After the Movie
by Marie Howe
My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie.
He says that he believes a person can love someone
and still be able to murder that person.
I say, No, that’s not love. That’s attachment.
Michael says, No, that’s love. You can love someone, then come to a day
when you’re forced to think “it’s him or me”
think “me” and kill him.
I say, Then it’s not love anymore.
Michael says, It was love up to then though.
I say, Maybe we mean different things by the same word.
Michael says, Humans are complicated: love can exist even in the murderous heart.
I say that what he might mean by love is desire.
Love is not a feeling, I say. And Michael says, Then what is it?
We’re walking along West 16th Street—a clear unclouded night—and I hear my voice
repeating what I used to say to my husband: Love is action, I used to say to him.
Simone Weil says that when you really love you are able to look at someone you want to eat and not eat them.
Janis Joplin says, take another little piece of my heart now baby.
Meister Eckhardt says that as long as we love images we are doomed to live in purgatory.
Michael and I stand on the corner of 6th Avenue saying goodnight.
I can’t drink enough of the tangerine spritzer I’ve just bought—
again and again I bring the cold can to my mouth and suck the stuff from
the hole the flip top made.
What are you doing tomorrow? Michael says.
But what I think he’s saying is “You are too strict. You are a nun.”
Then I think, Do I love Michael enough to allow him to think these things of me even if he’s not thinking them?
Above Manhattan, the moon wanes, and the sky turns clearer and colder.
Although the days, after the solstice, have started to lengthen,
we both know the winter has only begun.
Isn’t this great? I just discovered it today. I apologize for the crummy formatting–if you want to see more clearly where the line breaks go, you can read it here–thanks Ursula for directing me to the site!
The question the narrator and Michael are debating is something I wrestle with as a romance writer. In the end, is love a feeling or an action? I’ve definitely said, “Well, he thought he loved her, but if he could do that to her, then it wasn’t really love.”
Then sometimes I think that okay, maybe it was really love, who am I to say that love is only love when it meets my personal standards; but that if you can’t treat someone you love right, then it doesn’t matter whether you love them or not. It took me a long time to understand that if someone says “I love you,” and you love them back, that still doesn’t mean you’re a bad person for not letting them make you miserable.
I believe in the power of love to change lives. And yet in my own experience love, all by itself, isn’t enough to change someone. There have been times in my life when I loved someone desperately and I still wasn’t able–wasn’t brave enough or mature enough or knowledgeable enough or whatever enough–to be what they needed, and times when someone couldn’t change just because they loved me and I wanted or needed them to. We all fail people we love, and we’ve all been failed by people who loved us.
But my favorite kind of romance novel is still the kind where the love of another person and their faith in you, and loving another person and wanting to be what they need, can jolt you out of the bad place you’re in and help you become the person you want to be.
These questions show up a lot in In for a Penny. I think the answer the book comes to is that true love is both. It’s that feeling classical poets write about, and it’s also the day-to-day struggles of being a good partner.
Another book I love for the way it handles these ideas is Megan Chance’s Gilded-Age-set historical novel An Inconvenient Wife. Both the heroine’s husband and her new hypnotherapist love her, but the constraints of the era affect how they express it in ways that can be extremely damaging to her. (WARNING: The book is fabulous and I highly recommend it, but it’s NOT a traditional romance novel.)
What do you think? Can true love conquer all, even someone’s inner demons? Do you have a favorite book, romance or otherwise, that deals with this question?