Sunday, February 13, 2005

Love At First Sight

I spent my formative years in rural Indiana, a perfectly adequate place to grow up, but a place that desperately needed a window to the outside world. My grandmother had been a librarian, so we had a houseful of books, but to be honest i spent more time watching TV than reading. But this was pre-cable, in fact, TV in rural Indiana in the 70s had 4 channels. No, i'm not kidding.

Three of those channels were the major networks, but the fourth was an independent channel that broadcast old movies 24 hours a day. So far as i was concerned they were all black and white movies, because i had a black and white TV, though a large percentage of them were from the 30s and 40s anyway. I watched everything from the Bowery Boys, to Hope and Crosby Road movies, to Cagney/Bogart/Robinson gangster movies, noir classics, screwball comedies, everything. There were certain actors i particularly followed: Fredric March, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Errol Flynn, Mirna Loy, Joseph Cotten. These movies had an inordinate influence on my picture of what it meant to be grown up and what i imagined my adult life would be like.

One assumption i made about my adult life is that i would not marry while i was young. In rural Indiana, it wasn't uncommon for people to get married immediately after high school; but i was convinced that my life would be radically different, because i knew that the first thing i was going to do after high school was leave rural Indiana. I would go to college, grad school, live in a big city, travel the world, and then in, say, my late 30s i'd meet the perfect woman and we'd live happily ever after. More or less, i'd be like Cary Grant's character in Indiscreet.

My plan started out well. I left Indiana about a week after high school graduation, and went to Arizona for college (why Arizona? I'm not sure, but it was a long way from Indiana. I had lived there for a few years as a young kid, and my grandparents still lived just outside Tucson). After my first semester i moved from the dorm to an off-campus apartment with three other guys from my dorm wing. I'm far away from home, living on my own, experiencing a different life. So far, so good.

Slightly more than a month later one of my roommates told us that he was expecting a friend of his to come visit from Phoenix. This friend was a senior in high school and she was coming to Tucson for a CCD meeting. Though i didn't know it, she was also bringing a friend of hers, a classmate named Emily. Emily was coming to the CCD meeting, but also to visit her boyfriend who was in a fraternity at the campus.

I was already a staunch believer in love at first sight, because it happened all the time in the movies. Still, i was unprepared for my reaction to Emily. I was only slightly deterred by the fact that she was in town to see her boyfriend and that at least one of my roommates had designs on her as well. She arrived on Friday, and by Sunday i was kissing her goodbye at the bus station.

For weeks i didn't sleep well and i didn't eat. One of my roommates, and my best friend, and i would travel to Phoenix almost every weekend so that i could see her and we'd stay with his parents. Fortunately, Emily decided to attend the U of Arizona, so by fall we were able to see each other daily.

Although we had no intention of getting married before we got out of college, i knew with certainty that i'd spend the rest of my life with Emily. When we finally did get married 4 years later, i had no cold feet, no second thoughts at all. It was the easiest decision i've ever made.

Now, 17 years later, i know it was the best thing that ever happened to me also. I can't speak for the world, but our marriage has defied almost all of the platitudes that popular culture promotes. We've never had to "work" at our marriage; we've never lost the passion we had in the first years, we've never transferred our attention completely to our children. I have some regrets in life, but my marriage and the things that have come from it are a source of nothing but joy.

At this point it would probably only be fair to admit that one reason why my marriage has been so good is that Emily is a very nearly perfect woman. What prompted me to write this entry is not Valentine's day, but rather the fact that Emily turned 40 yesterday. She could easily pass for 29. She celebrated the day by running a 5k in the morning and then going to boxing training during lunch. Yep, my wife is a total babe, she's amazingly cool, and she could kick the butts of all the other soccer moms. As i've said in the past, her only real fault is her somewhat dubious taste in men.

Steve Martin used to tell this joke that went something like this: "Do you want to know how to be a millionaire and not pay taxes? First, get a million dollars." My advice on how to find true love and live happily ever after would be something similar. First, find the love of your life. Which is to say that, unlike Dr. Phil or any of dozens of other so-called experts, i have no idea how to make it happen unless, through destiny or great good fortune, it just happens. When i look back now at all of the old movies i see something different than what i saw as a youth. I'm still attracted to the witty, urbane characters, although i now identify more with Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins in The Third Man than with Cary Grant in any of his roles. I'm just not that cool. But what i see now is that almost all of these characters, regardless of how easily they kept their equanimity, were fools in love. That, i think, is the prerequisite for happily ever after; and you simply have to deal with the fact that it's also the prerequisite for tragedy and sorrow.

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