I am often reminded how many of the newsletters and blogs that land in my inbox are aimed at much younger women, especially when they debate love and relationships: young women who think there is the One out there, waiting in the wings, ready to fulfill their fantasies, sexual or of the marrying kind.
About a couple of months ago, I heard a long radio interview with Joni Mitchell: among very detailed disquisitions on chord progressions and arrangements, she also touched on the subject of love, and her belief that aiming for one lifelong relationship is a bit preposterous when there can be many wonderful loves to be had over the course of a lifetime. At 71, Joni sounded self-assured, in a take-it- or-leave it manner that can only be attained with the wisdom of age. I was riveted. But I am also riveted by the accounts of much younger women when it comes to affairs of the heart, as I read them through the lenses of my experiences.
Yesterday I was struck by an article on Refinery29on long-distance relationships: the girl who met the guy in an online forum and began chatting on Skype, meeting her beau in person only a year later and deciding, on the spot, to move to Australia from New York. The one who flew cross-country for a first date. The girl who went to London and started a back and forth that ended up with the guy finally moving to New York. Love is best when it’s naive and careless, when it doesn’t harbor ulterior motives other than the genuine desire to discover another. I never quite cared whether there would be a happy ending – those, to me, are incidentals and often the product of right place and right time, in addition to hard work.
From those musings to asking myself whether a woman my age might be willing to face such upheavals and such globe-trotting for the sake of a relationship, it was a skip and a hop. I made a quick inventory of my girlfriends on both continents and I could only come up with one who, at age 51, left her two-decade career in Italy to move to Los Angeles and marry the man she had fallen in love with. It wasn’t a completely irrational decision: there were various meetings and a lot of Skyping in between, still, she left a perfectly good life to start over in an unfamiliar place where she didn’t speak the language. Fast forward five years, and she has learnt English, is busy teaching Italian to Italian obsessed Americans and, with a few exceptions, is no longer baffled by the Anglo-Saxon ways.
Closer to home, my sister, at age 45, left her hometown to relocate to Rome, to be with the boyfriend she had met on a Summer vacation: two years into spending weekends on trains, they knew one of them had to make a move for the relationship to survive, and it was easier for her to do so. Three years later, while employed, she hasn’t been able to replace the beloved job she left behind with a comparable one. Her love life, though, is thriving.
Not many others come to mind. Some women I know wouldn’t even date men in Orange County, an hour from L.A., let alone someone in another city. Are we selling ourselves short? Or are we being pragmatic?
I have always loved love for love’s sake, never worrying about the consequences of my dalliances, never aiming at the long-range: sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and sometimes I was left to mop up dire consequences (and my girlfriends were left to mop up my tears). But would I be so carefree were I single now? It’s not just a matter of enjoying one’s habits and a life that is harder and harder to let go of, I think priorities shift and betting on a relationship working out on the other side of the world, or just a few hundred miles away, is not only risky but can cause lasting damage if it doesn’t. While things might be changing for younger generations, often it’s the woman who uproots herself to be with the higher earner, maybe leaving behind a secure job for uncertainty. If finances seldom play a part in matters of the heart in our 20s and 30s, there is no shame in admitting they do now.
Wide-eyed wonder in the face of love is innate for some and aliens to others, no matter their age. Or so I believe, even if the long laundry lists of attributes many of my single girlfriends seek often leaves me with a different perspective. But I don’t feel criticism is warranted: at 50 we start plotting how old age will look like and wild, pretty and wonderful might not be vague adjectives we necessarily attribute to a lifelong companion. But should we? Should we take those leaps of faith, disregarding the hard ground we might end up falling on? Would you do it? Is there a way to balance risks and returns? And what kind of partner would you do it for? How often does the feeling of loving and being loved take precedence over a single life well lived, a career or just the web of pleasant habits we have created?
In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love.
To some it means the difference they could make
By loving others, but across most it sweeps
As all they might have done had they been loved.
From “Faith Healing” by Philip Larkin