DON’T TELL MY MOM I SAID THIS, but someone once told me — in the strictest of confidence — that my mother “fell in love every month” until she met and married my Dad. Having waited until I was “mature enough” to get married — only to get divorced a few years later — I guess I can understand how even my Mom could have enjoyed years of fickle feelings before having her heart set ablaze by my Dad. It seems like human nature, especially in the context of relationships in the 21st century.
Of course, once Mom made a decision, that was that. There would be no looking back. Many decades later, Mom and Dad remained true to their vows. . .and very much in love.
Many of our Moms and Dads — members of “the greatest generation” — have enjoyed similar longevity in matrimony. Today, however, with marriages lasting between 6-7 years on average, one must ask if the “Me Generation” is truly able to keep a commitment . . .about anything.
This uneasy, chronic dissatisfaction is all around us. I was having dinner with a very successful, affluent, female medical doctor a few years ago when the conversation shifted to relationships. “What is it with men?” she asked. “And why is it that you are all unwilling to get married?” She outlined her case against men very firmly, beginning with, “Men don’t want companionship, they want control,” before adding, “men won’t marry a powerful woman with a great career…especially if they make less money than a woman.”
“Is it REALLY that, Doctor?” I recall asking. “Is it that men are afraid of powerful women? Or is it that we live in this ‘Me’ centered universe, devoid of loyalty and unconditional love? Could it be that we live in an age where few have the patience, the tolerance, or capacity to forgive — like children forgive their parents on a weekly basis — and that we are living our lives as if life is always greener on the other side of the mountain?”
She seemed perplexed, and we went on like that for hours. Maybe something resonated with her, however, as six months later she reported back that she had indeed found her man, and was engaged to be married.
Thus, is there anything more beautiful — or maddening — than love? We see it portrayed in movies, television, books and magazines all of the time, of course, but while they do justice to the word in an imaginary, Hollywood-kind-of-a-way, do we really know what the reality of love is?
Yeah, I have cried every single time I hear Renee Zellweger say the line “You had me at ‘Hello” in the movie Jerry Maguire. EVERY SINGLE TIME it’s spoken. I think it touches a raw nerve of unfulfilled love within me, and allows a deep and abiding sadness to surface. Is it only because of ‘Hollywood magic’ that this takes place? Am I being manipulated by the cold orchestrated efforts of the media machine to go see the next Cameron Crowe movie? Well, perhaps.
Yet when this sadness occurs, it highlights that those feelings within me — no matter how glorified or artificial they may appear in Hollywood — do indeed exist. Is it because Renee Zellweger’s character is so willing to accept Jerry Maguire, a man full of vanity and failures and flaws, at his lowest ebb?
If we are looking for love at all, that is what keeps most of us believing that there is one perfect woman/man out there in the Universe. It is the unconditional, the solid-as-a-rock notion that “I will stand beside you always…even when you are broken…” that keeps us coming back for more.
The Chinese have a concept called “Yuan Fen,” for which no direct translation exists in the English language. It is a visual, contextual combination of destiny, tried-and-true effort and, well, luck. Yuan Fen, like so many things Chinese, is a karmic phrase meant to illustrate the importance of fate and diligence in our lives. For a relationship to work, one needs both “yuan,” the fateful, pre-destined meeting of a man and a woman that creates the possibility of lasting love — and the “fen,” or the action of sharing and WORKING toward fulfilling that destiny together.
It is a lovely concept, at least to me. Yuan Fen acknowledges the need for shared energy and commitment to make “the dream come true.” There can be no “fen” without “yuan.” Without hard work and a little luck, there can also be no yuan fen. In my opinion, this is the part of the equation which alienates those of us in Western culture. . .because let’s face it, if things get tough in relationships, most of us cut-and-run.
Our lack of commitment — our unwillingness to stand shoulder to shoulder during difficult times — is probably the simplest reflection of life in the material age, and a society built on instant gratification.
IT IS NOW NEARLY 15 YEARS since my first-and-only wife divorced. We definitely did not experience ‘yuan fen,’ but I love and admire her just the same.
Nonetheless, today on Valentine’s Day, I still believe in the idea that fate and destiny and hard-work are delivering my yuan fen to me as we speak. It is the “eternal optimist” in me. Some of you may think that my beliefs make me a naïve idiot. Well. . .whatever. I still believe that love will complete the circle, one way or another.
My prayer is that you find your “yuan fen” as well. . .and that you will be willing to work for your blessings, like so many in “the greatest generation” did before us.
Happy Valentine’s Day. . .and peace to you all.