Many years ago the an association of florists came up with the tag line, “Say it with flowers.” Here the stores are full of red roses by the dozen ready to hand to one’s Valentine. They are meant, I suppose, to say “love.” Some people will be thrilled to receive them, some less so. Some will be given with love, some out of some sense of obligation. Here the commercial climate seems to demand that you hand your love something, whether flowers, candy, gifts or jewelry. Advertisements for all fill the news.
I treasure not a bouquet on Valentine’s Day, but a gift of flowers that my husband provides me with each summer. In spring I buy packets of annual flower seed that I love. I draw him a little diagram of how I would like them planted, numbering each packet with a corresponding spot in the flower bed. He has put compost on the bed in the fall and now gets the soil ready as soon as it thaws out. Around the beginning of June he will go out to the plot, lay boards down to designate sections, and painstakingly plant hundreds of flower seeds just as my map requests. All summer long from late June through the first killing frost in October I am rewarded with a blanket of blooms such as the zinnias above from last summer. I feel loved by him every time I step out the back door and see the dazzling display.
There are many ways to tell someone of our love. May each of us find a way to show the people in our lives how we feel. And let’s not get hoodwinked by ads telling us that there is only one right way to do it.
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.