Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Relationship's "Blue Valentine" Moment

It's been awhile since I've given much thought about love and relationships.  That's probably because my other love affair with food and travel have occupied my days for the entire holiday season up until New Year's.  I'm not complaining and neither is J since he gets to reap the benefits of our "dinner dates" in an effort to save money for our wedding.

To help us get back into a "relationships" state of mind, I had been pleading with J to watch the film Blue Valentine with me for the past few weeks.  I met a staff member who works for the Sundance Film Festival and this was one of the top films that got some buzz.  It was also a bonus for me that Ryan Gosling is one of the leads, opposite Michelle Williams.  [Potential spoiler below]

For those who aren't fanatics who like to read reviews a la Rotten Tomatoes prior to watching the movie (guilty, here), you should know that it's not your typical feel-good love story.  Just so you know what you're getting yourself into.  It's raw, emotional, at times touchingly innocent, but the overall tone is depressing and somewhat foreboding.  I knew it was a story of how a love and marriage crumbles and it was probably the worst idea ever to drag my fiance to watch this cinematic destruction as some sort of ominous warning. 

Anyone who loves a good train wreck will stop to watch anyways.   My best friend must have felt the same way because she took her husband to watch the movie the week before I saw it.  I went to bed and read a text from her stating: "Warning:  Watching Blue Valentine might cause fights with significant other during dinner."  

Alas, the train wreck was too hard to resist.  While this was likely the anti-thesis to my First Dates Project idea (more like a date deflate), I felt compelled to see whether I'd pick up glimpses of myself or J in the characters and their very-real slice of life scenes.  Would we see what could be in store for us, as well?

The film portrayed two very different couples and lives.  The first couple, the young Cindy and Dean, were in love and idealistic.  They married young and checklist prerequisites like social status and an education didn't matter.  The second couple, the older Cindy and Dean six years later, were tired, emotionally and sexually repressed, and either out of love or desperately clinging on to love.  It's gritty and real, even more so when the film juxtaposes their relationship from both extremes.  One scene they're in their teens and deliriously happy while dancing in the streets, and the next instant, it flashes to the present day and they're haggard and arguing over feeding their daughter oatmeal.  The future of marriage, as Blue Valentine portrays it, looks pretty damn awful. 

I wanted to love the movie and gain some sort of relationship insight, but it left me feeling empty and somewhat dissatisfied.  My tissue pack remained untouched and J looked thoroughly unimpressed.

"I thought it was okay..." I start off unconvincingly as we walk in the parking lot towards our car.  
"I didn't like it,"  J says.
"Well, the acting was great," I start over, trying to make sense of it in my head.  And it was. "Maybe the script wasn't well developed."  After all, I had to defend my movie choice and the 88% movie rating. 
J shrugs and says, "Eh.  That could have been a rental."
"Fine, why didn't you like it?"  I counter.  A flash of my best friend's warning text comes to mind.  He's quiet.  I realize it's probably why I didn't like the movie and I feel a twinge of irrational worry.  "Do you think we could be like that?"  
"I didn't like it because the movie doesn't really show us how their marriage ended, or why it ended.  It just shows them at the beginning and the end.  There has to be something in between for the relationship to just not work," J says thoughtfully.  
 A beat later.  
"And no, I don't think we will be like that."
"But how do you know?  How can anybody know that?" I cry, more of a rhetorical question than a direct interrogation.

I didn't love the movie, but it did represent a few of the fears that I have about marriage and lifetime commitments.  The truth is, nobody can be 100% certain of how they'll feel in the future; people can only be sure of the present.  I know that when people say their vows, they are 100% sure in the moment of that promise.  I also know that years down the road, when divorce and break-ups happen, those same people are also 100% sure of moving on with their lives.  Both J and my parents, and 50% of other divorced couples are a testament to that point.  That's the scary thing about people - their emotions and thoughts are constantly changing.  I'm fearful that one day, J and I might face our own "Blue Valentine" episode in our relationship - the point when the relationship changes for the worst because the people in it have changed.

I think the key thing to combat that fear is having a sense of control and choice in the relationship.  What the movie left out was the crucial part, the "in-between" piece that could have changed everything for Cindy and Dean.  That's where the real changes can happen in a relationship - not the beginning lovey dovey stage, nor the tired worn-out battle stage at the end, but in the relationship as it's happening right then and there.  Maybe it's being the first to say sorry every now and then, or ensuring that you both won't go to bed angry at night, or taking the time to say "I love you" and mean it.  It's usually these small gestures that go a long way into preventing the monsters from building up inside. 

A strong relationship can't end overnight, but a strong commitment to each other everyday in the relationship might be what saves it.  I can't say or make J say "We will never become like that" because it really can happen to anyone.  But what we both can say with certainty is that we'll be equally vigilant to make sure we won't let it lead down that path.  That's an effort that takes two equally committed people and I'm willing to risk that effort as he is, too.           



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