I spent a lot of my childhood reading my grandmother's large collection of True Romance magazines. My grandmother immigrated to America from Hungary when she was a teenager, and that's the highest literary level she ever achieved. Either that or she really enjoyed the glamour and escape those comics provided after a long day in the grocery store she owned with my grandfather.
At any rate, I found the melodramatic stories terribly intriguing, with all the complications and anxiety that romance can provide. There was always some sort of love triangle going on or an awful misunderstanding, with break-ups and make-ups that continued on into sequels. I was fascinated by the obsessions and heartache the characters endured, and I assumed I was learning all about love relationships. True Romance 101.
That was the beginning of an education that I should never have acquired.
That was the beginning of an education that I should never have acquired. I got the rest of my romantic expectations from pop music and Hollywood films. Some of the major messages seemed to be:
• If your true love acts like a jerk, it's acceptable as long as you love him.
• Love involves emotions such as jealousy, possessiveness and the constant fear of losing your beloved to someone else prettier than you.
• You shouldn't care what anyone else, even close family members and good friends, think about your beloved. The main thing is that he makes you swoon.
• Unrequited love is a noble thing, and it's understandable to want to die if you're rejected by someone with whom you are infatuated.
By the time I was ready for marriage in the 1970s, I knew exactly how I was supposed to feel about the man I would marry. Until the day I met him.
The man that wanted to marry me aroused feelings much less intense and exciting than I was primed for. On some of our dates I was even slightly bored and happy to return to the chatter and chaos of my all-girl apartment. This man was open, reliable, ambitious and interested in me. He was not moody, never unpredictable, lacked mystery and had absolutely no criminal tendencies. He was straightforward and to my mind, dull beyond description. He seemed like a good person to have for a neighbor, not my golden opportunity for passion and glory. Where were the fireworks, the thumping heart, the tears of torment, the moments of rapture? I was miserable that I wasn't sick with longing. I hadn't lost my appetite and I slept just fine. How could this be love?
Thankfully, at that stage in my life, I was attending Torah classes and learning new lessons about love and marriage. I was supposed to look for good character traits, like humility and compassion. My friends and I dreamed of marriage to a Judaic scholar, a role model for the children, an asset to the community. That didn't sound like the musicians or artistic types I had always dreamed of.
The man who wanted to marry me was so normal. And my father actually liked him, which was something brand new. I just couldn't reconcile myself to him being "the one."
Yet after awhile, his sweetness grew on me. So I took the plunge (I wasn't getting any younger) and we finally got married. Slowly and tenderly, we began to build our relationship, although I sometimes still fretted that our relationship would never be the inspiration for a story in True Romance.
A few months later I was thrilled to discover that I was expecting a baby. One afternoon as we were walking through town, I decided we must have ice cream cones. In my pregnant state, I chose the black walnut raisin and brandy flavor. My husband opted for vanilla. "Oh c'mon!" I teased him. "Try something exciting!"
"No, I like vanilla." he insisted, "that's always good."
We paid for our ice creams and sat down to eat them in a nearby park. I took a big lick of my quickly melting cone and it was absolutely revolting! I couldn't believe this had been my choice and I had ordered a triple scoop! I watched my husband settle down to enjoy his plain white ice cream and began to covet it intensely.
"What's wrong?" he asked me. "Everything okay?"
"This tastes terrible!" I admitted. "I can't eat this!" I felt especially bad because in those days we had so little money and an ice cream cone, believe it or not, was a luxury item.
He looked at me with a straight face and said' "You probably want me to trade with you, right?"
"Well," I said to my new husband, "I don't want to be rude."
"No, no, it's all right. Here, take mine."
He held out his cone and I gave him mine. He tried it. "Oh yum," he said loudly. "This is great, really delicious."
I looked at him gratefully and tried his vanilla. It was wonderful. And then I realized: so was he.
“Exotic” may look good, but that’s only from the outside. When you’re building a home, in it for the long run, and you're hot and tired (and pregnant), you want something – not “boring” – but steady, reliable and dependable.
What I now call True Romance.