Here’s a re-post of a very old post, written when I had first started dating my now-husband. With our second wedding anniversary coming up, it seemed appropriate.I’m developing a new appreciation for the love songs that are about the things no one tells you, the hard work that can be involved in being in a relationship. Or maybe it’s not hard for a lot of people, and maybe it’s just the freakish people like me who have been on their own for too long. Nonetheless, I increasingly appreciate good songs about the hard side of relationships, what happens after happily ever after, and everyone rides off into the sunset, and real life starts.
“The Cautious Man” from Tunnel of Love by Bruce. I know there are many people who think Springsteen has done nothing good since The River, and I know Tunnel of Love was especially hated by the critics, but I think this album is one of the greatest works of art on the subject of love in the 20th century. I kid you not. Love in the gritty, Jesus Christ, what the hell has happened to me and what do I do now, kind of way, but that’s important. “The Cautious Man” is an especially good representation of what I think is a basic truth about us as human beings. We deeply want to be with someone, to be close to someone, to feel that kind of communion and togetherness. But it also just scares the shit out of us. And for many people, those two forces can be equally strong. I want to love someone and be loved by someone so badly, but I am absolutely terrified of this at the same time, and sometimes every instinct in my body tells me to run away, go down to the end of the driveway in the middle of the night and contemplate the tattoos on your hand, “Love” and “Fear.” I had no real inkling of what “The Cautious Man” was about until I found myself in a relationship, doing the hard work of coming back into the bedroom at night, knowing that there’s a good chance those fears will never go away, but part of the hard work is sticking with it anyway. It’s comforting to me to think there’s no gender to what Bill Orton feels and men don’t have any copyright on restless hearts.
Another great, Jesus-relationships-are-hard song is Lucinda Williams, “Side of the Road,” off of Lucinda Williams. Same theme as “The Cautious Man,” really, only maybe Lucinda has a slightly better or different take on what it is that makes us wander towards those roads. I’ve been reading a lot about the institution of marriage and love in historical perspective. Love’s always been around in some form or another, but for a lot of human history, we’ve been somewhat suspicious of the romantic type of love that Lucinda and Bruce are writing about. It’s good and fine, this passionate, romantic kind of love, but certainly nothing for people to build their lives around. Certainly not a good reason to get married. It’s just us, in the West, recently who decided that yes, romantic love is the only reason you should get married. And maybe that’s what these songs are about. Trying to figure out how to go about doing this new thing. Taking a force that for broad swaths of history was seen as destructive and making it into something lasting and creative. It’s a modern problem, I guess, and especially for Lucinda, who I feel for. How scary is it, the idea of losing the sense of what it feels like to be in your own skin? To forget who you are without someone? When you’ve been burned that way once, when you did in fact, forget who you were without someone, how do you gather the courage to do it all again? But somehow do it in a way that doesn’t completely destroy who you are?
The last song only recently came to mind, as I sat down to write this, actually. I’ve been long trained since childhood to associate any phrases in my mind with songs, like there’s a little automated juke box in there always trolling for the particular melody that fits the emotional context flitting through my mind at the moment. So, “No One Said It Would Be Easy” popped into my mind this morning, by Sheryl Crow, from Tuesday Night Music Club. Here we get the nitty gritty details of two people trying to live together, trying to make this whole relationship work. Financial troubles, shirts on the floor, crappy cooking, and thinking to yourself, “Oh my God. Who exactly does he think I am?” Do you know that moment? When you think to yourself, what the hell has to be wrong with this person for actually loving me? I mean, we’re talking about me, here. Does this person have any idea who I am? There’s a good chance that if they think they love me, they really don’t, because trust me, I know me. Sometimes I’m not sure if I love me. How could anyone else? It’s a small verse in the song, a little bridge, I guess, but an important part of the scariness of love dynamic. We want to be known and loved, to be loved for who we are. But that’s scary, too. And when he’s looking at me, who is it he’s really seeing? We both want and don’t want it to be the person we really are, whoever the hell that is at the particular moment.
Thank god, or whatever, for Sheryl Crow, Bruce and Lucinda. Because no one else really tells you about these things. Are we afraid to reveal the fears we have about our own relationships? Is it just an easier story to tell, that all the hard and interesting stuff happens at the beginning? Or is it just too difficult a bridge to gulf between those who are in the relationships, staring down the road, and those who aren’t, which for many years, was me? I don’t know. I like these songs because they make me feel so not very alone and, well, weird. We don’t all head out to the road in the middle of the night, or stop alongside it. We do other, more creative things to try and push people who do or might love us away, because of how scary it is. And thankfully, I guess, some of us can sometimes become just self-aware enough to know that we’re doing it. And some of us not so much. I don’t have much to do with Christianity anymore, but I remember in Southern Baptist Sunday school asking my teacher what the purpose of our lives is according to god. Not an easy question for a Sunday school teacher, but I give whoever it was credit for the answer. He or she said fellowship. I’m not a theologist, so I don’t know what exactly that meant, but it seemed the explanation that I got was the purpose of our lives is to be with other people. That seems simple, until you begin to think about how incredibly difficult that is. Being with other people is some hard-ass shit, whether it’s your neighbor, your student, your partner, your children, your mother. We want to do it, but, really, sometimes doesn’t it just seem like such a bother? It’s good to just know sometimes that you’re not the only one who feels that way, that we’re all in this together, loving and hating it in the same exact moment.