Everything I Need to Know About Love, I Learned at the Movies

Herewith, Week #3 of my 5-week ‘tribute to the movies’ series. As Valentine’s Day looms, this week’s topic is love, true love.

Men can’t help lying about sex; women can’t help telling the truth. I don’t know which is worse. In 1962, Boys’ Night Out romped through the not-very-romantic premise that married men had higher priorities than sex, even sex with a gorgeous babe in a push-up bra that would pierce steel. What those men really wanted was to talk and be listened to, to fix something with their hands, and to eat high-fat foods in peace.

Forget Harlequin Romances and Dr. Ruth — even forget the TV version of Sex and the City. Everything we really need to know about love can be learned at the movies. Assuming, first, that we’re willing to suspend our disbelief at Kim Novak in a role as a psychology graduate student. And why not? Is it any sillier to accept Michael Douglas or Kevin Kline as a fictional President than to accept Arnie as a real-live Governor? The real world is stranger than the movies could ever be and suspension of disbelief could be the beginning of wisdom.

So what do the movies teach us about love? Boy meets girl, falls in love, loses girl, regains girl. Or not. There must be a million variations on the theme. I think I’ve seen half of them. What’s that you say? You want me to pick out just the highlights? As you wish.

There are as many ways to say I love you as there are people. As you wish worked for a Princess Bride and that’s good enough for me. Stephen Covey would like it too — love as a verb, not just as a feeling.

And I knew it was”¦.magic. As opposed to what? Practical? Love is more than the feeling of being in love, but the feeling has to be there too. If it ain’t magic, if it doesn’t keep us Sleepless in Seattle, at least at the start, then it ain’t love.

Magical, yes. Sensible, planned, predictable, or even coherent, no. You’re everything I never knew I always wanted. Love is what happens when Fools Rush In.

And, fools that we are, we can find ourselves in love with the most amazing people–even an engaging yahoo who has been chosen to save the all-important Golden Child. He is a careless, thoughtless, undisciplined fool. Worse yet, maybe our dad approves. I, too, like him very much.

Sometimes, we get more than one chance to fall in love with the right person. You’re the worst kind. You’re high maintenance, but you think you’re low maintenance. When Harry Met Sally for real, he finally figured out that the high-versus-low that matters is the return, not the maintenance.

When we do fall in love—what then? How do we get the one we love to love us back? Unrequited love is a common movie theme exactly because it’s so common in our own lives. Again the movies offer help, at least for men. After all, if the obstacles to Finding Forrester can be overcome, surely it’s just a short step to finding true love. The way to a woman’s heart is the unexpected gift, at the unexpected moment. As someone who’s been prominent in many women’s hearts for many decades, Connery should know.

Hoffman’s less conventional leading-man persona translates into a more offbeat way to a woman’s heart. I was a better man with you, as a woman, than I ever was with a woman, as a man. Know what I mean? Well, maybe, Tootsie. I just need to learn to do it without the dress. Okey-dokey.

Yet the path of true love never did run smooth, not in Shakespeare’s day and not even if you have An Affair to Remember. Two people, deeply in love. A terrible accident. A worse misunderstanding. A chance meeting. All I could say was “hello”. And one last chance to make it right. Amazing.

What’s really amazing about love, at the movies or at home, isn’t the falling-in part but the staying-in part, the working-it-out part. After all, pop psychology tells us that men and women are from different planets. The movies don’t go quite that far, but the news is bad enough. Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place. Sometimes those City Slickers are compulsively honest.

But in a world where it isn’t clear whether compulsive honesty is better or worse than compulsive lying, let’s settle for what feels right. I’m beginning to think it’s not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them. And so, the last word goes to The Accidental Tourist, transformed by love. Now that feels right. And I learned it at the movies.

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5 Responses to Everything I Need to Know About Love, I Learned at the Movies

  1. Your last movie quote reminds me of the greatest compliment I have ever heard spoken in any movie, ever: “You make me want to be a better person.” (As Good As It Gets) The movie also has the most depressing line: “What if this is as good as it gets?” but let me move on…

    I have a 65-year-old, twice-married, now single, female friend who says, “I just want somebody to giggle with!”
    My 62-year-old sister says you need hormones to be in love.
    Another friend, also on a pension, married 15 years, says married people can’t live together all the time, “It’s just too hard!”
    I read this recently:
    Old, still-married woman was asked if she had ever thought of divorce.
    “Divorce? Never. Murder. Often.”
    Happy Valentine’s Day to you, Isabel, and everybody who gets to read your insightful essays. 🙂

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      I’d forgotten that ‘better person’ quote, but it feels right, too. Odd that such a wonderful feeling/action should also make us so acutely aware of our shortcomings, but there it is. Happy Valentine’s Day to you too.

  2. Susan Wright says:

    What perfect timing. I just finished wrapping my husband’s Valentine’s Day gifts–a tiny little ping pong game (truly a table top version), a soup sock (a muslin bag used to lift vegetables out of soup stock) and a Godiva chocolate. We’ve been married 40 years. Can you tell?

    Thank you Isabel for a delightful column. Happy Valentine’s Day.

  3. M. Gibson says:

    Keep them coming, Isabel – very enjoyable! MMG

  4. Gary Cerantola says:

    “A little dose of reality disguised as humour”
    My ex should be reading this. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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