Bondi Beach, Sydney, NSW c. 2002

Sun, 21 Jan 2007 4:08 AM (GMT+0000)

Hi, my name is James and I'm an amouraholic. If Choose-Your-Poison Anonymous wasn't just a front for cultlike religious indoctrination (get 'em while they're weak and afraid), I'd say we all need to join up for this one. Yes, we're all addicted to love. I'm not talking about real love. I'm talking about the Disney-endorphin-fantasy brand. I'm talking about the kind that's still all pretty in the package before the buyer's remorse sets in; the sixth gear test drive before the sticker shock; the Bali bliss sans open-wound leper; the Barrier-Reef narcosis, hold the bends. You know what I mean: the fairy before it becomes a tale.

Damn, it's a dangerous drug. You don't need a kitchen meth lab for this kind of chemistry. Forget about your back-alley pusher; this monkey jumps you where you live, sometimes when you least expect it. And just like the worst narcotics, there's a steep tolerance curve so it's never as good as the last time, the time before that, or especially the very first time. Oh, you don't think so? Then you're too old to remember or too young to know any better (so enjoy the bliss of ignorance, and stay the hell away from snakes).

You don't need an actual real live person to get a hit of that love thing. If you did, Hollywood wouldn't make any money off the crapfest romantic-comedy-of-the-month club (I'm starting to think this post should be in German - better compound nouns). I know the men out there are saying they're not susceptible to this, but girls I guarantee your man has at least one in the closet that he won't tell you he likes. Maybe he didn't complain when you wanted to watch Vanilla Sky again because he could say it was a complex moral tale about the nature of perception and reality, or it was a cinematographical masterpiece, or [Cruz|Diaz] is just fucking hot. Sorry, it's a love story. How about anything Sandler has ever done? Argue all you want about his comedic talent, they're all fucking love stories.

Well, I'm already into the acceptance stage, so I'm not afraid to admit it: I'm a sucker for a chick flick. I'm a chick flick snob, but both a Dom drunk and Dos Equis drunk are still just drunks. What makes a good one? Well, the lead actress has to be easy on the eyes. Give me a little Drew (50 First Dates, The Wedding Singer), Julie (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Blanc), Rachel (The Constant Gardener), Jena (Donnie Darko, Life as a House, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys), Annabella (What Dreams May Come), Marisa (Happy Accidents), or Audrey (Amélie) and I'm halfway there. Hell, even movies as skin-crawlingly uncomfortable as The Girl Next Door can almost be salvaged by a little Elisha and her mesmer-eyes. Even intolerable worthless characters like those in Serendipity and hackneyed unoriginal plots like Click can keep my attention while I wait for the next scene where Kate swings back on screen. Shallow? Absolutely, but that's exactly what the love story is. It's all those great shallow things that bring us miserable, flawed, fucked-up souls together in the first place: the meet cute, pheremones, and pure unadulterated raw physical attraction. It's damn easy to fall in love with beauty, so don't try to moralize about shallowness (though you have plenty of license to complain about my taking the gild off the lily) because this one is just plain fact. Girls, would you have watched Vanilla Sky again if instead of Cruise they had cast Buscemi, a vastly more talented actor?

I'm pretty picky about my actresses, but I doubt any of us would kick any girl out of bed if she looked good enough for Hollywood to cast. So clearly there's more to a good chick flick than just the lead. It's not even about the plot. (Seriously. Dating a woman with no long-term memory? Time/space travel?) I dig cleverness, intelligence, and chemistry: coincidentally, the same things I look for in life. Those things are incredibly difficult to find, let alone recreate, so for every Linklater masterpiece there are a hundred acres of Freddie Prinze, Jr. wasteland crowding the marquee.

So what's the harm in a "natural" high? Well, marijuana has no provable harmful physiological side effects, but as Matt and Trey say it makes you OK with sitting around being bored and doing nothing with your life. That Disney brand true love is in fact itself a physiological side effect. It's just a burst of endorphins shocking the system for whatever reason our evolutionary biology decided this was a good idea. The only other thing "natural" about this high is that it doesn't take a chocolate or morphine injection to get it. However, shouldn't it be a warning sign that we can fake true love with a bar of Ghirardelli? The more we indulge our true love addictions with chick flicks and romance novels, the farther we get from dealing with the reality of what we're doing with our real relationships.

The problem with this particular habit is that unlike those in the sights of the inaptly-named "War on Drugs" and the arbitrary others that are still legal, for love there is no cultural campaign against the dangers of blind addiction. There are no Mothers Against Perpetuation of the True Love Fantasy (and not just because MAPTLF doesn't have the same ring as MADD). The problem is this: there is no such thing as true love. Here in the real world, our endorphin-fueled frenzy with any given person gets harder and harder to keep burning. This is the chemical tolerance problem. At the same time as we're climbing the hills on this wild roller coaster, we're starting to see more and more reasons why it might be wise to get off. It's as hard to not look down as it is to realize that this amazing person you're in love with is in fact just as fucked up as you are.

The Disney fairy tale ends "happily ever after". What a fucking lazy crock of shit. If they're going to tell us that's possible, they should be made to show us how and not allowed to give us a cheap ellipsis and bank on us believing there is a way to fill in the blanks. The happily-ever-after story is the rough moral equivalent of Phillip Morris promising everlasting life on every pack of Camels. The true love myth is as much the enemy of monogamous relationship longevity as smoking is to good health. The more people believe that being "in love" lasts, the more likely they are to run screaming when they discover something that might mean their partner isn't "the one". There's a good reason Disney doesn't tell us the rest of the story. The reason is that it's actually pretty fucking boring. Who wants to see a bunch of happy people with no conflict in their lives? It sounds good until you actually think about it: you already know the ending and you know nothing interesting happens along the way. A boring story doesn't sell. That's why it doesn't get told.

The irony is that all the fairy tales, chick flicks, and romance novels draw us in because of the conflict, which is the diametric opposite of the message actually being sent that everything will work out perfectly in the end. In our fantasy we're rooting for the couple, but in reality we rarely have anyone rooting for success in our own relationships. We have no serious investment in the fantasy to get to happily ever after; it takes a few hours at the most. In reality, it's a serious commitment to the long haul. An entire life of mundanity and hardship can never measure up to two hours of focused, polished, marketed bliss, yet insanely we all use this as our yardstick.

While reading this you might have thought my problem is that I've just had a few bad trips. Well I think we can all agree that just about every time we fall in love it ends badly. There is a lucky small percentage that actually get to ever-after, and as divorce gains more social acceptance we can more clearly see the numbers for those trying out the ever-after that say whether or not the ever-after is actually happy. No one likes to come down from a high as good as being in love, and I'll happily admit it. My problem is that most of us are addicts and don't realize it. By the introduction, you might also have thought that I'm trying to quit the true love habit altogether. The shame in the X-Anonymous programs is that the goal is total abstinence. For some drugs I agree that the downsides are not worth the benefits, and this makes sense. However, I don't agree with the Buddha that enlightenment is reached through suffering, either. They key is responsibility in our pleasures.

There's no way in hell I'm giving up falling in love - it's a great ride and it hardly costs anything at all. I'm just refusing to confuse that drug with the true reality of life. A good relationship thrives on conflict and a conscious effort to make things interesting. At the beginning of the relationship, there are plenty of things to keep us interested without having to make any effort at all. If we all simply recognized that fires burn out without us continually adding fuel, we'll all be a lot closer to happily ever after.


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