How I came to realize I know nothing about most things — but mainly about relationships
In one of my favorite movies of all time, Moonstruck, starring Cher and Nicholas Cage (of all people), there’s a line uttered by a Olympia Dukakis to a man who’s just been dumped by his way-too-young girlfriend publicly, in a restaurant, where Dukakis happens to be eating alone. They go on to dine together where he shares his limited perspective.
Finally, she says to him? “What you don’t know about women — is a lot.”
Great line. The wise Brooklyn flavor of it. The actual construction, with its surprise, anti-climactic but all-encompassing ending.
I’ve referred to that line so many times since 1987 when the movie came out, mainly in relationship to myself in relationships. What you don’t know about relationships — is a lot. Still a lot. How did I get here with such limited information?
I do know this: for better or worse, I’ve always been interested in having relationships. At four, while my family was stationed in Orléans, France, about 70 miles from Paris (where all the American troops were stationed), I convinced my best friend, a little boy across the street whose family I’d adopted as my own, that we should get married. Immediately. Urgently. Let’s do this now: why wait?
I vividly remember the location in our big yard, a yard filled with chestnut and fruit trees. (That’s the place, in the picture, and that’s me.) I remember the crucible in my heart — having the idea, and then engineering its fulfillment. It was as if — already — I viewed marriage as entirely necessary to seal our bond, the bond between even this tiny little man and tiny little woman. We were together. We were best friends. I wanted ownership. There was a kiss, also engineered by me, and then… we just kept on playing.
Isn’t that how relationships seem to work? You just keep playing. No one stops you on the playground to say,
- “Are you really ready and equipped to play on these monkey bars with this person?”
- “Have you read the safety instructions that go with teeter-tottering?”
- “Are you able and willing to fix the playground equipment if you break it?”
- And most importantly, “Do you know how to apply a Band-Aid both to yourself and to another even if you’re in the zone and just learned your best trick?
No, no, no, and no. Just climb aboard and play. Oh, there will be other little boys and little girls there who will hang upside down and wave. They will get hurt, and you will have no problem helping them. There will be expert pairs on the teeter-totter who will make it look sooooo easy, that you’ll think maybe you just got the wrong person, that what you got is someone pushing up too hard or landing too hard. That it’s not you.
Not only are you not given the tools you really need — like mandatory classes in non-violent communication starting in, say, 2nd grade, so you actually have a chance. Or like that concise book of rules to learn and be tested on before you get that marriage license from the county clerk. But then beyond that, there’s the draw and effortless brainwashing of fantasy, of anything that makes it seem better, easier, more fun, more exciting, or more heroic than you think it actually is.
From the epic of Gilgamesh on, maybe even before that, we’ve been comparing ourselves to more interesting others. I spent years watching and studying romantic comedies of the 40’s and 50’s with all their cleverness and sweetness and wit. I grew up watching inane TV shows like I Dream of Jeanie, Bewitched and Get Smart with who knows what consequence. I threw myself into the big fat novels by people like Leon Uris and Victoria Holt. The combination? Lethal! Confusing! Enticing! Just plain wrong! Or — just plain my trajectory.
As a result, I started writing novels and creating characters that were re-invented me’s having re-invented lives and tying up re-invented plot twists. How Max meets Mimi. How Annie Lee met Lucas. How Miranda met Billy. All doing, somehow, what I felt was necessary for couples to do. Meet, have conflict, see the light, and live happily every after having somehow solved the mystery of their two-ness and oneness. (I wonder what their sequels would actually look like, given what I think I know now. )
Of course, upon examination, we realize our stories are big. What we learn and apply and how we speak to each and every person is monumental, affective, and life changing. The old habits dying hard are dying very very important micro-deaths. I’m very simply the product of my father and mother’s crucible, who are products of their parents’ crucibles who are products of theirs and so on. Their blood, and to some extent their struggles and stories, are mine.
For example, and just one way of looking at it: My dad, an authoritarian (Enneagram 8, 7 wing) married my mom (Enneagram 5, 6 wing). I married a 5 with a 6 wing, and then after he passed, I married an 8 with a 7 wing. Life is huge, every single day, even as we try to minimize it, compare it, wrestle it into submission, escape from it. They are all epics, these relationships we co-create, huge sailing voyages in a sea of time.
Humans sweetly, tenderly and without much information at all try to heal what is theirs to heal. They are drawn to what nuts they are here to crack. When they fail in their relationships, they flail and fall back on old habits, maybe slightly less than they did before. If they are lucky, by an act of grace, they eventually learn the lessons we are all here to learn: how to accept ourselves and others, including our partners; how to take things lightly and take things seriously; how to learn the truth about ourselves and own it to the best of our abilities, right here and right now. How, exactly, to begin opening our hearts.