That was the first time I saw "Gone with the Wind." As a pre-adolescent Jewish girl living in the middle of Los Angeles in the 1970s, I had absolutely nothing in common with Southern belles living through the Civil War era, however I was transfixed by the images of romance and drama. When I closed my eyes, I saw the movie image of Rhett and Scarlett standing at the bottom of Tara's red-carpeted staircase as Rhett reached down to sweep Scarlett into his arms and carry her up into the darkness. To my innocent mind, it seemed the height of sexual passion.
But their ardor was short-lived. Gradually, Rhett became increasingly disengaged from Scarlett, frustrated by her refusal to stop taking him for granted and her inability to acknowledge any feelings of intimacy towards him. And for her part, Scarlett had never stopped pining away for the married, and very cool, Ashley Wilkes.
Of course, when I first saw the movie, I was positive that Rhett would return to her. Although he can't be accused of giving mixed messages. I mean, how much more direct can someone be than, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!" But this was Hollywood. Didn't movies always have to end happily? Wasn't that the rule? Obviously, I was still too young to realize that there are consequences for one's actions, and that taking someone for granted is never a good idea -- Hollywood or not.
It has always been easy for me to get caught up in the world of fantasy through movies. However, the problem with that is that it is easy to stay in a place of denial. In the world of Hollywood, time doesn't move forward. People don't age. Scarlett could take all the time in the world to figure out a way to get Rhett to fall back in love with her.
Unfortunately, in the real world, time passes whether we are ready or not. And we are sometimes stuck in a particular stage while others move on around us. This all reminds me of Internet dating. Single people are all too familiar with the pitfalls of the online dating experience. Internet dating creates the perfect backdrop to hold onto our fantasies of perfect mates, as well as project perfected images of ourselves. We airbrush photos. We subtract a few years. We refuse to see flaws, or we project them onto other people.
The entire process can become addictive. After all, most single people crave companionship. Yet while staring at the computer screen, it seems so hard to settle on one profile, when, with the click of a finger, you can move on to the next one. It's like finding a new snack at Trader Joe's. There is always the potential that the next profile will be better than the previous one.
However, the good news is that I am less likely to engage in this "grass is greener" phenomenon these days. Most of us assume that someone else is happier than we are. This way of thinking is rapidly becoming one of our favorite national pastimes.
I don't know -- maybe it is part of being a psychotherapist, but it is so easy to idealize others, until you actually hear the personal struggles of individuals who are sitting across from you in your office. It is the old adage about how we see people's outsides, but we rarely have access to their insides. And I am grateful for, and humbled by, my clients' willingness to share their pain with me.
The hardest challenge for me is staying open to possibilities and not shutting off my desires, even though they haven't yet come to fruition.
On my good days, which are most of the time, I realize that I have succeeded in moving forward and achieving some of my goals. A while ago, I had an epiphany. I wasn't going to wait until my honeymoon to travel to Italy. So I didn't. I was standing in my darkened apartment when I heard the taxi honking its horn to take me to the airport, and I began to cry. In that moment, I felt an incredible sense of exhilaration that I was not waiting any longer to begin my life.
That experience helped me realize that there is no "perfect" moment, just like I have realized I don't have to maintain the fantasy of being perfect for other people. A few years after my trip, I returned to graduate school to get my master's in social work, and I now have a career that fulfills me completely.
I took a trip to Club Med Cancun and had a romantic fling with a Mexican aerospace engineer. I became a doting aunt. I went to the pound and found the perfect dog to help disarm typically wary Angelenos into spontaneously reaching down to pet him. (He is also the perfect icebreaker for approaching cute men.) I hike and work out regularly with a personal trainer. I have recently become involved in a growing synagogue community and have begun to discover the value of becoming a participant, rather than an observer, in most aspects of my life.
I've become increasingly grateful for my dear friends, family and health. For nontoxic hair coloring. For the 2006 mid-term elections.
I have managed, if not mastered, the art of single life in a major metropolitan city in the 21st century.
Now I am more ready than ever to have a relationship with a real, flawed, man -- not with the idealized fantasy of perfection epitomized by Ashley Wilkes.
I just hope he speaks English.
Roni Blau is a psychotherapist living in Los Angeles.
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