Sunday, June 17, 2012

On love, in sadness

Perhaps better than writing a blog that is just for daily essays would be writing a blog about life lessons learned from film.

So much of my life is clarified, enlightened and made more beautiful by seeing the experiences I've had in reality reflected back at me in movies. Even experiences I haven't had are made real for me through art. I feel so lucky to have the ability to lose myself in cinema in such a way that I find real, life-changing meaning in the stories I see on screen.

Like today when I sat down for dinner with my dad to watch Kramer vs. Kramer. We don't always sit down and watch movies over meals, but tonight when I flipped through channels and saw this movie (that I had seen clips of but never actually watched) appearing on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), I thought, Why not? At least for the next 30 minutes or so while I finish off my meal.

What was just a source of fleeting entertainment turned into a reason for questioning my feelings about love, marriage, divorce, childhood and filial relationships. It shook my feelings of stability, and reminded me that what I've always considered the natural state of things might not be the belief system set in stone that I once thought it was.

I was raised by two different parents at two different times. Like in Kramer vs. Kramer, I came from a doting, but sometimes a little too screwy for his own good, father. I also came from a mother who needed to figure herself out emotionally before she was ready to be in a happy relationship. Though my situation differed by the fact that both of my parents were absolutely wonderful to me (with occasional frustrations), I could sense hints of myself in Billy Kramer's childhood as he watched his estranged parents' marriage fall apart and his own living situation alter and change until he could barely cope with sadness, confusion and anger.

Many kids don't even consider the idea of divorce because they don't see it in their daily lives. If it isn't there it obviously doesn't have to be dealt with, so they don't. I, on the other hand, dealt with it from practically day one. In my early infancy, my parents split up permanently (it was only a separation, not a divorce, but it could have been either and the situation would have been the same). I was left to live with my single mother in a single bedroom condominium for the first 11 years of my life.

One day, I was in the car with my dad and I started crying. "I want you and my mom to live together," I told him through my tears. This was the one time I ever breached the subject. I can't remember what he said in response, but I guess in time I just figured out that the idea of having my parents together again was a pipe dream. Not even worth thinking about. And all before I had reached puberty.

It's hard being the child of parents who aren't together. You get mixed up in their problems, become privy to mature ideas that you shouldn't be dealing with until beyond teenagehood. At the same time you're believing that babies are automatically produced when people get married and they come out your mommy's bellybutton, you're also being confronted with the notion that perhaps marriage does not entail stability in a relationship.

Does anything entail stability, actually?

Watching my parents, it would be easy to believe that there was never actually love there. In the time I knew them together, they were strictly platonic, barely even friends. They talked, sure. They were good at putting up the façade of companionship "for the kid." But the idea of that relationship having been born of a romantic entanglement seemed far from reality.

It always made me question what marriage really is. I never had a model of it to watch as I grew up. And like with the question of the fate of family in the event of divorce, the question of what marriage actually means has always been in flux for me.

Watching Kramer vs. Kramer did nothing but make me more cynical.

Ask my friend Dana and she will tell you that I sometimes talk about marriage as if its an inevitability. Eventually I'll find someone and things will just click. Everything will fall into place and I will live happily ever after with that one person.

We have had more than one conversation about the fact that this inevitability doesn't exist. It may be likely we'll fall into the marriage conveyor belt at some point, but that in no way guarantees success. In fact, it more than likely guarantees heartbreak than happiness.

In Kramer vs. Kramer, the character of Margaret Phelps is a close friend to both parents Ted and Joanna Kramer. In conversation with Ted, she talks about her ex-husband and how she can't see herself remarrying because she feels inexorably attached to the man who she had said the words "'til death do us part" about and with whom she had her two children.

The idea of that scares me so much. To feel attached to someone, not just by way of your emotions but because it is natural to need their acceptance is terrifying. Unlike the relationships we have with family that are christened in blood and forced into our lives even if we protest, a romantic relationship has no stability. It has no push to survive. If it wants to die, it dies.

But that doesn't mean you don't get stuck trying to make it work.

Wanting it to work for yourself. Wanting it to work so you don't put your child through what Billy Kramer had to go through. There are infinitely many reasons, but nothing can repair something destined for doom.

I was watching the film and when Margaret spoke to Ted about contacting her ex-husband to try and patch things up, to possibly "get together" again, I felt an incredible level of anger. Sitting next to my dad (with our dinners more than an hour finished), I started blabbering my thoughts a mile a minute. "I never want to date again. I don't want any romantic relationships. I don't want to get married. I want to be single forever."

Right now I still kind of feel that way.

As wonderful as a boyfriend, a fiancé, a husband sounds, the fear of ruining my life, of ruining a potential child's life, of ruining a significant other's life because of a mistaken decision is something that attacks any sense you have that marriage is a natural life occurrence.

The feelings that were inspired in me made me hate Kramer vs. Kramer. But not because it was a bad movie. And not because it represented these emotions in any unrealistic or over-the-top manner. But because it all made sense. Because the film was telling me very straightforwardly that any naive beliefs I had about the beauty of a marriage certificate and what might come along with it are an illusion. The illusion may hold true for some, but they are the exception, not the rule.

I loved this movie more than I've loved any movie for a very long time. Unlike so many films that drag me out of reality and give me a world to inhabit that is free from the dreary and full of lightheartedness, this one was about taking me out of my feelings of hope and reminding me to bring it back down to Earth once in a while.

It's not necessary a pleasant theme. It may not make me feel warm and fuzzy. It did have me on the edge of tears for a couple of hours. But it's a reminder worth having for those of us who've spent so much of our lives up in the clouds like I have (by choice and with a keen eye, mind you).

Many of us fear confronting ourselves with the hard facts of life. It scares us, the idea that maybe things won't go according to plan. Or even if things do, plans change just as people do. And the fact that people change will inevitably change your plans. That's also scary.

Sometimes, though, confronting ourselves with those facts is the best feeling of all. It may inspire us to be cynical and question our fantastical beliefs of future happiness, but the feeling of knowing - of having insights that could help us to get through the future - is actually better.

I really think that.

(Side note: I stole the title from a Jason Mraz song. Kudos if you figured that one out.)

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