Two of this year’s Academy Award buzz films - The Kids Are Alright and Barney’s Version – are about relationships. There is a third, Blue Valentine, but I don’t think I can bear to see that one. I think one more grim relationship movie might do me in.
My take away from both The Kids Are Alright and Barney's Version is that we humans are so profoundly fragile and flawed that sharing a life with another differently, but nevertheless similarly fragile and flawed human being is a risky and potentially doomed endeavor.
While they are vastly different stories, in both movies marriage comes off looking like a long, spirit-dimming slog with old age and compromise our dubious rewards. Both narratives deal with infidelity, ego, and the inability of one spouse to truly see the other. Both movies left me feeling sad, my own shacked-up spirit diminished as I walked out of the dark popcorn-strewn theater.
To be in relationship with another person and have a glimmer of hope for the happy-ever-after, one must first have some kind of grip on oneself. If having a grip is impossible, then the ability to laugh and a willingness to commit to a shared path (even if you weave about like two drunks in a three legged race) might just get you there. To borrow from the script of The Kids Are Alright, “marriage is a marathon”.
I’ve never run a marathon. I hate exercise in most forms, but I’ve been hanging in there for this marriage thing long enough that I am pretty sure the marathon approach is close to correct: you need to dig deep through the hard parts, ride the endorphins, have enough character to keep going and keep your perspective intact.
(Sure, the water girl is super cute and she is offering just what you need in that parched moment, but she is fleeting and let’s be honest, not even really in the race. The guy running in front of you may have a great ass and be helping you set the pace a little better than you might otherwise have done in that weary stretch but is he in it for the distance? Does he even look as good from the front? Would he make you laugh? And yes, sometimes you realize you have chosen the wrong race, or race partner, altogether. That is when you need the courage to stop before you run each other into the ground.)
The song SunDirtWater by The Waifs is a grown up woman’s love song, a song about “sweet everlasting love”, but a real, messy, happily-ever-after love that takes work to achieve. There is joy in both the song and in that work, even in the children crying in the back seat, the rain soaking everything, the mud and laundry all part of the bigger elemental thing we call a marriage.
Maybe the trick is to be honest about all that frailty and then give it your all anyway. Also? Avoid the movies.
Have you seen a movie that you think represents an honest happily-ever-after? Have you run a marathon, either marital or sweaty, and want to set me straight on the metaphor? Leave a comment below. We can all use a little more messy truth…"