The Language of Love by Sharon O’Donnell
As the years have gone on, I’ve found it harder and harder to pick out a Valentine’s card for my husband. I still love him, but some of the lovey-dovey stuff mentioned in the cards is now merely a footnote in the history of our romantic relationship. I want my card to be honest, not corny or saccharine sweet. One card I read while perusing the racks of cards last Valentine’s Day was written from the wife’s point-of-view, and she wrote how she still loved to hold hands with her husband. Okay, I thought, as I kept reading, sometimes we still held hands. Not often, but it wasn’t so far off base that it would prevent me from buying the card.
The next line was about how she loved to “cuddle on the couch together”. Okay, that happened maybe 15 years ago. I remember the show ER was pretty new then, so it had been awhile since we did any couch cuddling. Wary of the appropriateness of this Valentine to give my husband, I still kept reading.
The next line was about how much she treasured the time they would “cook together.” All right that’s it, I thought. I immediately dropped the card back down into its slot and sighed. Who the hell writes these cards anyway?? Cook together? Oh, please.
Early in our relationship, Kevin and I used to write personal notes in the cards we gave each other. Soon after we had our first child, he gave me a card with a few lines of verse printed on it, and in his own handwriting he’d written, “This about sums it up.” I stared at the personal note in disbelief. What had happened to our heartfelt words of love and admiration? He told me the card said what he wanted so he didn’t feel the need to write anything personally. But he had for all the years before, so I took it as a definite change in our relationship. “This sums it up” is not the language of love but of the financial analyst that Kevin is, what with the sums and multiples and dividends lingo. I guess I should not have been surprised that he would eventually revert back to that kind of talk. Now things are so busy that we sometimes don’t even exchange Valentine’s cards, but we used to exchange them on Feb. 14th and all the other holidays too. And sadly, that has become okay with me. When we do give each other cards, we often resort to taking the short cut and writing below the store-bought sentiment, “This about sums it up.” There’s an inside joke there that alludes to our history together, and that in itself somehow has become a bit romantic, oddly enough. Would I rather Kevin express his feelings in writing like Nicholas Sparks? Sure. But as we get older and our relationship matures, we know what the other person feels without their having to write it down for us. Still, every now and then, it’s nice to read it too.
The ultimate in such expression would be to have your loved one sing you a song about his feelings. Melissa, one of our nieces, was dating just such a romantic man in his late 30s when she was 25. While on a family vacation, she had to be apart from him, but she couldn’t stop talking to me and a few other O’Donnell women about how wonderful he was. And he really was nice, and we all liked him. But the rest of us were married to unromantic O’Donnells, and it made us just a little irritated to hear how Melissa’s boyfriend would play the piano and serenade her. When she added that he’d made a mix tape of romantic songs for her to listen to while they were apart, I could take it no more. “Melissa,” I said. “Shut up.” She looked at me and giggled, knowing her Uncle Kevin well enough to know why I stopped her in the middle of another one of her Mr. Perfect stories. One of my O’Donnell wife counterparts added loudly, “Amen!” Melissa knew we were teasing her but were serious at the same time.
About six months later at a family wedding, Melissa and her Mr. Perfect were dancing to every song at the reception, fast or slow, while the O’Donnell women had to dance in a group together as their husbands sat at the table with their mixed drinks. One of the younger women about to marry into the family said something about her fiancé having two left feet. The rest of us smiled, knowingly.
Music can make ordinary words take on a whole new meaning. I’ve heard the song “Have I Told You Lately that I Love You” sung at weddings because it’s considered a romantic song; however, take away the music for a second & see what happens. If a woman asks a man if he loves her and he replies with a shrug of his shoulders, “Well, there’s no one else above you”, then chances are she wouldn’t think that’s romantic at all. She’d probably get pretty pissed. What a non-committal line! There’s nobody else above her; does that mean she’s in a tie with somebody? A dead heat? But set it to music, and Rod Stewart has a hit song. Same thing with Stewart’s “Maggie Mae”, which I’ve always absolutely adored – I turn up the radio every time it comes on. “Wake up Maggie, I think I got something to say to you” Stewart belts out in that unmistakable rough, throaty voice of his. And the music is terrific, bringing back memories of the 1970s. But focus on the lyrics instead of that catchy music. Here was a guy jilted by his lover, and he was deeply hurt. She had been everything to him. So he writes her this song and in it are the lyrics, “The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age.” What?? If I had been this illustrious Maggie Mae I would’ve spoken up the first time I heard the song: “Um, Rod honey, do you think you could work on those lyrics just a little bit more?” If he wrote songs with lyrics like that, no wonder she left him. So the music and lyrics both have to be up to par to make a song really romantic.
When I was growing up my two older sisters used to play records by groups like The Carpenters and The Lettermen whose songs oozed romance or heartbreak. These were records they’d play out in the den when their boyfriends were over, and it was the music I grew up with. This music formed my early thoughts about how love should be, and it was of course, a very unrealistic picture that I painted in my mind. Hands down, the one album of my sisters’ that I remember most was by a poet named Rod McKuen, who spoke some of the lyrics in a raspy voice and sang the rest in the same voice. (Odd that both examples here are about singers named Rod with raspy voices.) It was, I guess, you would say pretty cheesy, but to me back then, it represented the most romantic of the romantic. One selection was whispered in his sultry voice: “If you like apples, I’ll carry home an orchard/ If sky is to your liking, I’ll bundle up the skies of summer.” So after listening to that, I thought all men wrote stuff like that for the women they loved. What a disappointment the real dating game turned out to be when I’d set my expectations so high.
The lyrics of many of those songs my older sisters played were sincere emotions of a more innocent time that spoke of things like, “Save your heart for me” and kissing and hand-holding. Unfortunately, I think the teens and kids of today, including my sons, are deprived of such innocence, thanks to suggestive and overt lyrics of music and prime-time teen shows that make sex seem so casual. It’s difficult to see my children’s generation become so accepting of promiscuity and vulgar entertainment; I want them to understand that even though some people might see certain values as old-fashioned and think that such changes in society is ‘progress’, a person’s morals should stand the test of time. Sometimes I feel like I’m becoming a real old fuddy-duddy.
Yep, the language of love has certainly changed over the years. From the music to Valentine’s Day cards and gifts. Recently I told Kevin that there was something I really wanted for Valentine’s Day. “Jewelry?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No,” I replied.
“A gift certificate for a massage?” I shook my head again. “One of those day spa make-over things?”
“No,” I said.
“Then what do you want?”
“I want to call a plumber to fix our sink and our toilet instead of you fixing
them again,” I told him.
And so that is what our romance has become. That about sums it up.