I saw a couple the other day when I was walking down the street. They were old, wrinkled, and tiny. If you saw a photo of them, you’d imagine that someone had found them in an attic somewhere and dusted them off to place them in Paris for a day — they seemed almost anachronistic, all shined shoes and perfectly coiffed silver hair.
But seeing them in real life, watching the way they were with each other, made it seem like they were teenagers. At one point, the woman was laughing so hard she had to stop in the middle of the sidewalk to catch her breath. She kissed him on the cheek, it was almost giddy, and so incredibly innocent — as though whatever enormous life that exists behind them is brand new and fresh when they are together, a blank slate. They held hands the entire time. And this was just in the thirty or so seconds that I saw them.
I’m not sure about our society’s stances on monogamy, marriage, fidelity, divorce, separation, and children. I think we may be a little too rigid, a little too hopeful, a little too demanding of ourselves as human beings. I think we may be stretching the limits of what we’re meant to do in our lives by saying that at some point in your twenties you are supposed to choose a person and then from that day forward never have interest in another human being until you die. It’s inarguable that so many failures — failures we blame on ourselves and not necessarily the system that isn’t guaranteed to work for us — stem from this kind of pressure. And while, from time to time, I find myself disillusioned with the entire institution itself, I must say–
There’s something about the one who makes you laugh.
The most heartbreaking moments for me in life have always been moments like this, like that couple on the street — things so beautiful I felt I almost had to look away — when there was no one there to share it with. I found myself turning around, instinctively looking for someone, anyone, to share and confirm this for me. Isn’t this amazing? I know. I don’t know if we were meant for monogamy or not, and I know that marriage is a construct not at all based in logic, but I also know things are often nicer when made for two. And when you are with someone again, when you have someone with whom to share all these quiet, powerful moments, you long so much to tell them about everything you saw and felt before they got there. You want to share, to tell, to talk until you run out of breath.
What wouldn’t most of us give to be in our mid-seventies and still have someone to laugh to the point of tears with? To look at and, without saying a word, just know exactly what the other is thinking, what they have seen? What wouldn’t be incredible about being with someone so long, so intimately, that they know you better than you know yourself? I look at the couple with the beautiful, paper-thin skin and the wry, knowing smiles and I swell up with hope for the idea that this could all work out, that there is something to this “being together” thing.
I have met older couples so happy they give me the vague impression that I’ll never be able to live up to what they’ve found. I have always been given such wonderful, lasting advice about love, and I want to collect it all and take it around with me, everywhere I go, letting it color my decisions and remind me that life is short, and that I need to be patient. We always need to be patient.
You have your own love, your heady, young infatuation, and it becomes your whole world. And then you see the couple walking down the street, laughing together, who have made it through so much and are still exactly where you are today — just so many shades deeper, richer. And you ask yourself, “How do I get from here to there? What are the tricks I need to know?” Maybe there is no secret formula. Maybe some people are just lucky enough to find the right one, to beat the odds. But I hope to make my own luck, and I hope to do it laughing.