I tried to watch “Rachel Getting Married” the other day on HBO. It’s that Anne Hathaway vehicle about a girl who gets out of rehab and then wrecks her sister’s wedding.
It looked like it had promise because Anne’s sister is getting married to a black guy, which was new and exciting, but then it quickly dove into that “everyday story of a family” bullshit that indie filmmakers love to make. You know, the quintessential movie about a week or a month in the life of a modern family that somehow represents all of our families in some way and isn’t really about anything and at the end of the movie nothing really happens. (Think “Little Miss Sunshine” or “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” those movies that people who are really into movies love because they “take chances” and don’t fall into the typical movie clichés, except it seems like without falling into typical movie clichés, movies are apparently two-hour vignettes about screwed up people who don’t do much but argue over esoteric nonsense that only those blessed few with a highbrow taste and intellect are able to appreciate.)
Then I watched the series finale of “The Newsroom,” and after I finished throwing up all over my house, I came to some conclusions about life, love and relationships.
SIDE NOTE: I’ve never been an Aaron Sorkin fan, but it’s mostly because I haven’t seen much that he’s done. I’ve never watched “The West Wing” or “Sports Night;” I saw one episode of Studio 60 and thought it was a little too into how clever it was. I thought “The Social Network” was good, but wildly overrated (SIDE SIDE NOTE: Can you put a semicolon inside quotation marks? Obviously the punctuation marks go inside the quotes, but I’ve never seen a semicolon used.) I digress.
My big problem with “The Newsroom” is the characters, and more specifically the romances between the characters. First, there’s the ugly blond who is Will’s intern and somehow magically gets bumped up to an associate producer on the first episode all while maintaining a romance with the show’s former senior producer. Then a new senior producer comes in and magically he falls in love with her too. It’s all part of this new “nerds win” philosophy or the Apatow version of the world where the hot girl goes for the nerd because he’s smart and has substance (and really the hot girl has substance too, she’s just been dating dicks all her life because she’s the victim of society’s mores and nerds are too scared to ask her out).
So this odd looking girl with eyes that are way too fucking close together and dirty, stringy hair has not one, but two senior producers vying for her affection, and of course she sticks with the better looking guy, the one who isn’t right for her because, you know, Jim and Pam can’t get together until season four.
Then there are the two black people on the show who have this terribly cliché back and forth, mostly about Obama. But they mind their place in the background and stay out of conversations between the important white people whose love lives we are rapt in and only show up to bicker in a clever way that shows they’re intelligent and not stereotypically black, but can still manage to keep it real.
Then there’s the Mackenzie-Will relationship at the center of it all, which could not be any more of a pathetic TV show anachronism. They’re former lovers who are brought back together by the magic of News Night 2.0 and by delivering quality, groundbreaking journalism in this age of fluff and frivolousness. First Mackenzie will have to date a couple of losers and Will will have to date some floozies and some girls who (on paper) are better than Mackenzie, but ultimately they’ll wind up together, sharing a kiss in some season finale down the road leaving viewers breathless and wondering if these two crazy kids can really make it work.
TV relationships always annoy me because they seem so completely ungrounded in reality. It’s so stupid and insipid and predictable and more importantly not real. TV relationships in the 21st century seem to all be hollow homages to the demigod of perfunctory infatuation masked as true love.
Last year, in New York when I met with my friend Ems, is when I first realized this. She introduced me to the man who is now her husband, and at first I didn’t get it. Ems is one of those girls who’s pretty in a way that even if she tried really, really hard not to be, she would still be. Think young Sinead O’Connor with long blond hair. Her new husband is not pretty. He’s kind of short, if memory serves, and is Eurasian (from Belarus) and kind of has no personality. I didn’t get it. And then I watched them together.
They work because he balances her. That whole “you complete me” bullshit from Jerry McGuire is real. It’s real in the sense that the person we belong with isn’t the person that’s most like us or the person who laughs at the same stupid shit we do or shares our idiosyncratic interests, but the person who completes us. It’s not the person who completes us in terms of who we are and what we want, but in terms of what we’re missing, which is something that oftentimes we don’t even realize.
Ems’ husband is just what she needs. He’s attentive and giving and understanding. She needs those things from a partner, but I would bet that if you asked her two days before they started dating, “What do you look for in a guy?” she would have said none of those things.
That’s the main thing I’ve noticed in the successful couples I know: the thing that makes them work is something they don’t entirely realize themselves. I’m sure if you asked her now, “What is it that makes your relationship with your husband work?” she wouldn’t say, “He pays attention to me when I need it and is understanding and loves me enough that he doesn’t make me explain myself.” But I’m pretty confident that’s what it is.
While I was in Denver a couple weeks back I went to my friend Kyle’s wedding. I was a late addition as a groomsman, I think because he figured I was the only person he knew capable of throwing a suitable bachelor party. There were four of us – one is religious and averse to strip clubs, another is married and lives in Wisconsin, one has a vagina and the other is me.
SIDE NOTE: He called the bachelor party I planned for him, “the best party ever.”
Kyle is a lot like me in the sense that he thinks it’s funny to question and contradict societal norms and he doesn’t really give a fuck what you think of him. He lives by the idea that those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. We’re also very different – he’s conservative, white, loves guns and really, really, really likes to follow the rules.
He also is wholly unmotivated by emotion or insecurity, which makes it hard to relate to people. I think it’s why we both have so many platonic female friends, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.
