The true nature of love and why all my exes live in Texas.
By Mike Fleming, editorial director
THE IDEA OF ROMANTIC LOVE as the basis for long-term relationships is only about 250 years old in Western thought. Unrealistic expectations are why a vast majority of couples can’t stay together.
I blame Hollywood.
I’m a total sucker for those sitcom sappy, rom-com funny, drama-filled epic movie love stories. Yes, I cry when one character predictably sees the light and crosses the room to finally make out with their soulmate. And yes, Tom Cruise had me at “Hello.” Yes, in “Jerry McGuire” too — but I was thinking about myself going, “hel-LO” when he slid across the floor in his tighty whities in “Risky Business.” I’m old.
I freely admit to clapping and squeaking like a schoolgirl during a thousand other movies and TV shows, too. Just when we think all is lost, suddenly one of the characters turns around to see that the only person on Earth for them is standing there waiting to walk into the sunset.
I FIRST SAW KEVIN BACKSRAGE during our high school production of the sappy-ass “Carnival.” From across the room, I saw what remains one of the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen. It was movie love at first sight.
Kevin is a visual artist and philosophical genius who was on the cutting edge of alternative music before that term was even part of the cultural lexicon. He is hilariously dry, silly and spiritually enlightened.
Over the next nine years, he was my best friend, my boyfriend and ultimately my live-in partner in crime. He put my traditional ways of thinking about relationships and every other part of life to the test.
As often as we tried to convince ourselves that we were “meant to be” and tried to rekindle those Hollywood feelings again and again, ultimately it was shared experience — laughter, hardship, fights, trials and celebrations — that kept us going as a couple.
One day, he came home and said he wanted a wife and kids. Obviously, I couldn’t provide that. There were definitely movie moments in which the soundtrack soared in my heart and mind. But the “it” moment, the Hollywood payoff, didn’t happen.
DAVIS IS AN ARTIST TOO. He has a deep, melodic East Texas accent, and he is the funniest, kindest man I know. For nearly seven years, we laughed and connected as lovers and friends. One year for my birthday, he sang “I’d Waltz Across Texas With You” to me. Sigh.
Davis broadened my scope even further and introduced me to the theories behind artists I instinctively loved: Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg, Cornell, Bacon, Kahlo, Finster, Magritte and so many more.
He also consistently challenged my notions of romanticism with a Buddhist belief in compassion and kindness over raw sentimentality. Romanticism was an equal-and-opposite reaction against the pure reason of the Enlightenment period, he said.
Long before any state recognized it as legal, I married him — private ceremony, public reception, the works. When we ceased being a couple, we viewed it as a morph in our relationship, not an end.
Just yesterday, we were talking, and he told me about a book of Dalai Lama teachings he was re-reading.
“The search for another single soul mate based on sexual intimacy is a fantasy ideal,” he said. “There’s a place for that, but it rarely lasts and is not nearly as deep as the universal human connection of empathy and friendship. ”
“The end of that phase of our relationship was long past lust-only,” he added. “But my deep loving kindness toward you is as strong, or stronger, than ever.”
How ’bout them apples? I moved to Atlanta 15 years ago, and I’ve yet to match an iota of that feeling or desire.
THE BOTTOM LINE IS, a couple better have a hell of a lot more going on between them, because Hollywood love doesn’t happen for long, and lust doesn’t last.
We like the newness of those initial stirrings, but it’s hard work that keeps stirring that pot. Don’t spend too much of that work trying to cram real life into movie scenarios.
Who knows why any one couple stays together or don’t? Some of us need another person to validate us. Others find a real connection, foster it, and stick it out. In the meantime, a little lust never hurt anybody.
Shout out to all my people recovering from Hurricane Harvey. I love y’all.