by Raoul Felder
Oh, what’s love got to do, got to do with it,What’s love but a second-hand emotion.
Valentine’s Day is about romantic love: gushing, vibrant, tender, heartbreaking, heart pounding, pulse quickening, knee weakening, lump-in-your-throat-can’t-eat-or-sleep love. If you really want to know about love, ask me. I am a divorce lawyer.
Putting aside the kind of love that results from a train wreck of crashing hormones (best confined to the backseats of Chevrolets), and the purest of loves – familial, parental or grandparental – the love they sell the cards about, is the product of habit or fear – or both.
Habit: Human beings follow Newton’s First Law:Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, bodies at rest tend to stay at rest. In Sheldon Harnick’s lyric, Tevya asks Goldie:
Do you love me?
Goldie: Do I love you?For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes,Cooked your meals, cleaned your house,Given you children, milked the cow…For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him,Fought him, starved with him,Twenty-five years, my bed is his,If that’s not love, what is?
No less an authority on the subject than I, Jackie Mason points out that the only two questions answered by a number are about marriage or prison sentences (some might arguably make a connection between the two). He points out that if you ask a man if he liked a steak, or a particular movie, he will not hesitate to answer “Yes” or “No”. Ask the same man if he is happily married, and the likely answer is a shrug of the shoulders and “25 years.”
Fear of: Being alone, dying alone, being able to get the laundry done, bringing up the children, poverty, fear itself.
There are things worse than being old and alone: To be old together, filled with hate, or worse, indifference – two sexless lumps, staring across the truce line of a morning breakfast table waiting for the other to die, or having to attend a dribbling, feeble and ruined carcass of a memory.
The institutionalization of romantic love is, of course, marriage — but marriage in America is a failed institution. The usual statistic is one out of three marriages end in divorce. But if you add the married couples who live apart (for which there are no reliable statistics), and those slugging it out in court (who have not yet become statistics), and the really big Number: People who are simply unhappy, but stay together “for the children” or for economic reasons, “We two shall be lapt together in a five-percent exchequer bond.” (Eliot), the relevant number – the marriage failure rate – must be in excess of 50%. There is no product in the world (except perhaps commercial Xerox machines) that have a 50% breakdown rate and are still in business.
The underlying problem may be that monogamy is a learned societal trout. Out of 4,000 mammalian species, only a handful are monogamous. These include beavers and a couple of other rodents – hardly desirable bedmates.
Valentine’s Day, humbug! Give me a holiday with real meaning, like Halloween.