Thursday, January 8, 2015

An Affair with Trust

Two people fall in love on a cruise and agree to meet at the Empire State Building on New Year’s Eve if they dissolve their current relationships and believe their new love is true. The woman gets in a car accident and is paralyzed. She doesn't want the man to be burdened with this and so doesn't make the New Year's Eve rendezvous (nor does she call). The man thinks she changed her mind, believing the love on her part proved false.

When I saw the An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, I cried and cried. That’s what I was supposed to do. I was also angry that something seemingly easy to rectify might have kept these two lovers apart forever. Maybe it was because I cried so much that I began to approach with skepticism each romance plot based on miscommunication or fear of communication.

I became impatient, although, really, it seems the plot worked well and continues to work in many novels and movies. After all, like most storylines, romances are usually based on conflict and resolution, and what better conflict than two people in love being kept apart? Yet the ways in which characters are kept apart are more than miscommunication. Wars, duties, career choices, natural disasters, commitment fears, all keep characters from fulfilling their romance.

Are these reasons less frustrating? Possibly they are to me. Possibly I’m at war with people’s inability to communicate because too often pain can be avoided with a little step over the line, a whisper of truth, swallowed pride, a risk of vulnerability, a trust and belief that the other person will care.

Is that what we learn in many of these romances? That it would have been okay to tell the truth? That it would have been okay to show interest, to say, “Hey, where were you? I was waiting”? Is pride at the root of failed communication?

I wrote the story “A Penny Trust” to see what might happen if communication was thwarted but without pride and fear aiding in love’s destruction. It's the story of a college senior, Ian, who buries himself in books of poetry and romantic notions of love. When a dark, exquisitely beautiful classmate begins eyeing him in the school courtyard, Ian finds his books flat open on his knees, words not living up to the sight of the daring boy, Polo. One day Polo hides something in the stone wall of the courtyard, glancing back at Ian as he leaves. What Ian finds beneath the stone he takes and keeps as a secret gift. In return, he tucks his first love poem to Polo beneath the stone in the wall.

But Polo never receives this poem, nor the others Ian leaves. Someone else has intruded on their space, and although their attraction runs high, the deception leaves each boy confused. Will the intruder thwart their chance at love? Or will Ian discover that real romance might not lie in mystery but in something better?

For me, this story became an exercise in how to build tension without the two lovers acting on the broken communication, because whatever the professor did, the two boys would not doubt each other's attraction and honest interest. I didn't want either to be governed by pride or be afraid to trust the other. Their affair moved forward despite the hindered communication. Instead, tension had to come in the pursuit of love regardless.

Is it a failed story because there are no tearful scenes of misunderstanding? No angry scenes of false assumptions? No months and years of anguish in doubting? I hope not. For me the story was a rebellion against the perpetuation of fear and pride in relationships. This doesn't mean thwarted love stories shouldn't be written. In our real lives it seems to be a little harder to swallow that pride, to just ask the simple question, "Hey, what happened?"

But what would it mean to give up the romantic conceit of love thwarted, not by war or disease or careers or family responsibilities, but by simple lack of communication?  What if we saw character after character, saying, "Fuck this wondering; I'm going to call"? A naïve idea? We're a sad little bunch of humanity, afraid to appear love-struck, afraid of rejection, and I've no idea why. Pride? Pain comes regardless. I believe I'd rather face it quickly and move on.

Ah, here, someone passed me another novel to read, and as I try to begin, I see the character all bundled up in pride, refusing to say, "It hurt me when you did that," instead steeling herself against communication, and I put the book down. Another goes unread. No tolerance. Life's short, we discover as we get older. Or maybe romance just needs to be a little more about fun.

"A Penny Trust" $0.99 ebook available at Amazon and other major venues.

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