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What is Love?

While talking to my mom Thursday morning, she sprung a doozy of a question on me. Seemingly out of the blue she asked if I am in love.

Background:
1. Yes, friends, family, people of the Internet, I have a boyfriend.
2. Apparently it was my dad who asked the question. This struck me as odd since we don’t talk about these things. Instead we shoot things or disagree on politics. I guess my mom is slowly filling him in. Interestingly, when I called him this afternoon, specifically to see if he’d mention anything, he only told me to drink in moderation (I was on my way to a wedding and I’m pretty sure my dad thinks I’m a lush, but that’s a post for another day.)
Anyway, I didn’t know how to answer this question. I’ve never been in love. Sure, I love my parents. I love my friends. I love my students and I love my dogs. But I’ve never experienced that totally different kind of love. Love with a capital L.
How do you know? My mom said you know when you know, which was entirely unhelpful.
After my mom posed the question, two songs* immediately came to mind. Haddaway’s “What is Love” and “That’s How You Know” from Disney’s Enchanted.
The first song describes my fear of love (baby don’t hurt me…). I have a hard time getting too emotionally invested in just about anything because I fear the hurt that will come when things don’t work out. Even applying to colleges I was afraid to love one too much, in case I didn’t get accepted. Perhaps this is because I only applied to really good schools. I didn’t have a safety school. I had one good match school and several reach schools. As it turns out, I think I ended up much happier at the good match school than I ever would have been at the East Coast schools my heart was set one. But even in that situation I was determined to not set my heart one particular East Coast school. Whether or not that worked in practice is up for debate (I still hold a soft spot for Boston College).
If I get this afraid of rejection from a team of administrators, just think about how terrifying rejection from a boy is for me…
However, the Enchanted song reminds me (okay, maybe not remind since I’ve never been in this situation, but it reminds me of what the movies and books and my friends tell me) of the wonderfulness and excitement of love. I desperately want to feel this feeling but I’m afraid my fear will hold me back.
Perhaps it is the stoic Norwegian in me rearing its placid head. Maybe it’s a confidence issue. Who knows. I will say that I am, and probably always will be, a very even-keeled person, emotionally. My swim coach used to rag on me nonstop at swim meets to show emotion behind the block. I always wanted to tell him, I was excited and pumped about my race. I just didn’t show it by jumping all over the place behind the blocks, or splashing myself with water (never understood the tradition). My calm stretching and weird little goggle traditions were my own displays of excitement.
I guess this post really has no purpose except to talk myself thorough my feelings. Oh, and to brag about my boyfriend. He’s sweet and romantic (he remembered on our first date that I complained about the lack of stars and told me, once we have the time he is going to take me somewhere we can see all the stars). Yet he’s “manly” and athletic (6’2″ hockey player!!!) while being intelligent (hello scientist!).
So yes, I am excited. I think he could be my first real love, but taking that emotional step is huge for me. And that is terrifying.
*I apologize. I forgot/wordpress changed and I don’t know how to embed videos anymore.
**If you watch/listen to all 10 hours of the Haddaway SNL skit I will simultaneously love you and judge you…
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I originally picked my most recent book choice because I thought it was a historical fiction about an educated, forward-thinking feminist from the middle ages who was a catalyst for historical happenings. What I got from The Fruit of Her Hands: The Story of Shira of Ashkenaz was something a little different, something good, but not quite what I expected. The book, written by Michelle Cameron, is more a story or a devoted, educated, albeit conservative wife and mother to whom historical events happen. The major difference being that it takes better writing to keep me interested in the latter type of story. I’m happy to report that I was interested. Granted, there were a few slow spots, but those patches didn’t last too long, and there were enough big historical events to keep the plot moving at a good clip.

The Fruit of Her HandsThe other thing I didn’t expect from the book was a wonderful love story. I loved reading about the love between Shira and her husband Meir. Cameron uses the Hebrew “b’shert*”  frequently to describe their destined love, how they were made for one another and suited each other to a T. It’s adorable! I so much enjoyed reading about a marriage instead of reading about a courtship. All too often a novel is all romance with the struggle for the couple to get together then it’s happily ever after. This book, however, was the after, and it was charming.

Actually, their relationship reminded me very much of my parents. The words and phrases Cameron uses to describe how the two characters act toward and think about one another is nearly identical to how my parents act toward one another, and some of the language they use, as well. (And they are about to have their 31st anniversary, too!) Even though it may seem fantastical to some, I believe Cameron may have hit the nail on the head when it comes to this b’shert business.

Something else worth noting: Cameron is actually the main characters’ ancestor. How cool is that?!

*”b’shert – A soul mate. According to the Talmud, it is predestined whom a man will marry before he is born” (Cameron, 430.)

