Friday, March 17, 2006


Existential Friday: pension plan love

One of the main themes of last weekend's hit movie, Prime, was that "love is not enough," a line that was spoken a couple of times in the dialogue. The 23-year-old guy and the 37-year-old woman were deeply in love in the story, but the relationship was doomed by their being in such different phases of their respective lives.

This theme is nothing new. It's just the age-difference variant of the practical differences that pull lovers apart, going back at least to Romeo and Juliet. Though I prefer to think of the version colorfully expressed in Fiddler on the Roof: "A fish and a bird can fall in love... but what kind of a life can they build together?"

Ah, building a life together. We allow ourselves to get all mushy about that phrase by placing the stress on "life together." But when you look at it more closely, and put the accent on "build," you see how practical and pragmatic the sentiment is at bottom.

Too many people, it seems to me, denigrate love in its impractical manifestations. Love that doesn't, or can't, lead to "building a life together" is written off as "infatuation," something that is not "real" and even, perhaps, an experience not worth having.

The conventional wisdom -- you've heard it hundreds of times both in movies and in real life conversations -- is that real love is something that you have to "work at," day in day out for years, slowly building the bonds of trust and security that will form the basis for a relationship even if (when?) passion fades.

This version of life is something of a 401(k) plan. You work at it now, invest in its long term future, so that you'll have emotional security in your old age. You basically saving up for retirement.

Don't get me wrong -- that's love. And there's nothing wrong with being practical about relationships and making them part of your long-term planning. And it makes total sense to try to hedge your bets against being lonely in your old age.

But my point -- what I liked so much about Prime -- is that the other thing is love too. Love can be doomed by its impracticality, and therefore short-lived, but still be real love. And what I find disagreeable is the tendency to over-romanticize the emotional pension plan. It may be a better choice for most of us than an intense doomed fling in some long term sense, but lets see our sour-grapes rationalizing for what it is.

Oh, and existential news flash: even secure, pension plan love is temporary, because life is temporary.

Well said.
Someone, who I can't remember at the moment, once said something that went sort of like this:

"You have 3 marriages: the first one is all passion and irresponsibility, the second one is for having and raising kids and the third one is for comfort in your old age." (I realize I'm paraphrasing this terribly. It's strange, because it's not a joke. Maybe my anecdote-telling skills are going the way of my joke-telling skills.)


ympqvg - your mileage per quart varies greatly. (this one just had to be an acronym)
A fish and a bird can fall in love... but what kind of a life can they build together? Wow - that's a great quote. I wish I read that a good 4 years ago! Great blog!
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