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A Romance Gone Bad

A Romance Gone Bad

by William H. Benson

February 9, 2017

     La La Land‘s script follows a familiar pattern. A boy named Sebastian and a girl named Mia meet, and fall in love. They share their dreams with each other. He wants to play the piano in his own jazz club. She wants to achieve fame as a Hollywood actress. They work hard to achieve their dreams, but their personal lives move in separate directions.

      Five years later, Mia walks into a jazz club and sees Sebastian on the stage. He stares down at her, and she stares back at him. He says nothing. Instead, he walks to his piano, and plays their, by then, special song, Epilogue. He finishes, and she stands up and leaves the club. Neither speaks to the other.

     What do you say to a former girlfriend, or a previous boyfriend?

     In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby, the young, single, mysterious millionaire, who lives in a mansion on Long Island, carries a torch for Daisy, the supposed love of his life. He had met her five years before, fallen in love with her, and could not shake his feelings for her. He hopes now to rekindle their romance, although Daisy is now married to Tom Buchanan.

     On summer evenings, Jay Gatsby stands on the beach, and stares across the bay towards Daisy’s home, identified by a green light. He holds his arms out and stretches toward that green light. The reader sees that Gatsby is stuck in the past. He holds too tight to his memory of Daisy years before.

     What should you say to a former girlfriend, to a previous boyfriend?

     Sam Anderson, a columnist for The New York Times Magazine, wrote a short article last December on Christmas songs, and in it he argues that the best of the lot is Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne, first recorded in 1980. Its lyrics are haunting.

     “Met my old lover in the grocery store. The snow was falling Christmas Eve. I stood behind her in the frozen foods, and I touched her on the sleeve.” This chance meeting with his former high school girlfriend really happened on Christmas Eve 1975, at a convenience store in Peoria, Illinois. She was there to buy egg nog for her family, and he to buy whipping cream for his. He sings, “She went to hug me and she spilled her purse, and we laughed until we cried.”

     They check out their groceries, and once outside, “We bought a six-pack at the liquor store, and we drank it in her car. We drank a toast to innocence. We drank a toast to now. We tried to reach beyond the emptiness, but neither one knew how.” She tells him that she is married to an architect, and that she has seen Fogelberg’s albums in the record stores.

     They finish the beer, she kisses him, he gets out of her car, and he watches her drive away. “Just for a moment,” he sings, “I was back at school and felt that old familiar pain. And as I turned to make my way back home, the snow turned into rain.”

     What do you say to a former girlfriend, or to a previous boyfriend? Sebastian and Mia choose to say nothing. Jay Gatsby pursues the now-married Daisy, a choice that did not work out so well for him. Dan Fogelberg and his high school sweetheart drink a toast to innocence.

     Adults do odd things when placed into this circumstance. I would say that a person’s reaction to a fancy-meeting-you-moment depends upon the degree of animosity engendered at the point of the breakup, and also how far he or she has matured since then. Some remain bitter. Others get over it. 

     I struggle to find the suitable English word to describe these chance meetings with former flames and the feelings they generate. Dan Fogelberg calls it “that old familiar pain.” Can we call it “wistfulness,” “musing,” or “reminiscing?” Perhaps, but not quite.

     There are the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but for Valentine’s Day there are fifteen. They begin on February 7, Rose Day, and continue through Propose Day, Chocolate Day, Teddy Bear Day, Promise Day, Kiss Day, and Hug Day. There is also Perfume Day, Flirting Day, Confession Day, and the final day, February 21, is Breakup Day. A lot happens between that rose and the breakup.

     Perhaps we should add a sixteenth day, Surprise Meeting Day.

     Halftime at the Super Bowl and Lady Gaga sings Bad Romance. The music is ok, but the lyrics are dreadful. “You know that I want you, and you know that I need you. I want a bad, bad romance. I want your love, and I want your revenge. You and me could write a bad romance.”

     Is Lady Gaga trying to say that she wants the romance to drift into an outlandish world that makes one or both of them feel uncomfortable and distressed? If so, most people would reject such a notion.

     Someone said that “it only takes one bad boyfriend or girlfriend to realize that you deserve so much more, and that relationships resemble algebra. For instance, have you ever looked at your x and wondered y?” This year, enjoy special time with your current Valentine, and release all previous ones.