Love. Real love. Grown-up love, is complicated. Humbling. Transformative. Hard work.
"Complicated Hearts" is a song on my new EP. When I sat down to write, I was thinking about being in a long-term, grown-up relationship. Messing around with chords on my 11-year-old son's handy, mini-Yamaha guitar, he asked me what I was playing. "What do you think of when you think of people falling in love," I asked him. He answered, "I think of two people falling down in a field of flowers." In that instant I had the opening lyric for the chorus, "Our love, was never fields of flowers." Grown-up love sure isn't what you think it will be when you are 11.
My husband and I met in Paris during my junior year abroad nearly 30 years ago. Seated, side by side, at a dinner party in a cramped, Parisian studio apartment, we connected instantly. I spoke shaky "je m'appelle Jeneefere" français as this strapping young art student didn't speak a word of English. I was smitten. Unwilling to leave Paris and/or my beautiful French boy, for the next four years I took an extended break from Barnard College. To afford baguettes, I sang in the Paris Metro, and thankfully moved up to working as a singing waitress at the upscale "Hollywood Savoy" restaurant. There is a common expression in French about young love; "Vivre d'amour et d'eau fraiche." It translates loosely as "Living on love and fresh water alone." That pretty much sums up how we lived as we could hardly afford groceries.
While my relationship with my husband had quite the romantic start, over time we've skidded into our share of rocky patches. We love each other deeply and are devoted to our two sons. As artists prone to hair-trigger mood-swings, we fight furiously. In a city increasingly reserved for the super-wealthy, we live a bohemian existence in our rent-stabilized, one-bedroom apartment. We get the Murphy bed while our sons have commandeered the bedroom. Tight quarters, low income, flaring tempers and two rambunctious boys. Not dull. How have we made it this long? Is there a secret? A trick? Yep.
That's right. I love my husband and, no matter how angry I get, I don't leave. I remind myself that I made a commitment and that, at the very least, until cooler heads prevail, while I might leave the room, I don't leave the apartment. The bathroom definitely counts as a room, by the way!
"Don't leave," may seem like disappointing advice. I cling to the notion that I fell in love with my husband for good reasons and that love needs to be nurtured, not abandoned. Sometimes, I fear, we walk away from struggle too quickly, fantasizing about the proverbial greener grass.
What about those who attribute their successful marriage to "dumb luck" or finding the perfect match. The ones who never fight. Good for them! I imagine those to be the unicorns of marriages.
Right time and place, meeting someone with whom you connect, is a kind of magic. However, sustaining that magical je ne sais quoi over time is challenging. Especially facing parenting, work, loss, aging family members, health issues, money troubles... That's where marriage demands some stubborn stick-to-it-ness. If it were easy, approximately 50 percent of marriages wouldn't end in divorce. It takes effort and sometimes, hardy compromise to sustain a loving, lasting, monogamous relationship.
Here is what one of my dearest friend's grandmothers said to her on the eve of my friend's wedding. "Expect to hate your husband at some point. To wake up next to him and think, 'what have I done?' You may even despise him. Know that it will pass."
One night my husband and I had such a nasty argument that I sent him to sleep in his office -- something I had never done. I was hatefully angry. So was he. At 4:30 a.m., however, I woke up. I checked on him. Why? Because, as fuming mad as I was, I love him. Thinking of him sleeping on that lumpy futon made me sad. I peeked into his office and found him awake. I told him to come back to our bed. He did. Doesn't sound like much, but in my book, that is an act of love, both my asking him to return and him accepting. Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel wrote that "the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." Where there is hate, there may still be love.
I am not claiming to be a relationship guru. Far from it! It's just that, with Valentine's Day coming up, I know that expectations often run high. No offense to those who subscribe, but I feel it's a silly holiday. My heart goes out to all those not in a relationship, subject to the onslaught of saccharin, Hallmark pink and red. Buy yourself some delicious chocolate and flowers whenever you feel like it!
Some things my husband has done to make me feel truly loved that didn't involve flowers or candy:
-- Serving up delicious, one-of-a-kind cocktails at the end of an awful day
-- Pulling me close when I'm falling apart
-- Schlepping to hundreds (yes, hundreds) of gigs, packing up cables, selling my CDs
-- Listening to me ramble on about work stuff that must be beyond boring
-- Brushing my teeth when both of my arms were in casts and performing other duties I will omit for modesty's sake
-- Letting me watch my TV shows that always feature psychics and ghosts -- he's asleep before the opening titles are over
It's not the flowers, gifts or candle-lit dinners. While those are lovely, it's the everyday, little things that stack up. I know I'm a serious piece of work. Complicated. So is my husband. "Our love, beats the stops and starts, of complicated hearts."
"The course of true love never did run smooth." Maybe that's ok. Shakespeare said so.
Happy Valentine's Day. If all else fails, go for red roses and a lot of chocolate. Can't hurt.
Listen to the latest single, "Complicated Hearts," by Jenny Bruce HERE.