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After the Love Song: Or, Whatever Happened to Lloyd Dobler

02/23/2015 05:39 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

For a generation of us, Lloyd Dobler embodies the bold, romantic move. The moment when you realize that the person you love, the person you lust, the person you desire is standing right in front of you. In our most crushed out, infatuated moments, we see Lloyd Dobler, standing in front of an old Cadillac, giant boom box held by both hands over his head, wearing a taupe trench coat over a t-shirt with baggy black pants. Peter Gabriel's song, "In Your Eyes," blaring.

the light the heat
in your eyes
I am complete

Yes, the bold, romantic move is Lloyd Dobler, but Lloyd Dobler also means love. Pure. Uncomplicated. Pining. Expressible. Love. I was 19 when Say Anything appeared in movie theatres. I saw it in Ann Arbor before my senior year in college. I wanted my own Lloyd Dobler (though of course my own Lloyd Dobler would be a she, but still contain all of his ineffable, genderless characteristics), simple in devotion. Peter Gabriel's song on the other hand is more complex. It opens:

love I get so lost, sometimes
days pass and this emptiness fills my heart
when I want to run away
I drive off in my car
but whichever way I go
I come back to the place you are

I realize now that I never paid attention to Gabriel's complex lyrics about love and being lost. As a younger woman, I was only interested in his plaintive refrain: in your eyes, I am complete. I only focused on Lloyd with a bold, romantic song playing in the background. Gabriel and his messy human emotions about navigating an imperfect world did not fit into the pure, loving vision Lloyd presented.

At some point, however, I stopped listening to the music of courtship. No light, no heat. No staring into the eyes of a lover. I let go of the image of Lloyd. No more teenaged pining. The big old Cadillac behind Lloyd changed from romantic object to junk-heap jalopy. The boom box? Antiquated and invasive without the white ear buds. Middle-aged, Lloyd is more a memory of the bold and romantic than any reality. Perhaps I am jaded; I doubt that Lloyd would have held up for Diane under the pressures of a relationship.

Though I am dubious about Dobler, I am equally doubtful of my own ability to hold up under the pressures of a relationship. Rather than admiring Dobler, rather than lusting for Lloyd, I am now afraid I have become Lloyd Dobler. I am afraid I have made a life out of selling things, buying things and processing things. I am afraid I am inured to the bold, romantic move.

It is not that my life is without passion. It is that there is a life after the love song. I can rewatch Say Anything again and again, but Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court never live in the world beyond the love song. They are stuck in the 1989 moment, trapped after high school graduation. They have not had to grow up. For them the refrain is always, I want to touch the light, the heat I see in your eyes. For them, the song never ends.

For the rest of us, we live after the love song.

Life is long after the love song ends. For some of us, not only is the love song over, the band has packed up and gone home; the server has cleaned up the bar, kicked us out and gone home to her kids, who have now graduated from high school and even college. So much time has past since Lloyd Dobler's bold, romantic move and the love songs of our youth that some days, we cannot even remember the bar, the band or a single snippet of the love song. Still, Lloyd, I remember you.

in your eyes

Now that those of us who grew up believing in Lloyd are grown, what shall we believe in today? Now that we are partnered with sensible cars, small media devices, respectable clothing and better taste in movies than '80s chick flicks, what are the bold, romantic moves for our middle age? Lloyd, what are our lives like today? What is life like after the love song? What do we look at after your eyes? What is the life we are all living after the love song ends?

These questions almost make me the teenager I am no longer. What I really want now is the grown up Lloyd Dobler. I want the one who held up under the pressures of the relationship; the one who sold out and is now buying things and selling things and processing things and explaining earnestly about how it is NOT selling out, about how HE (or in my case SHE) is not selling out.

That is what I want. And, in truth, what I have. I married Lloyd Dobler. A generation of us married Lloyd Dobler. Or became Lloyd Dobler. Clutching a pen near our heart.

What happens after the love song ends? Look at the life around you. Yes, yearn for bold, romantic moves. Remember the trench coat--the way it smells in the rain.

all my instincts, they return

But know this: after the love song ends, we live our lives in the light, the heat. We live our lives in your eyes.