DISCLAIMER: The Zamboni Lady is not a doctor, nor does she play one on TV. She is, simply, a busybody who wants to know everyoneelse’s business. The advice, while well-meant, is not meant to substitute for legal advice or protection, indicate a definitive way to live one’s life, or in any way imply that you should take her advice any more seriously than you would the advice of the bestie of your bestie, given out over a long and tear-soaked evening of nachos and margaritas.
Welcome to a very special Valentine’s Day edition of Zamboni Lady. We hear a lot of things in Zamboniland. We hear a lot of funny things, we hear a lot of nonsensical things, we hear a lot of things that are charmingly mistaken. But we also hear a lot of crap that has absolutely no basis in reality, is sneakily detrimental to our well-being, and yet serves as some kind of well of common wisdom that well-meaning but misguided folks stick their dippers in time after time. After time. And Valentine’s Day is coming, which means everyone’s getting weirdly and romantically torqued in ways they perhaps ought not to. The Zamboni Lady takes seriously her role as benefactrix to all, so let me dispel some of these incredibly common, warped, potential emotional landmines that are often viewed as legitimate relationship lore.
3) “The heart wants what it wants.”
When the tortured, lovelorn soul mournfully utters these words regarding the love he or she cannot live without, those nearby nod in
"You'd probably brood too, if you had to wear a neck ruffle like this." --E. Dickinson
sage agreement and slip into the darkness to think of their own hearts and loves. Popular wisdom has this quote attributed to Emily Dickinson and if she was indeed the originator, then my heart wants to punch her right in her brooding face. More recently used by doucheketeer Woody Allen to defend his relationship with daughter-wife Soon-Yi Previn, “The heart wants what it wants” is a misanthropic shoulder-shrugging that is designed to excuse self-absorbed sexual fixation. We all have urges that can bear profoundly on our thoughts in a day, but they aren’t necessarily good or healthy or socially acceptable. You down with OCD? Yeah. That’s what I thought. We can’t excuse morbid obesity with, “The mouth wants what it wants.” We can’t mindlessly drink and say, “The liver wants what it wants.” And go ahead, just TRY and get away with saying, “The vagina wants what it wants” without having your great grandparents rise from their graves (or stop by, if they’re still alive) to beat you with with the slutty stick until you see the error of your ways. Try it, I’ll wait. But say “heart” and suddenly the speaker is in the middle of a romantic odyssey that defines their life but yet over which they seemingly have no control. It’s the magic word of melodramatic justification. Oh, to be the pawn of cruel, tempestuous Fate! Oh, to be so deeply in the thrall of passion that you end up having unprotected sex with an in-law in the bathroom at that in-law’s wedding reception! Oh, to have a readily available, hackneyed excuse that removes you from any and all responsibility for your own behavior!
Restraint, people. As humans, we have the ability to make decisions about our behavior. Free will? You know, the concept that we can choose a course of actions from among various alternatives? Anyone? Anyone? Anybody? We’ve been evolving for thousands of years and the best you’ve got is, “I’ve got an achin’ in my heart (and a poundin’ in my pants)”? That’s a country song, not a way of life. So we have free will, unless the heart wants it, and then we are beholden to go out and get it/fuck it/break it up with whoever it’s involved with at the time? Eliminate this piffle from your repertoire, and move on.
2) “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
I should be kinder toward Ali McGraw. She’s a Wellesley sister, after all. And she’s dead now. But that never stopped me before, so…ever forward.