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Warning, I’m about to have a little pity party here. And a push for Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Like Sapphire so eloquently put it a while back, technology brings along its own special brand of problems, along with incredible advantages. Take Facebook for example. It’s made keeping in touch with my high school, study abroad and college friends so easy. If I were to rely solely on the phone could I plan weekend trips to Vegas with people who all live in different states? Could I easily figure out who on my college swim team is also interested in sharing a room when I go to another swimmer’s wedding in September? Probably not, because frankly, I’m not the greatest at keeping in touch with the traditional methods. I hate talking on the phone and I will send out letters or emails but not on a regular basis. Facebook and Twitter is an (almost) instantaneous way to keep in touch, even if I don’t actually speak or write to a person–their status updates or other wall posts update me just as much as a quick text message or phone call.

The other reason to see this movie, and the reason why I'm going to read The Help.

So what’s the problem? You know too much. At least I have this problem. For example, several friends from high school who I didn’t really keep in touch with through college got engaged this past year, one yesterday. Suddenly, seeing everything on the Internet and seeing their excitement makes me so incredibly jealous.I know that’s mean-spirited of me and I know their happiness wouldn’t bother me as much if I didn’t have access to pictures etc. I guess at this point in my life I figured I’d at least have a boyfriend. The two most meaningful relationships I’ve had were either one-sided (mine) or a glorified friends with benefits.

Seeing what seems like the majority of my high school classmates finding happiness of some kind is just depressing and highlights my lack. At least while I was still technically in grad school I could pretend I had the career part of my life figured out, but now that I’m officially an MS and unemployed there’s no covering up my lack of career. Sure my contemporaries probably don’t have their careers figured out either (except one and she’s also engaged, so part of me kind of hates her, but not really), but at least they have love figured out. They have someone besides their mothers to rely on and cry to when job interviews turn up nothing.

Oh, Ryan

The other thing that totally bums me out, is that every single one of these girls I mentioned met their fiances in college. Do you know how incredibly hard it is to meet guys outside of college? Sapphire and I just got back from watching Crazy, Stupid, Love and Ryan Gosling plays a womanizer. During the montages of him seducing the ladies I have to wonder, what self-respecting woman goes home with the random, albeit HOT, smooth talker? Not that all men in bars do that, but at least in the bars I’ve been, getting the girl to go home with you seems like their ultimate priority.  And if you don’t meet in bars where do you meet? Given that I’ll probably move to some strange new state I won’t have friends I can mingle with and meet new people.

Actually, scratch meeting guys, where on earth do you make girlfriends? I can’t say I’ve ever made friends outside of a school setting. I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself. I just pray I won’t become a crazy dog lady (I’d say cats but they make me sneeze). Actually, I probably won’t even be able to become a crazy insert-animal-here lady because I won’t be able to afford the upkeep–hello student loans!

So, I’m sorry for my pity party, but I feel like I have nothing going for me now. I’ll be moving in with my brother for goodness sakes. And go see Crazy, Stupid, Love. Not only is Ryan Gosling über attractive, but the clothes made my friend E melt into a puddle of fashion inspired mush.

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As I’m sure  many of you know, The Princess Bride is one of the greatest movies ever made. There’s love, sword fighting, giants, a little Fred Savage and Miracle Max. But there’s one thing that’s always bothered me about the movie. When Westley is posing as the Dread Pirate Roberts and Buttercup says, “I have loved more deeply than a killer like yourself could ever dream” Westley raises his fist as though to strike Buttercup. He says, “that was a warning, Highness. Next time my hand flies on its own. Where I come from, there are penalties when a woman lies,” yet two seconds later he’s all “aaas yooou wiiissh” as he tumbles down the hillside (after Buttercup pushes him) and she’s all, “Oh my sweet Westley what have I done?” Now, if my boyfriend (ex-boyfriend, love of my life etc) tried to hit me there’s no way I’d jump down a steep hill after him. He’d be lucky if he ever heard from me again.

Yet, abuse is an ever-present (horrible) occurrence. According to a recent study, “on the average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.” The phenomenon is even more common amongst young, white couples.

Until recently, I thought domestic abuse was largely a thing of the past, or (please don’t hate me) something that occurred in poorer, less educated families. Yet many of the women interviewed in the article are intelligent and hold advanced degrees. At the risk of sounding like I’m blaming the victim, I agree with those experts who believe part of the problem stems from women’s general increase in power in our society. Is women’s power a bad thing? Absolutely not. It only causes harm when we, as women, become too confident in our power and are unable to ask for help. Which seems like a general trend. I know that I hate asking for help or showing signs of “weakness,” but we have to realize that some situations shouldn’t be dealt with individually. As the saying goes, “it takes a village.”

I don’t want to say abuse was ever acceptable, but it definitely isn’t now. Yet, Westley’s almost abuse isn’t the only thing that relates to today’s (scary) romantic world. Humperdink marries, or at least plans on marrying Buttercup, in order to kill her. His hope is that her death will cause a war between two countries. I’m assuming he hoped for increased land or riches or something although the outcome is never specified. Yet, I highly doubt that Gabe Watson or Shrien Dewani were planning on starting a war when they killed their wives shortly after the wedding.

