One of my favorite Seinfeld scenes is this moment at the rental car agency when Jerry and Elaine learn that the agency doesn’t have their car.
Agent: Name please?
Jerry: Seinfeld, I made a reservation for a mid-size.
Agent: Okay', let's see here...(computer typing)...I'm sorry, we have no mid-size cars available at the moment.
Jerry: I don't understand, I made a reservation. Do you have my reservation?
Agent: Yes, we do. Unfortunately, we ran out of cars.
Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That's why you have reservations.
Agent: I know why we have reservations.
Jerry: I don't think you do. If you did, I'd have a car. See, you know how to TAKE the reservation; you just don't know how to HOLD the reservation. And that's REALLY the most important part of the reservation---the holding.
The Romantic Comedy Formula
Holding onto love is really the most important part of love. Almost anybody can find love. Holding onto love, protecting love, nurturing love, growing it—that's the real challenge, and that's where your true fulfillment will come from, and frankly what will make your relationship special and distinguish you from the average couple.
Every romantic comedy film you have ever seen is a 3-act play and follows this formula:
Act 1: Love Found
Act 2: Love Lost
Act 3: Love Reclaimed
What we don't get in a romantic comedy is Act 4: Love Held Onto. This is the months, the years, the decades of loving each other well over the long haul, not just loving each other much in the beginning. How much I love my wife, Dorrie, is not currency she can convert and spend because love is not measured in amount, volume, or weight. How well I love her is experienced in how I treat her.
Several years ago, I counseled a couple where the husband loved his wife, but his insecurity stoked unfounded fires of fear, suspicion, and accusations of infidelity, which in turn flamed into rages and emotional & verbal abuse. I said to him more than once, “I know you love your wife much; but if you don’t love her well, you’re going to lose her.” Sadly, he never made the switch, despite being given “multiple second chances” (an ironic phrase when you think about it). Last year following their second separation, she filed for divorce.
I want to take all the fairy tales that currently end with, "And they lived happily ever after" and write another chapter or an epilogue.
- How did Snow White and William, King of Tabor, handle his parents' expectations and the 7 dwarfs' expectations about where and how to spend birthdays & holidays, not to mention coping with Snow's years of trauma recovery after having her jealous stepmother plot to have her murdered.
- After the wedding to Prince Charming, how did Cinderella set boundaries with her evil stepmother and stepsisters who were always asking for money and guilting her for marrying into wealth.
- After he was married to Sleeping Beauty, how did Prince Charming cope with her snoring and sleep apnea? How did Sleeping Beauty cope with learning that Prince Charming had previously been married to Cinderella? (Have you ever noticed how often Prince Charming shows in these stories? What a player!)
- After the princess kissed the toad and he turned into a handsome prince, how could they have known she would contract a rare frog lips disease and that his aging parents would be coming to live with them?
- When Rapunzel escaped the tower and eloped with the prince, how often did they argue about being late everywhere because it took her all day to fix her hair, not to mention him getting tired of tripping over it in the house, and them having to sleep in separate beds because there wasn't room for her hair AND him? And then there was the lice incident…
- After Belle loved the Beast, and he turned into a prince, and they got married and she moved into the castle, and they had children, how did they handle conflict about Belle wanting to sell the castle and move into a better school district?
- In The Princess Bride, when Westley married Buttercup, neither of them had steady paying jobs. Where did they live? How did they pay their bills?
Falling and Swimming
When we say that someone “falls in love,” I’m not sure if we’re to picture love as a pit, a pond or quicksand. But for the moment, let’s suppose it’s a safe and lovely pond. After every couple falls in love, they must learn to swim, be good at swimming, and enjoy swimming. That's the work of marriage, and yet because of love it doesn't feel like work. The paradox of a good marriage is that it requires work that we gladly do for free. And that’s something worth holding onto.
Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage & family therapist in Franklin, (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) the author of multiple books, and a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He can be reached at [email protected].