Love Story, Erich Segal. Rich boy meets poor girl, they fall in love, she is terminally ill, rich boy learns lessons about life and love and gets to claim the moral high ground against his curmudgeonly, snobby father, end scene. Here is the entire movie, in about four and a half minutes:
Contained within both this book and this film is the now immortal line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, which, of course, is a gigantic crock of shit. Admittedly, I have a problem with anything that romanticizes the nobility of suffering, and this ancestor of Forrest Gump‘s Jenny sets the standard what it means to suffer and die within the confines of a relationship. Segal imagined his beautitragic heroine saying the most selfless thing he could think of in the aftermath of a fight, and in doing so downplayed the importance of self-reckoning for an entire generation and impacted generations to come. I’m not saying your partner shouldn’t be able to lovingly excuse a particular behavior. I’m not saying it’s healthy to have to apologize for every single one of your minute transgressions. But love requires work, and sustained, healthy love, in a chosen relationship that isn’t beholden to parental or familial bonds (because those are slightly different, though even these have their limits), means knowing exactly when to say you’re sorry, and meaning it. “I’m sorry”, at its height of meaning, says, “I have taken the time to consider your concerns, and I have come to understand both your point of view and where I have failed it. My ego may have taken a hit from this but I am trying not to lose the lesson. Please forgive me.” That’s a lot of meaning in two words–three, if you spell out the contraction. But they are words that are important to every relationship, because nobody is above screwing up and requiring a little self-contemplation. We start learning how to think about other people when our parents start teaching us to share. If you think love doesn’t mean valuing your partner’s feelings and the dignity of your relationship, then do us all a favor and bow out of relationship-having until you take the time to grow up.
This sort of thinking has led directly to…
1) “S/he is my soul mate!”
OK. I want love to be transcendent and eternal. I want to feel like my chosen partner enriches my life just by being around. I want to feel like something I’m a part of is bigger than the sum of its parts. But here’s the thing: you can do that without getting cosmically goopy.
Yes, yes, yes. I know that 2500 years ago, Plato was talking about twin souls and twin flames and searching the world for the other half of us from which we have been torn asunder. 2500 years ago, Plato and Socrates also spent a significant amount of time discussing whether or not women were woefully inferior, or just mildly inferior but deserved things like some sort of education. 2500 years later, the best we can come up with is that we’re spiritual twinsies? I can barely stomach a couple dressed alike…
They walk alike, they talk alike...
…never mind how I feel about someone who thinks they need to find the person who matches their soul in order to feel complete. Because that’s really what “soul mate” searching is about, isn’t it? It’s about not resting until you can find the perfect person with whom you can develop a codependent relationship. Here are a few questions from a common “Are You Soulmates?” quiz:
- Do you feel in sync with one another? Does he buy the gift you’re secretly wishing for? Do you finish each other’s sentences?
- Are there signs of compatibility you can’t ignore? Did your dog or cat love him or her before you did?
- When you talk about your childhoods, do you feel like they were uncannily alike?
And so on, and so on. Consider this, in response:
Do you feel in sync with each other? Does he buy the gift you secretly want, do you finish each other’s sentences? ~~ Boy, that sounds nice, huh? Never having to work at a relationship, speak up for yourself, or learn how to communicate healthily, letting your partner know what you want, what you like, or what’s on your mind, rather than expecting them to get inside your brain and read it for themselves. Because that’s what sane adults in healthy relationships do. That’s what you do, right? Yes…wha? No? Oh.
Did your dog or cat love him before you did? ~~ OK, I can’t even process this accurately. I love my cat–my boyfriend’s cat, our cat–very very much, but if George told me he let Sammy guide him in his relationship decisions, I would pack up and leave under cover of darkness. This isn’t even real. It can’t be. God help us.
Do you have uncannily similar childhoods? ~~ See, here’s the thing–unless you had extraordinarily different situations, chances are pretty good you had similar childhoods. The kid who grew up in suburban New Jersey might have a wildly different childhood than an inner city kid or an army brat, but would probably have a very similar childhood to the person who grew up contemporaneously in, say, suburban Illinois. I might even be able to find more than one who won a spelling bee, had a pet rock, and had a dog named Rusty who got hit by a car. The point is, as unique and snowflake-special as we like to imagine ourselves, we’re remarkably similar. We may think differently about them in the end, but we have a lot of the same experiences.
There is no easy way to have a healthy relationship. A relationship is messy and hard, and requires that you attend to it on a regular basis. Looking for the easy way, by believing that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” or searching for soul mates or that you’re the victim of your own heart is not only unrealistic and unhealthy, it also results is an abundance of nacho-and-tequila-fueled tearfests. As the Zamboni Lady, and as your friend, I beg you, do the work, be honest about what you want, communicate, and don’t take shortcuts, lest you end up with an example of a bad, bad valentine.
Bad, bad valentines.
And seriously, if anyone recognizes where this came from, I would love to link back to it. I saved the picture last year because it cracked me up, but I didn’t save the link and am regretting it now. Please help me credit the right person for this moment of pure Valentine genius. Thank you.