This month, I have been inhaling love stories. Where I am in my life right now, keeping an eye on middle-age as it lurks in from stage left, this is new. Or more accurately, it’s old. Love stories feel a bit nostalgic.
Love stories have not kept me awake in about half a decade. They no longer swarm my anxious head at witching hour. Nor do they get my attention on an evening screen, when I’m settling into some cinematic respite, tea and chocolate on hand. No, that slot is now filled by hardened spies who have fallen into enemy territory. Or microchips that have been stolen by foreigners on motorcycles. Or true criminals, whose minds and motivations I must mine via second-hand interviews. Or simply the news. Ah yes, the endless enthral of real life disaster. But love? Oh no. I’m an adult now. No time for such frivolity. I have a mortgage. Inflation.
However, over the last four weeks, I have been inhaling love stories. I have wept at 2am in grief over a person who only ever existed on paper. I have sat on my children’s bedroom floor, surrounded by dolls neatly organised into family units of four, reading letter after letter of heartache. All addressed to another Dolly, a journalist at the Sunday Times, in the hopes that she can balm their pain. ‘Dear Dolly. Please see me, please ease me’ they say. I have even, I am slightly embarrassed to admit, typed ‘Best Bits of This Is Us’ into my YouTube search. Just to immerse myself in all things Jack and Rebecca. Even though I know what happens. We all do.
I have been gobbling up these tales for the better part of 30 days. I slipped down love-lane by accident due to a foiled Netflix recommendation. A sweet little Christmas themed romance I can’t remember the name of. Some sort of snow garnished meet-cute, with really white American teeth. It wasn’t a formative story, it was a gateway-drug. The first drink after a sober hiatus. You know the one. The catalyst that leads you to yelling at the bartender to pour shots ‘for all my friends’, as you deliriously gesticulate to a room full of strangers.
So that’s what happened to me. One romance spiked sip, and suddenly I was sobbing into my kindle at the airport. Reading words that scratched at the pit of my stomach. Dialogue that nestled into my chest like a newborn. Everything was so very close. Unnervingly so. David Nichols’ novel One Day first unravelled around my skin. Then tore into me to unfold. The story found fertile ground in my fibre, because it is loosely built on a plotline from which I am a recovering addict. A narrative arc that I once took as romantic truth. The age old tale of old love, being the best love.
The most influential love stories in my young life were Sweet Home Alabama, The Notebook, and Love and Basketball. Despite their diverse cultures, characters, costumes, landscapes, accents, time periods, and pretty much everything, these stories all shared a message. And they shared it with me. They all said the best place to find your soulmate was not in your future, but your past. Right behind you. Whether this well-worn Hollywood parable contributed to my own many u-turns, constant rear-view mirror checks, and loop-de-loop love life, or they were my favourite movies because of my life choices, we’ll never know. That’s the thing about good stories, they tend to weave themselves through our veins. Until it doesn’t matter what started where.
After devouring love stories for hours on end, I learned that maybe I haven’t outgrown love stories after all. There’s a good chance I have just been hiding from them. I dare say I needed a little space. Love stories attach. They reflect us at our most real. Our most vulnerable. Up close and personal. And we don’t always want to go there. It’s relaxing to watch a double agent triple back-flip off a four story building onto a horse. We are viewing from a safe distance. A couch, with snacks, no affinity required. But reading Dexter and Emma, watching Rebecca and Jack, or scanning the flesh and blood love crises sent to Dolly by the mountainload, is to push our noses to the mirror. It is to re-inhale the overwhelm, the beauty, the pain, the injustice, the comfort, the confusion, the ecstasy, the mystery, and ultimately the big ol mess, of this weird thing we do called love. This thing that none of us escape unscathed.
I have both enjoyed and exhausted my soirée in love land. I’m going back to nonfiction essays for a while. Not because I am too old or too strong for love stories, but because I can’t always brave them. For now, I have bought a book called The Return of Geopolitics and will revisit learning about shifting global powers and the destabilisation of borders and political ideologies, like a big baby. As I wrapped up my love binge, I decided Pamela, a love story, would be my nightcap. Not only did I walk away with monumental respect for Anderson and her sons, but for the sanctity of romance as a whole. Anderson is the master of putting on a brave face, bracing a braver heart, and refusing to retreat. She reminds us to always choose love, to persevere, as ‘it’s the only way to live. Vulnerable.’ So with that, I guess I’ll be back.
1 – ‘One Day’ by David Nichols (book)
2 – ‘This is Us’ on NBC (tv show)
3 – ‘Dear Dolly’ by Sunday Times (column)
4 – ‘Pamela, a love story’ on Netflix (documentary)
5 – ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Neal H. Moritz (film)
6 – ‘The Notebook’ by Nicholas Sparks (book and film)
7 – ‘Love and Basketball’ by Spike Lee (film)
I loved reading your blog Mati and I also watched Pamela Andersons Netflix documentary and had a great insight about her journey.