April 28th: “After the Movie”

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?

6 Responses to “April 28th: “After the Movie””

  • >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.

    Yes! This reminds me of one of my absolute favorite bits in IfaP: The argument Nev has with his sister, late in the book, about what love is and isn’t.

    I was on his side with all the “It’s not hearts and flowers; it’s about hard work” stuff. Then she came back with “Okay, it’s all that, but it’s more than that too,” and I thought, oh, man, she totally just SCHOOLED him! (Schooled me too, because I thought he’d won the debate.) I have a weakness for arguments where I find myself nodding vigorously along with both sides.

    • Rose:

      Yay! Yes, I was thinking exactly about that argument when I wrote this post! EEE, I’m glad you liked it, it’s one of my favorite parts of the book too.

      Okay, total tangent, but: I also love arguments where both people are right. It’s–okay, bringing it back to Star Trek as I so often do, but that was one of the things I loved about the original series. No matter how weird or unethical the aliens seemed to Kirk/McCoy/humans/the viewers, they almost ALWAYS had a point of view that made sense to them. I hate it when minor characters only seem to exist in relation to the protagonist, it just seems so unfair! And when their opinions only seem to exist either to bring the hero(ine) onto the right path or to be debunked by him/her, that feels like cheating too. So I try really hard as a writer to make sure that minor characters have coherent, complete viewpoints of their own even when they don’t agree with the protagonist or even with me. Plus it’s important to me that when my hero/heroine disagree over something, they both have a point. First because I think in life it’s usually like that, second because it’s fun to write, and third because otherwise either the relationship feels unequal to me–it used to drive me crazy in old-skool romances how the heroine was always WRONG about everything and the hero had to teach her how to live–or one of them’s just being a jerk.

  • FD:

    Mmmm, I see love as both an emotion, and a verb.

    On the one hand, I’m big on love as something you do because as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how much you care, how intensely you feel about someone, if your behaviour doesn’t reflect that, you don’t really love them. That goes for how you let them treat you as well as how you treat them; if you let someone treat you badly, I sort of see that as not loving them enough to help them be a better person.

    On the other, you can behave as lovingly as you like, but no amount of controlled behaviour is going to create the feeling for you if it isn’t already there.

    I guess, you can love without a relationship, you can have a relationship without love, or you can have a loving relationship.
    The first is easy, you never have to work at it, but ultimately unrewarding. The second is emotionally safe but unrewarding and hard work. The third is hard, and emotionally painful sometimes, but deeply rewarding on a number of levels.

    • Rose:

      That’s a great way of putting it!

      I’m especially interested in this: “On the other, you can behave as lovingly as you like, but no amount of controlled behaviour is going to create the feeling for you if it isn’t already there.” Yes! I think a lot of times people DO try to create love by going through the motions of being in a relationship, because they care about the other person, or because the other person seems like the sort of person they want to be with, or because they’re afraid to be alone, or because they hope that in time they WILL start loving that person–and I think in the end that’s a really painful experience. I’ve never been in quite that situation myself, but when I was younger there were definitely a couple of really cool guys I dated even though I wasn’t that into them, hoping that I would BECOME interested in them. And the more I tried, the less interested I was and the worse I felt about it. It’s something I love seeing explored in romance, when the heroine will cling to an obviously unfulfilling relationship and resist the hero, because she BELIEVES that the first relationship is what she wants or should want.

  • I like that poem!

    >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.

    THIS!

    Love is a feeling but it’s also action. And it’s also not just a state of being, but a process, hard work–it’s something that improves itself. Loving somebody means learning them.

    I think the Golden Rule has confused a lot of people. If the ultimate moral principle is “do unto others as you would have them do unto YOU,” then the only understanding you need is an understanding of yourself. But what I really believe is that while seeing yourself truly is crucial, it’s impossible to navigate the world in an ethical way without expanding your point of reference. In other words, if you love somebody you should figure out how THEY want you to treat them, and attempt that.

    So if you feel love for someone, okay, but that’s not going to suffice in a long-term relationship with them unless you make a point of studying them, of listening to them, and of figuring out how they want to be loved.

    It’s the difference between a guy buying his wife diamonds because the commercials said this is how women know they are loved, and buying tickets to Wiscon because he knows from hours of conversation and watching her read Joanna Russ that what she really likes is feminist science fiction. Or, on the other hand, the difference between the clod and the pebble, who think that in love one partner has to subsume him/herself into the other, and a relationship in which everyone is a full person with agency, opinions, and preferences, and the other recognizes and respects this.

    Well, that was long.

    (To answer your question in the Clod and Pebble thread, my best friend is Ben Bagley.)

    • Rose:

      Yes! I agree completely, especially this:

      I think the Golden Rule has confused a lot of people. If the ultimate moral principle is “do unto others as you would have them do unto YOU,” then the only understanding you need is an understanding of yourself. But what I really believe is that while seeing yourself truly is crucial, it’s impossible to navigate the world in an ethical way without expanding your point of reference. In other words, if you love somebody you should figure out how THEY want you to treat them, and attempt that.

      This is something I’ve been thinking about–I think one of the hardest parts of any relationship is learning to communicate (and ESPECIALLY to communicate affection and appreciation) in a way that works for the other person. It is really easy to be hurt by another person’s behavior because you’re interpreting it by your own lights (“If I did that, it would mean I was angry” or “If I did that, it would mean I wanted to be alone” or whatever), and it’s really easy to hurt someone else because you’re communicating in a way that would make sense to YOU, without thinking about how they might react differently. And in my experience it is really, really difficult to rewire those things, no matter how tiny they are.

      Say hi to Ben for me!

Leave a Reply