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Monthly Archives: November 2013

What’s the best way to end a romance at its height? Perhaps a better question: Is there a best way, or even a good way, to end a romance at its height?

First of all, let’s acknowledge the obvious–this is a rhetorical question. Ending a romance at its height is not a conscious choice, at least not between the two participants. Such terminations come about from a mix of fate-driven events and chances and unconscious needs and spontaneous choices and their equally impulsive reactions. They are not cold and calculated. If they are, then the love was something other than genuine, or has lost its heart somewhere along the way.

Still, though rhetorical, the question has relevance, if only in hindsight. Is there a best way, or a good way, for a passionate romance to end?

As we well know, either through personal experience or observation or both, most such relationships end with one or more of various versions of white-hot explosions–a betrayal discovered or guessed or imagined, a monumental argument (often started over some trivial matter), screaming, hitting, breakable objects thrown, clothes tossed out windows, cars keyed. O.K.–you get the idea (and are perhaps wondering if there’s a sadist behind this post).

Or maybe they end with a stark and unexpected “I don’t want to see you anymore” or “I need a break” (these days sometimes sent as a text message), leaving the recipient feeling like he or she’s been flattened by a Mack truck they didn’t even know was out there–heck didn’t even know they were on the road able to get hit, thought they were miles from any road or danger.

And so it goes–we’ve all been there, some of us more often than we want to admit.

But maybe such sudden and irrevocable endings, though painful and traumatic, are good in a way. They are, for better or worse, definitive ends, a black hole voraciously consuming all of the romance’s former light. No matter how often you go through the photo file or the text message list or good old fond memory, there’s still THE ENDING–no way around or past that black hole of demarcation.

But in very rare instances, romances at the peak of passion end peacefully, as the participants, for whatever mix of needs and circumstances, back themselves down off the pinnacle of the mountain to the quieter and safer valley below. Such peaceful partings are not calculated choices either, but a complex interweaving of desire and need, surrounding events, individual personalities, and a sizable portion of luck. At any point in the necessarily gradual unwinding, a chance encounter or misunderstood comment or gesture could lead to the more familiar fireworks, and a sudden end.

But are such slow peaceful endings necessarily better than the sudden traumatic ones? There is after all no black hole of demarcation consuming the love’s former light, no irrevocable THE END. So what happens to all the feeling that’s not exorcised in the conflagration, is not shattered like the plates smashed on the floor? Does it just sit on the heart? Drip away? Evaporate? Or go into hiding somewhere? And if it goes into hiding, where does it go? Does it ever come out? Gain expression at other times, in other ways? What happens to love that’s not fully expressed or eradicated?

What is the best way to end a romance at the height of its love and passion–if we could choose?

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Are moments of perfection good or bad things?

No doubt each of us has a catalogue of such occasions safely stored in the scrapbook of memory–a best meal, a perfect sunset, our team’s biggest victory, our favorite singer singing our favorite song at the ideal venue, a child in perfect pose, a parent by our bed when our fever breaks. And then of course there are our romances–one of them, all of them, any of them: maybe each with a moment of perfection planted, maybe one with many such moments, maybe just one with just one perfect moment. I had a friend once describe his sexual encounters in the following terms: The worst I ever experienced was the best I could’ve hoped for! Needless to say, he had lots of perfect, or at least very good, moments stored in his memory and body.

But what do we do with such moments? We cherish them, of course–honor them in our hearts and souls, honor those who granted them to us, even if the only one who granted the moment was God or Nature or Fate. But how often do we honor them? And is the occasion of such recall, such honoring, joyful or sad, or both? Is it like dusting off the photo album (presumably more joyful) or visiting the gravesite (presumably more sad)? And what if visiting a grave is more joyful than dusting off the photo album? Is that an inverted sensibility or a righted one?

Which leads back around to the initial question–are moments of perfection good or bad things?

The logic behind the question goes like this: Certainly we are delighted to have such moments. Once they are experienced, they are ours forever. Nobody, nothing can take them away. But then that’s also the problem–they are ours forever. We live the rest of our lives in the shadow of those moments, ever reminded (if we stop to think about it, if we honor the moment, the person, dust off memory’s photo album, visit the grave) that now is not then, that today’s occluded sunset is not THAT perfect sunset, that the singer is in a nursing home, the song an advertising jingle, the child grown, the parent deceased, the lover long since vanished. If we really honor the perfect past, we necessarily diminish the imperfect present. So maybe we safeguard the present by saying that the past, even those precious moments, weren’t really that perfect, are elevated and embellished by time and memory and nostalgia. But what if you know that isn’t true, have a photo or recording or journal entry that proves your memory accurate, that moment was THAT perfect? Maybe better then not to think about it, but in so doing you dishonor the memory and your life’s experience.

There are some wonderful lines from Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that speak to this dilemma and also summarize the tension in all of Keats’s poetry between rightly honoring perfect beauty and acknowledging our rare or nonexistent participation in it:

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal–yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Can we freeze the perfect memories in their perfect moment like those figures on Keats’s urn, both honoring their perfection and keeping them separate from our present life, the sun of memory from behind us, shining full light on the bygone moment but casting that moment’s shadow somewhere else, anywhere else, than across our present? If so, just how do we work that delicate alchemy? Then again, Keats died an excruciating death at age twenty-five, and his last words to the world are documented on his tombstone: Here lies One whose name was writ in Water.
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.
Play on, soft pipes; play on.