now and then why everyone doesn’t have a mate as “perfect” as ours.
I wrote that all sorts of influences tell us about love. One of the most pervasive, though misleading, themes running through songs in my teen years was the “bad boy.” Always misunderstood always alluring, the bad boy was held out as a desirable catch. In the song “He’s a Rebel”, The Crystals told us that everyone said he would never be any good, but they knew better. Everyone being opposed to the romance heightened the excitement.
After reading a recommendation from beetleypete’s blog, I watched “The Third Man,” starring Orson Welles as the “bad boy.” Although a “good man” becomes available(Joseph Cotton) our female lead sticks with the ne’er do well. “I love him,” seems reason enough for her.
It makes for good pop songs and intriguing movies, but how helpful is the idea in real life? Sadly the love of a good woman doesn’t always change the “bad boy.” In fact, many of those fascinating teenagers turn out to be unreliable and undependable not so grown men. The plea that “I love him,” confuses close friends and seems a poor reason to tolerate appalling behavior no longer attractive in an adult.
So I am grateful that while I enjoyed watching James Dean lounge seductively around, I was never fooled. I had seen the adult version in the fathers of a couple of my friends. They held no appeal. The life of the party, they were inattentive and unattractive husband material. I went for the “good guy” and I am glad I did. But when he puts on dark glasses and throws his jacket over his shoulder, there is just enough “bad boy” to keep things interesting.
A medley of love songs could serve as the soundtrack to accompany my life story. From the age of 9 when I bought my first Elvis Presley record(“All Shook Up”) through the Beatles with “She Loves You,” and on to today, music has captured my various encounters with romantic love. I am always astonished when a song comes on at the gym and I am suddenly catapulted back in time to a place and an emotion.
Sometimes songs remind me of wonderful times. Hearing “Moondance” by Van Morrison places me on a back road with a lumberjack boy friend driving to a farm for eggs and milk. Stevie Wonder’s song “Isn’t She Wonderful” played when my daughter, too, was a precious newborn. But sometimes songs capture heartbreak. Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” came on the car radio just as I was truly understanding that my first marriage was beyond repair.
Many couples seems to have a song they consider their own. At secular weddings these are often played or sung. My husband and I don’t have a song like that, but we did choose a favorite hymn for our ceremony. Lately we have laughed together over a Keb Mo song about a wife’s attempt to change her husband. His song is called “I Liked the Old Me Better.” Another song of his “Suitcase” also allows us a shared amusement about the baggage we each brought into the marriage. Less romantic than songs in our youth, songs that touch us today seem more down to earth. We certainly don’t connect with the recent “I’ll Love You ‘Til 70,” given that I am already past that age!
I would love to hear about songs that connect with you. I promise that I won’t call any of them “silly love songs.”
When we come into the world, we immediately become pupils in the school of love. Of course, no one calls it that, and we certainly don’t recognize that fact then if ever. But all of our experiences including family relationships, friends, romantic partners, religious settings, cultural influences such as books, movies and music, pets we acquire and objects we attach to combine to give each of us a working definition of love. Much of what we learn about love is mysterious. Shouldn’t love be easy? Why is sustaining love often difficult? What might it mean to really “love our neighbor” and “as ourself??” Why are there so many stories about love gone wrong? Why do we often take love for granted? Why do we still long for a happy ending? Why can the same love that heals also hurt? Why do we still love in the face of betrayal? Is there such a thing as unconditional love? And I haven’t even begun to touch on erotic love. That topic will only occur on the edges of future posts though since this will remain G-rated and is not a tell-all,
Our first lessons come to us as babies. And already we are learning much. Is our birth cause for joy or regret? We pick up clues from how we are held and talked to. Are we assigned a task such as with many babies of teen mothers to love rather than to be loved? We absorb a lot without knowing it, and it will show up throughout our lives for better or worse. But we are designed to seek love and our little faces grin expectantly.
Thinking about puppy love and school crushes led me to reflect on falling for men on the big screen. My two favorite were and remain Paul Newman and Denzel Washington. I fell for Paul in high school. I didn’t fall for Denzel until, as a single mother, I began to watch the television series “St. Elsewhere.” I never fantasized about singers while my friends screamed for Elvis and decorated their rooms with his posters. Even the Beatles failed to engage my interest, though, when pushed, I would say I liked John–the moody one–the best. My sister had a monumental crush on Paul(McCartney, not Newman!)But oh those men on those gigantic movie screens!(I quickly found Denzel in the movies. The TV Denzel was just too small to really captivate me.)
I was fond of joking that I would watch either man in an advertisement for rutabagas, so enamored I was by each. Paul lived in Connecticut between our house and New York City. Something about his actual proximity to me in Connecticut fed my secret life. When I would drive through Westport on my way to the City, I would always give him a shout out. Even now that he is gone I toot and say hello to his memory as I drive by.
In 1959, my parents went to Hawaii on a Matson Line ship courtesy of the company since my father did legal work for them. The highlight of the trip for my mother was not the beach, not the sun, not the exotic volcano. She was beyond excited by spotting William Holden(her screen love) on the beach at Waikiki. She didn’t need to talk to him; it was enough to be actually sharing the same stretch of sand.
I have no idea if young girls still fall for movie stars. I have no idea of boys of my generation fell for movie stars. All I know for sure is that when either Paul or Denzel leaned in for a kiss, it was me he was aiming for!
In 1960, when I was in eighth grade, Paul Anka made a hit with his tune “Puppy Love.” It was in the long tradition of young love discounted by adults. Since I was part of the huge baby boom coming into our teen years, misunderstood by our parents, it was a very popular song. Puppy love seems a pretty good put down to dismiss the feelings that first seem to pop up in early adolescence. Perhaps the name allows the parent to stave off for a while the realization that their child is growing up and will make her own romantic choices
My granddaughter found the diary I kept in fifth grade. I make constant references to “James” a boy in my class. I note if he is in class, if he is absent, if he notices me or not. Then I relate the painful moment when “Janice” tells “James” that I like him. This, of course, violates all the rules, and I get back at her by telling “Andy” that “Janice” likes him. My grandchildren think it hilarious that I had a crush on a boy and promptly looked him up in my class yearbook. They laughed even harder when they saw what “James” looked like. They didn’t find him cute.
But I think I was onto something in fifth grade. Amazingly enough, one night I was at a bar and noticed an attractive man across the room. We met up and unbelievably enough, it was “James!” No more came of it then than in fifth grade, but my tastes seemed not to have changed much.
Here’s to those first crushes, those puppy loves, that time when we begin to think that maybe romance isn’t “totally gross.” It’s the time in our lives we stop having to close our eyes when two people kiss in the movies!
I have had a great time throughout January writing about fun and games. I have learned a lot about how much in common I have in other bloggers around the world. I have pondered how it is that a game with five stones can be played in India and England and how around the globe people toss sticks and rocks. Since February features Valentine’s Day in its middle, I thought I would write about love in all its many manifestations. I am starting off with a snapshot of a sampler I made 35 years ago, before I was married to my present husband. It hangs over our bed, a constant reminder of the many delights and challenges that love brings.
I look forward to exploring love in its many dimensions throughout the month. I will also enjoy comments that arise from my contemplations. Love to you all.