I was a loyal Love Boat fan. Every Saturday with religious fervor I tuned in to watch Captain Merrill Stubing, Doc Bricker, Gopher, Isaac and Julie help their passengers navigate the rocky shores of romance. Sometimes, when my parents were out, I’d watch it with Susan, the babysitter I adored – a prime specimen of teenaged femininity, all pillowy bosom , thick blonde hair, and Love’s Baby Soft. I was so unlike her at the age of 10 and 11 that I could hardly believe we were of the same species.
Even then, I sensed the show was pure kitsch, right up there with Love, American Style, although this knowledge was not altogether conscious, just a strange prickling around the ears every time some jackass fell into the pool again after too many cocktails. But that didn’t prevent me from absorbing the Love Boat Lesson: Love is tumultuous, bewildering, dissatisfying. Love is always sex, or the promise of it, whether real or imagined. To love is to pine. Women find love by being dumb and sexy. Men find it by being dumb and brooding. And if things get too hard, you can always bail.
People say that a person’s twenties are years of intense character formation, a time of developing conviction and values. That’s true, but I think the forties are even more intense. You look up after a decade of raising young children and discover that all the stuff you thought was true – whether you’d admit it or not – needs reevaluation. Does “love” really take its shape from insecurity, tormented communication, and hormones? Turns out, not so much. That model of love will only disintegrate under the weight of day-in, day-out life. Twenty years into my marriage, it’s clear to me that real love takes shape as each partner does the next right thing for the relationship. Over and over and over.
So that’s why I’ve been taking the Robert Pattinson/Kristen Stewart breakup hard. It just seems like a waste. These two have been through an intense experience together, making all those stupid Twilight movies. I imagine that part of the attraction between them is that they can offer each other comfort in the midst of the stardom (we are actually real people, not the cardboard cutouts in the movie theaters). But now she’s cheated, and he’s heartbroken and she’s crying all night long, etc, etc. They’re 24, 26, and they don’t know yet that couples make it through all kinds of heavy shit – and that they could use this crisis to move through the first relatively shallow stage of their connection to something with heft. Forget the Love Boat, with its cocktails and shuffleboard. Get in the lifeboat, and start rowing.