An Open Letter, to my lovePosted: 24/03/2011
Four years ago, I walked out into the city streets of New York with a secret to my step. The months flitted by as I floated my way through the throngs of new love. All the songs in the world were dedicated to us, the sky painted blue for us, Manhattan’s skyline pouring forth its beauty in deference to our love. Early love is so beautiful, my love. Our early love was so lovely.
But yes, it’s no secret that love changes as it ages, and like our move from Manhattan to Minneapolis, our love has become less glamorous. It’s a trite trope, one to which I wish we didn’t fall prey: the longer couples that stay together, the more passion they lose. And so with the passing of another year, the familiar questions arise: Do we really love each other? What is this habit of being together all about? Are we complacent? Why do I stay with her? Does he really make me happy? What do I want? There is that nagging insecurity, isn’t there: that with each disagreement, we’ve lost some magic, and that as each year passes, we grow more aware of the faults, less aware of the charms.
I watched Before Sunset this past weekend, a film that buries itself in the glow of early love even as it interrogates time’s influence upon it. The two main characters, Jesse and Celine, fell in love nine years ago in Vienna, (that story is recorded in an earlier movie, Before Sunrise), and when Sunset opens in Paris, not only have Jesse and Celine not seen each other since then, but they have only an hour together before Jesse must catch a plane. They’ve grown, from early twenty-somethings to early thirty-somethings, and in the intervening years they’ve acquired all the baggage and responsibilities of adulthood. Gone is the uninhibited embrace of spontaneous passion–but the instinctive affinity toward one another remains, as they fall in step and into conversation with one another once more.
The best part of the film is their conversation. As the movie unfolds in real time, we get to observe the way Jesse and Celine unfold to one another, hesitating to ask the questions, but unable to resist the asking. The deeper we get into the film, the more intimate their conversation becomes, mounting the anxiety that grows as their hour together diminishes. As they begin to confide in one another, the larger questions underlying their conversation become apparent: Do they love each one another? What is being with another person all about? Are they complacent? Would they really make each other happy? What does Jesse want? And Celine?
The reason I’m unabashed about asking these questions is not because I’m so worried that I must ask them in a public realm as open as The Internets. And it’s not as if our love has changed all that drastically, either (I’m still known to walk upon a cloud or two from time to time). It’s that I think these questions are so basic to human relationship, so fundamental to our shared experience as people, that we ought to make ourselves vulnerable enough to ask them out in the open. Every person who reads this, I hope, might find some element of truth in these terrifying questions about the nature of love, commitment, flaws, and hope. Relationships end; insecurity is constant; fear is evolutionarily present. But when together we give voice to our doubts, they fade back a step or two, enough for us to keep on again a while longer.
Finally, the undercurrent of Before Sunset, and that which underpins this post for you, is the grasping at knowing who we are meant to be with. Jesse is married, and confesses that his marriage feels like “running a nursery with someone I used to date.” Celine fears that she lost all sense of romance after their night together in Vienna. And the romantic though I may be, I long gave up on the notion of a “One True Love,” with whom we are meant to spend “the rest of our lives.” How are we to reconcile free will against the passage of time, knowing the commitment made in one moment might be the downfall of the next?
My love, I don’t have the answer for you, and neither does the film. What I know is that after four years together, despite my flaws and yours, I still sometimes walk with a secret to my step.