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The Book of Love Is Long and Boring
A note on love and a list of movies for Valentines Day
I have to explain things to myself a lot. It’s probably a big part of why I became a writer, my need to make sense of the world and what is happening to me. It is partly a coping mechanism—a way to make peace with the random heartbreak of everyday—and partly invigorating to me to understand the science of life.
So this is how I’ve rationalized it:
I’d always been by myself. The oldest of four kids and the only boy, I was always split from my family. It was a lot of my own doing: my parents were hardasses, especially my dad. I resented him so much, he constantly yelled and was full of bluster and violent aggressiveness. I wanted more than anything to lash out but he was big and terrifying, so I held it all in. My sisters and I held a lot of our anger and rage inside, and when we didn’t we usually let it out on each other. We were always at each other’s throats that by the time we grew up and out of it, it felt difficult to just suddenly try and be friends, let alone a family. It was easier to just ignore each other. My sisters were always a clique together primarily because they had to share everything, including a bedroom. I was the odd man out.
My parents were afraid to let me hang out and make friends, the residual effects of the 90s and the fear that every black youth is just one wrong homie or one false move from joining a street gang or selling drugs. They constantly had me on surveillance, wanting to know my every move, wanting me to eschew making friends or being social in favor of being good at school. Their paranoia only heightened my insecurity, I was missing out on the world and spending time with only myself.
When we were first getting to know each other at the end of 2010, I was struck by how brash she was. I was in my fourth year of college, she in her third; both of us hometown kids who stayed for school, both kinda bookish, irreverent goofballs, both battling a lot of anxiety and insecurity, but only one of us (her) with enough confidence to have made that first move. And of course she was, she was beautiful and knew it (though she might pretend not to), she had gumption and audacity, she had a shield of self-assuredness big enough to hide behind. When she gave me her phone number through DM, she didn’t wait long to send another message to “push” me into finally texting her as I stupidly tried to “wait three days” to not seem too “thirsty.”
We hit it off immediately. I mean like literally the first day. Viewed in retrospect, we both agree that it was intense how quickly we clicked. I didn’t believe in these mythic ideas of finding your person or making deep connections beforehand. It wasn’t as simple as us having the same interests or being alike, not really, we just made sense together. In the ensuing months we got really close. We were both what the other person needed at that time. She needed someone kind, someone who would take care of her and look out for her after being hurt and feeling discarded beforehand. I needed to be liked, to be cared for and shown affection, to be molded into a good partner and really into a real person after too many years left alone and hidden away.
I have a theory that “love” as an idea is kind of bullshit. At every turn, love seems to be negotiable. People get married because they meet someone who “makes sense” for them, they make a lot of money, they have good credit, they can provide a certain access. This isn’t posited as a denigration, I mean, how can “true love” actually be a thing in a capitalist nation? Especially late capitalism, when all your needs can be met at the right price. On “My Way Home” Common rapped “I wish love was for sale,” and if it wasn’t before it certainly is now. Whatever you need for your emotional stability you can get it, either through dating apps, Onlyfans, niche kink communities, sex toys, hell go on Cameo and pay someone to tell you they love you. Love can be arranged, from your phone, much like most things in our lives. How strongly you feel or how connected you are to someone or even how profoundly you feel for them is not the point, the point is can you make it work. It’s like any other business partnership, when two people work well together to make a good life and have children, what more is really necessary?
I am always… intrigued by how many people still view marriage as a status symbol. Despite how progressive everyone thinks they are, they still place a premium on marriage and what it means, especially for women. The prospect of being single in your thirties is levied as an insult—the fear of being “old with a toddler” is a popular brand of tweet—and marriage is often celebrated, not as an avenue to express love, but a way of properly conforming to society.
To me the true emotions are “like” and longing. You can’t fake your way through liking somebody: it’s written on the crevices on your face and the way mouth contorts when a person is around. The seething, simmering disgust behind the eyes of someone who doesn’t like their partner is always a bit entertaining, especially considering that you don’t have to do this to yourself. When you like someone you want to be around them, you’re willing to do the dumbest, most absurd things because it’s time spent with that person, you’re endeared to do the goofiest little intricacies or faults that make them different than anyone else.
And longing? Longing is the only pure emotion. The desire of what once was and what could have been. A pining for lustful memories and quiet moments all the same. It’s getting lost in the sense memory of the way their skin feels against yours when they would rub under your chin, or the friction made from your leg gliding against theirs, or their kisses right underneath the palm of your hand. Sometimes I wish to go back to that fourth year of school so badly, tears well up in my eyes. I fixate on the most mundane of the memories, like the way her hand would slide down my arm in order to wrap her fingers with mine as we walked the aisles of a grocery or a department store, usually shopping for her; or just the way her head would sit in my lap as we’d watch TV on my bed. Sometimes I think it’s because I liked her so much, other times I think I just miss being that age at that time in a community I’ve always known and that no longer exists. The past always has so much romance.
