July 5, 2001
Love Ain’t Moulin Rouge
I ironed my bed skirt this weekend. I got out the can of spray starch and lovingly pressed that thing for an hour in the sauna-like atmosphere of my tiny kitchen.
That's how much I didn't want to read "Why Can't I Fall in Love? A 12-Step Program."
The book, by best-selling "Kosher Sex" author and Michael Jackson buddy, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, was my designated weekend reading. I thought it would make a good column topic. Instead, it sat on my living room floor like something the cat dragged in, inspiring any home-improvement project that would justify my leaving it there.
As I pondered a quick trip to Target for some grout, a thought popped into my brain as clear and shiny as the tub I had just scrubbed: When it comes to relationships, the only thing I know is that I know nothing.
With that liberating thought, I flipped open the rabbi's 292-page book, randomly came across a quote from Lisa Simpson, and was lured in enough to read the whole tome in one sitting.
"Mom, romance is dead. It was acquired in a hostile takeover by Hallmark and Disney, homogenized, and sold off piece by piece."
The rabbi seconds Lisa's notion that our concept of love has been warped. He contends that we have unrealistic expectations of being swept off our feet instantly, of eternal romance, of finding that one "soulmate" who will make us overcome our fears of vulnerability and commitment. We expect to meet Ewan McGregor and have him singing us a medley of popular love songs on a Paris rooftop four seconds into our all-consuming union.
Boteach points out what he calls some "hard, cold truths."
About 40 percent of adult men and women are divorced or unmarried, he writes. Marriage rates have plummeted by a third since 1970, while the divorce rate now exceeds 60 percent. Not surprisingly, a whopping 80 percent of us are holding out for the "perfect mate," a mindset that Boteach effectively deconstructs.
"Instead of taking the leap of faith required to nurture a relationship from potential to reality, we are clinging to the notion that perfection will fall into our laps -- no work, no worry -- if only we have the patience to wait for it," he writes.
According to the rabbi, this process of looking for "the one," of continually trading up, looking for someone better, is what's keeping some of us in what he calls "that desolate corner of the earth known as the singles' scene."
I don't know if it's all that desolate, or if being single is the affliction the rabbi makes it out to be, but he may have a point that flies in the face of current conventional wisdom.
In a section titled "Commit first, fall in love later," the rabbi kind of shocked me with his axiom, "True love is what comes from commitment, not the other way around."
Sure, you want to argue with the guy, you want to tell him the days of arranged marriages and learning to "love the one you're with" are over, but it's hard for me to argue with anyone when I've already concluded I know nothing.
If love is something that grows out of commitment, if it's a cumulative process, as the rabbi posits, maybe we're all ruling out potential soulmates with a wee bit too much haste.
I took a quick break from reading Boteach's book to check my e-mail.
There I found an ominous note from a reader warning me that my "lifestyle" was a fast track to becoming a woman who had been around the block. Too late, I thought. My own eChicken Little told me I better change my ways, "stop dating urban professionals, date a do-gooder, an ordinary guy, even a goy." If not, I was sure to "recycle the same old schm--k."
Right. I should just find one schm--k and stick with him, darn it. That doesn't sound right, but I think I get the idea.
The rabbi, the e-mailer, they're suggesting I find Mr. Good Enough and make it work, accept his flaws as cute idiosyncrasies.
I don't think this is a bad idea. The problem is that I have so many flaws of my own I'd have to find someone who had already read and digested Boteach's book and decided I could be Ms. She'll Do.
The whole idea brings me back to Lisa Simpson. If we've been convinced that love is "Moulin Rouge" and Hallmark-hued sunsets and men with square jaws bearing fistfuls of poetry, how can we recognize the real face of love?
And with the use of the phrase "the real face of love" I could swear someone, somewhere, has just revoked my poetic license, or at least taken some extra insulin.
If you can stomach the metaphor, bear with me. I think the rabbi's point is that love isn't just a pretty face, it's a face with quirks, one that grows on you, one that isn't always smiling and singing, one you might not recognize at first glance.
Teresa Strasser is a 20-something now on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.
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