Also like me, on a surface level he doesn’t seem like much of a catch. He’s boorish and constantly makes misogynistic jokes that he’s only half kidding about; he’s far from loaded; he’s not flashy; his job isn’t impressive; and he’s not particularly motivated to become anything more than who he is.
But what Kyle needed was someone who could look past all of his wacky antics and outfits and his lack of giving a fuck and see who he is inside. Inside he’s a very traditional guy and has to be one of the most deeply decent people I know. He cares about others, he’s honest, he’s earnest, he has integrity and he’s the kind of person who will give you the shirt off his back. But you wouldn’t know this when you met him. You’d just think he was some goofy weirdo who made inappropriate jokes and had no brain-to-mouth filter.
I’ve known his wife for a couple years and what makes them work is that she appreciates him for being who he is and he appreciates her for appreciating him. Their love is quiet and intimate and there’s no show or ostentatious display, just this calm energy you feel when you’re around the two of them together.
For me, that, more than anything else, is the determinant of successful coupledom – does your partner put you in a better place? Not because you were anxious about where they were or what they were doing or because you missed holding them or vice versa, but does their mere presence make you a different, better and more whole you?
In life, I believe in four things: love, death, gravity and myself. That’s it. I believe in love because I’ve seen love. More importantly, I’ve felt love. It’s this amazing feeling of happiness and wholeness and uncertainty and immutable forgiveness and compassion that makes you do things that you swore you never would. It makes you rethink everything in your life you were sure of and have epiphanies that you aren’t entirely sure are real, but that you just go with because you can’t imagine going against them.
It’s really a lot like heroin. At first it gets you high and you feel euphoric and it changes the way you act and the way you feel and the way you behave. It changes who your friends are, how you dress and how you feel about yourself. And then at some point you just lose the ability to live without it. It becomes part of your ability to feel normal and without it you’re literally sick.
Also like heroin, you know the real shit when you have it. An addict can always tell when they’re being ripped off with some low-grade bullshit and they know when they’ve got the real McCoy. Love, like heroin, doesn’t make you better, it makes you worse. What makes you better is having the one you love and having them love you back.
That’s why relationships are so important. Love by itself isn’t enough, because it isn’t self sustaining. Love has to be maintained and taken care of and if two people aren’t hopelessly dependent on each other in ways they don’t and can’t fully appreciate, it doesn’t work.
My grandfather and my step grandmother have been married for more than 30 years. He’s black, she’s white and he was raising four black children from a previous marriage when they met, not to mention another he had from a relationship before that. And they got married in the 1970s.
Aside from the obvious issues that such a relationship would bring about, I don’t ever think I’ve heard him tell her he loves her or vice versa and I literally don’t ever think I’ve seen them kiss. He’s in his 80s and she’s in her 70s and the thought of them having sex is repugnant, but even if it wasn’t I can’t imagine they’ve done it in a decade. Despite a complete absence of everything we’re taught to believe about what makes couples and love and relationships work, they make it work and they’ve made it work for all these years through a mountain of bullshit I won’t even begin to divulge.
They’re in love. But more than love they have a relationship.
I think back in the day when people got married there was a real understanding that this thing was for life and the public shame, scorn and humiliation that went along with divorce was enough to get most people to put up with the bullshit and wade through it.
Today, that shame, scorn and humiliation are gone and marriage doesn’t really mean what it used to. Even though people are waiting longer to get married, the marriage itself means less. Marriage today isn’t about a lifelong pledge of devotion, it’s about proving to yourself and the people around you that the love you have is real and making sure they all know it. Everyone seems more focused on the love than the commitment.
But seeing Kyle’s wedding and seeing his wife’s sisters and her family completely accept him and see him the way she sees him made me believe that maybe it’s not all dress-up at this point.
Recently when I found out that Aaron Sorkin, creator and writer of The Newsroom, was dating Kristin Davis a.k.a. Charlotte York Goldenblatt. This is important for a number of reasons, but most importantly because I have never been as in love with any television character as I was/am in love with Charlotte York Goldenblatt. I love Charlotte York because she always, always believed in love. She wore her heart on her sleeve and never for a second doubted her worth or her conviction that everything would turn out alright if you just kept believing.
Sure, Charlotte is a blue blood from Connecticut whose parents would shudder at the thought of her bringing home a brotha from the streets. But if she could marry Harry Goldenblatt, convert to Judaism and adopt a little Asian baby, I don’t think shacking up with a black man with tattoos from the hood who is 20 years her junior is that much more of a crazy stretch.
So naturally, I lost all respect for Newsroom when they went after “Sex & the City” in the season finale. In that episode, ugly blonde AP gets splashed by a “Sex & the City” tour bus as she’s walking out of a restaurant while the “Sex & the City” theme song plays. After getting splashed, she goes on this rant about how things in real life don’t end up perfect like on “Sex & the City.”
But here’s the thing about “Sex & the City,” it never mythologized relationships or love. Relationships on “Sex & the City” were flawed, they were messy and most of the time they didn’t work. It was never a show about how love conquered all or about how things always came together in the end. Whether it was career or location or maturity or an ex, most of the time things fell apart. At the end of the day the moral of Sex & the City wasn’t, “love will always find a way,” it was, “falling love is hard, make sure you have good friends to catch you.”
Love is complicated, love is hard but most of all love is real. I hope it works out for Kyle and his new bride forever and ever. But even if it doesn’t, it was nice to spend a few hours at a wedding with two people who get it.