In the end, here’s what I know mixed with what I believe. We were both young and uncertain about so much in life. As much as we liked each other, like foolish kids, we were certain about where we thought our lives were going to go that didn’t mesh. And I, as a result of me being a novice and also being too understanding, didn’t have enough confidence or stubbornness to fight for her. In my head, even though things didn’t work out, since I’d never been with anyone seriously before, I just thought that’s what relationships were and would always feel like. In the years since, we both realized that what we shared meant more than we could have ever realized then.
Sometimes I dream of a different world. A world that isn’t choked at the neck by patriarchy, where a little girl can grow up and not feel beholden to some need to marry any boy that treats her with the bare minimum of niceness and a little boy can grow up exploring and developing as a human being at a young age. That way when the two finally meet, they are ready for each other and have the love story they always wanted with each other. It’s a nice idea, but probably too pat and too perfect to ever happen in any life.
The Valentines Day Movie Marathon
In The Mood For Love (2000) Dir. Wong Kar-wai
Speaking of longing, no movie encapsulates desire and the tension built from things that go unsaid like this movie. It is cinematic poetry, absolutely luscious and breathtaking. There is something that, for me, is absolutely therapeutic about watching others experience the longing that I have to deal with all the time instead.
Currently streaming: Criterion, HBOMax
The Handmaiden (2016) Dir. Park Chan-wook
A movie that tackles love and lust as well as the role patriarchy plays in making marriage a status marker worth coveting and controlling the lives and bodies of women. Plus this movie is really funny and I don’t think that’s talked about enough in movies like these.
Currently streaming: Amazon Prime
Love In The Afternoon (1972) Dir. Eric Rohmer
The French film that inspired a Chris Rock comedy! Rohmer’s meditation on marriage and faithfulness resonates with many married people, particularly men who are bored and full of FOMO. The movie version of that Lil Wayne song about fucking every girl in the world.
Currently streaming: Criterion
Love & Basketball (2000) Dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood
People are way too hard on this movie. It’s not perfect and it can occasionally be a little corny but it’s ultimately just a really endearing character study about two athletes who fall in love as they come of age. There are really sublime moments in it, mostly the scenes of them playing basketball against each other. There are also some really terrible moments like the funniest and most cringe sex scene I’ve ever sat through. You take the good with the bad with a Hollywood movie.
Currently streaming: HBOMax
Shadows (1968) Dir. John Cassavetes
Whenever people try to rip off Cassavetes, one of the main movies they’re going for is Faces or A Woman Under The Influence. The latest culprits obviously include movies like Malcolm & Marie and Marriage Story, aka the prestigious Netflix films. In I’m Thinking of Ending Things, there are a litter of references to Cassavetes and Under The Influence. They don’t have the guts to do something with Shadows, a movie that is desperately in need of one of these flashy new auteurs to adapt it into the modern political space. I mean they made a remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for crying out loud.
Currently streaming: Criterion
The PTA Hat Trick: Punch-Drunk Love, The Master, Phantom Thread
I have always been a PTA bro but unsure of the reason why. At some point, I realized that he has an incisive and deeply thought out view of the way humans connect with each other and how they hope to find something beautiful within themselves through another person’s eyes. The three films above are Anderson’s romantic movies—in order but also in order of just how romantic they actually are. PDL is the weakest and the most centered on one person, Adam Sandler just kinda towers and crushes the film underneath his fists. The Master is a perfect encapsulation of male bonding and how just because a relationship s toxic and codependent doesn’t mean it is not also full of love. Phantom Thread is similar, but with the added bonus of capturing the eternal struggle that marriage and domesticity promotes. The idea that sometimes it takes pain to remind participants of what they have. All three movies are 21st century love stories in all their messy glory.
Currently streaming: Hulu, Netflix, HBOMax
Old Boyfriends (1979) Dir. Joan Tewkesbury
The Talia Shire road movie you always wanted, with assist from Paul and Leonard Schrader. Tewkesbury’s film about a woman who gets revenge on the men who dumped her throughout her life is a lot of fun, but baked in a time and place and full of ideas. There’s real insight gleaned out both about love and relationships between men and women, as well as what is needed within one’s self.
Currently streaming: Criterion
The Living End (1992) Dir. Gregg Araki
There’s a lot of fun to be had in a good old-fashioned “lovers on the run” movie. Araki made one in order to tackle the Aids crisis and the feeling of borrowed time to craft a darkly funny and violent story. But why shouldn’t committing crimes as a couple not also be romantic?
Currently streaming: Criterion
Moonlight (2016) Dir. Barry Jenkins
The entire internet has written a million words about this move, so you don’t need me to tell you why it’s good. It is once again though, a story about intense longing—the stares you can’t stop yourself from giving, the things that almost come out but dissipate before leaving your throat, the tension of years of desire building in the air, threatening to suffocate you. Jenkins is probably thee best to capture these feelings since Wong Kar-wai and Claire Denis.
Currently streaming: Netflix
A Star Is Born (2018) Dir. Bradley Cooper
Hell yeah bitch!
Currently streaming: HBOMax
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