This month of red heart-covered cards, jewelry advertisements and overpriced dinner packages got me thinking about how love is represented in popular culture. Just looking at what we see on television alone, you might think that true love is relegated to the young, the dating or the newly married.
How often do we see examples of people who have been together a long time – say 25 years or more – who show signs that they are still noticeably in love?
I can think of a small handful examples from the television sitcom archives:
Morticia and Gomez Addams (The Addams Family).
Cliff and Clair Huxtable (The Cosby Show).
Eric and Annie Camden (Seventh Heaven).
These couples were gentle, at time romantic. They were respectful to one another and even the teasing was tender.
But it seems to me that there are more TV examples of sniping, battling, put-up-your-dukes older marriages.
Fred and Ethel Mertz (I Love Lucy).
Ralph and Alice Kramden (The Honeymooners).
George and Louise Jefferson (The Jeffersons).
Edith and Archie Bunker (All in the Family).
Frank and Estelle Constanza (Seinfeld).
The elder Barones (Everybody Loves Raymond).
Al and Peg Bundy (Married With Children).
These long-time marrieds do more putting down than putting up with.
Are TV portrayals of longtime love few and far between because they aren’t funny or airbrushed enough for a sitcom, or is it that we have little faith in the lifespan of a marriage?
There is so much that we can learn from the longtime marrieds – the ones who have been through the ringer with one another. The ones who have suffered health challenges and financial ups and downs and lost loved ones. These are the people who can show us what real love looks like because they know it’s hard work. They also know that intimacy comes with an emotional cost, but that it is in and of itself worthwhile.
Marriage expert John Gottman, author of numerous books on long-term relationships, writes that happily married couples behave like good friends, which includes respect, affection and empathy. They recognize that conflict is inevitable, and that some problems never get solved or go away. But they don’t get gridlocked in their separate positions. Instead, they keep talking with each other, listen respectfully and they find compromises.
But somehow these characteristics pale in comparison to Sandra Day O’Connor’s story.
Did you hear her story? This former Supreme Court Justice retired from her post in 2005 to care for her husband who has Alzheimer’s disease. She was the first woman Supreme Court Justice and, like so many women, when it came down to family, she put them over her career.
But in the assisted living facility where her husband is cared for fulltime, John, who forgets about his relationship with his family members, found companionship with a female resident. They have reportedly been seen holding hands even with wife Sandra present.
Heartbreaking for Sandra, right? But here’s what grabbed my attention. O’Connor has said that as challenging as this is for her, she’s just glad he has found some happiness.
Now that’s a real-life love story.
Where are the TV versions?