This terrifies me. Especially since I like to think I’m strong and smart etc, but I’ve never been in that situation. How do I really know how I would respond? Add to that, I tend to like the “bad boys,” at least in literature. As if the fear of rejection, STDs and other intensely scary dating and relationship worries weren’t enough, we now have to think about abuse, or worse, death.

While the Westley character never really appealed to me (when Buttercup is about to kill herself, why does he think a comment on the perfectness of her boobs is appropriate?), I want to find mine. I want to have the kiss that ranks in the top four in the history of the world. But, now I’m afraid that I’ll be too afraid to find him, or that when I do, I’ll be too afraid to make that leap of faith.

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To end Valentine’s Week with a bang, we’re celebrating our favorite literary couples!

Cornflower: I do love Valentine’s Day (yes, despite being single) if for no other reason than I usually get valentines from my friends! I love getting mail! Plus, I am a romantic sucker at heart. When Indigo suggested we compose a valentine’s post about our favorite literary couples, I thought it was brilliant! So without further ado, here are our favorite couples from some of our favorite books.

Pride and PrejudiceElizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The ultimate couple in great literary couples. The standard for all (or at least a whole lot of) romantically entangled couples in literature. There is electricity between these two from the start, even if they mistake that charge for disdain. Even after Darcy professes his love for her, Lizzie stands by her convictions (A smidge misguided though those convictions may be. It’s not her fault someone lied!) When they finally get together it’s magical!

death in viennaGabriel and Chiara from the Gabriel Allon books, starting with A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva

I love these two together! Not only do the books supply my need for action, adventure and espionage, but the couple is great, too! They are complete equals. Both are intelligent, have strong personalities and can do serious damage. Also, for a spy, Gabriel can be surprisingly gentle and loving, which makes me love him even more.

Indigo: As I’m the resident YA reader here (I’m declaring myself this, so Sapphire and Indigo, feel free to disagree) I thought I’d focus my favorites on YA historical fiction.  Drum roll please…

Jemima Emerson and John Reid from Time Enough for Drums by Ann Rinaldi

I first discovered this book in the 7th grade in my middle school’s library loved it immediately.  First Jemima hates John but then she discovers his secret and begins to fall in love with him.  Their secret romance set against Revolutionary War America never fails to make me swoon.

After checking the book out multiple times from the library I began my quest to buy it, but unfortunately it was out of print.  I then began scouring the used bookstores and the used book section of my public library, I even sweet talked the middle school librarian into giving me their copy.  Then, I saw it in Barnes and Noble and nearly peed my pants, although the new cover does not paint a very pretty picture of John Reid.  John would not sport a fluffy, queue that looks like on giant dreadlock.  No, John Reid is dignified, strong and stands up for his beliefs, even if it causes him harm.

Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

The wonderful thing about the Anne books is that they grow with you.  Every time you read them there is something you can relate to, no matter what your age.  There is young, teasing love.  Then there is friendship.  Then comes college and love triangles and romantic realizations.  Later there is marriage and newly wedded bliss.  Followed by maternal love.

Anne is the girl who made me long for red hair (I still do) and after reading Anne of the Island I was convinced I needed to be dying of a life threatening illness in order for my true love to realize his feelings (fortunately I no longer feel that way, although it does have a certain morbid romance).

Sapphire: I admit that I am kind of worn out after my week of Valentine’s Day posts, so without preamble, here are my favorite literary couples:

Jane Eyre CoverJane Eyre and Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

This by far is my favorite book, and the growth of Jane from an unloved child to a wise woman has a lot to do with my interest in the story. But, it is Jane and Rochester’s growth together that make this story great. They start off on rocky ground, end up becoming friends, and fall in love. Jane is plain, but Rochester sees her intelligence, kindness, and spirit as her true beauty and loves her because of those attributes. In a way they heal each other, and have a relationship based on mutual respect and admiration. They are separated for a while (crazy wife in the attic and all), but reunite at the end in one of the most romantic scenes ever written, which never fails to make me cry. Together they build a life filled with love that they both had been searching for.

The Love Poems of Elizabeth and Robert BrowningElizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning

So, I realize that this couple isn’t from a fictional work, but since they were both poets, I am going to call them a “literary couple.” I love poetry, and count these two poets among my favorites, but it is the real-life love story that makes their works even more moving to read. Elizabeth was ill all of her life, and spent her time indoors writing poetry. Robert was an admirer of her poems and began corresponding with her via letters, which eventually became the medium of their courtship. Elizabeth’s father was controlling and disapproved of the match, so the poets were married in secret in 1846 and moved to Italy where Elizabeth’s health vastly improved. They both had a prolific writing career, exchanging or dedicating many poems with or to each other. They were known by friends to be very much in love, and Elizabeth literally died in her husband’s arms.

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