If you saw the Oscar-winning film Midnight in Paris (and if you didn't, I recommend you rent it immediately!), you're probably familiar with Golden Age Syndrome, the primary affliction of protagonist Gil Spender. In the movie, Gil's love affair is not with his fiancée but, rather with Parisian nostalgia. I have Golden Age Syndrome, too... not for Paris or the 1920s, but for love from an earlier era. Mine is an obsession with first loves and old-school sweethearts.
Not long ago, I attended a vintage fashion expo. It was an antique menagerie of clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry and accessories from decades past. And what struck me the most as I perused these well-preserved relics was that despite their complexity and intricacy, these artisan pieces belonged to a much simpler time. As I held in my hands a bronze World War II "sweetheart" pin, a broach with a dangling heart and the words "Restricted Area" engraved on a miniature sign post (its owner obviously sending the message she was spoken for), it occurred to me that just like this tiny trinket, not only were the baubles of before different, but I'd venture to guess that love was a little different, too.
Because this fair was the week before Valentine's Day, there were a variety of gently-used vintage Valentine's cards on display. I poured over the cards' covers, many of them cartoon images with corny punch lines and elongated cursive letters scrawled across the back. The signatures reminded me of my grandmother's and great-grandmother's handwriting. (Does anyone still use cursive anymore?) As I held these cards in my hands and read the simple, yet special, messages from one beloved to another, I couldn't help but think that these lovers weren't looking over each other's shoulder for the next hot item to walk into the room. In fact, these women were so devoted that even while their sweeties were serving across the pond, they literally wore their hearts on their sleeve, or in at least one woman's case, on her lapel.
I'm jealous of these people who didn't have smartphones and Internet connections, who rationed their food and clothing and made sacrifices for the greater good, because they understood something that perhaps we've forgotten in a world that's constantly updating, upgrading and searching for the next best thing. Today, we tease our friends who settled down with their high school sweethearts and college crushes. We wonder why anyone in the 21st century would settle for their first love when 10 minutes of online dating can introduce them to a plethora of potential paramours.
But perhaps "settling" for something good, isn't really settling at all...
There's a theory in psychology and sociology that holds true in just about every aspect of life, from business to parenting. This theory (what I call the "good enough" principle and academics refer to as a "minimum threshold") basically says in order to be successful, you don't have to be the best. You just have to be good enough. For example, psychologists say children don't need a perfect parent; they need one with enough flaws that they can learn, within a safe environment, how to navigate real-life relationships with similarly flawed individuals. Furthermore, a number of studies, including the Michigan Law School study, "The River Runs Through Law School," published in Law & Social Inquiry and the Lewis Terman Study have shown students who rank in the middle of their class often do just as well or better than those who rank at the very top. I'm wondering if this principle applies to love as well. I suspect it does.
My parents were high school sweethearts. They tied the knot at a young age and after nearly forty years of marriage, my parents are still one of the cutest, happiest couples I know. Sure, they could have held out for the upgrade, they could have traded in for the newer model. They could have done what many young married couples do and gone their separate ways upon "finding themselves," but my parents chose to grow and change together.
I believe true love is a choice; it's the willingness to sacrifice for a commitment. Our war heroes (past and present) understand this principle and so do those couples whose relationships are about as old as the antique jewelry I bought at the vintage expo. I don't want to just settle for good enough. I want to embrace it. I want to learn how to turn a good relationship into enough love to last a lifetime. I believe what's true in life is true in love as well. I don't need perfection to make love a success; I just need commitment to focus on my goal, persistence to maintain the course and the willingness to sacrifice for my selection.
Who knows? Maybe this sort of commitment has become extinct over time; maybe only a few relics (like my parents) still remain. I, however, am convinced this life-long vintage love still exists, and like that rare find at an antique jewelry show, I'm determined to hunt it down -- even if I have to hang out in Paris at midnight to find it!