The correctness of the unfathomable

Betwixt the stirrup and the ground, 

Mercy I asked, and mercy I found. 

… Ashe fell in love. The word is so loosely used, to cover a thousand varying shades of emotion — from the volcanic passion of an Antony for a Cleopatra, to the tepid preference of a grocer’s assistant to the Irish maid at the second house on Main Street, as opposed to the Norwegian maid at the first house past the post office — the mere statement that Ashe fell in love is not a sufficient description of his feelings…

What makes us think a love is “great”?

Every now and again this paragraph from Something Fresh crops up in my memory. Few people can place a thought as honestly and amusingly as Wodehouse, and this is one example. Why do we deem Romeo and Juliet’s love one of the greatest hallmarks of the emotion? How — and why — is it different from, say, the elderly couple down the street who’ve been together more than half their lives?

We deem some loves or some couples better than others. In love, as in all things, we are deeply judgmental, sometimes completely innocently. The other day I overheard a conversation between a woman and her friend. The latter had recently been rendered single. The woman said, “You know, we always thought you could do better.” “What!” said the recently-single woman. “But I thought we were good together!” “Exactly,” said the first woman. “You seemed so happy, I didn’t want to say anything.”

So another question arises: if the people in a relationship are getting what they want out of it, does anyone else’s opinion matter?

What, in fact, is the objection to the grocer’s assistant’s tepid preference? I myself approach this from a strictly literary perspective, so I’m familiar with the stomach-churning, heart-triple-timing, multi-chapter sensation that we’re so fond of describing. But have we been so familiarized with this sort of drama that that is our standard of love?

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been taught literature. Sometimes I wish our school curriculum had included the petty mundaneness of real relationships.

I was flying back from Montreal and squished into the window seat. The next two were occupied by an elderly couple. The man seemed older, and not really in full control of his limbs (or bladder). At one point he had to maneuver himself, again, past the woman. “Oh, George (or whatever his name was)!” said his wife. “What is is this time?”

After the man had gotten himself settled back down again with his paraphernalia, he took his wife’s hand, almost absent-mindedly, and kissed it. And these two — who I am sure drive each other up the wall on a regular basis — looked perfectly content, for one infinite moment.

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