Posted by: Trisha Leigh | November 17, 2010

On Love, Fictional and Otherwise

The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds, and that’s what you’ve given me. – The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks

I may be the least qualified person on the planet to blog about love. Seriously. If any friends (or guys I’ve dated) are reading this, they are surely howling with laughter. I’m going to toss my thoughts out there to the world, though, because it’s what’s on my mind today.

I’ve been researching for a grad school essay, and find myself tugged back into the heart wrenching love affairs of the ancient world. Most of you are probably familiar with Antony and Cleopatra, if not the historical account, at least the Shakespearean take. I find the tale wrought with sorrow, mostly on Antony’s part. Cleopatra was a smart, intelligent, beautiful woman. Sadly, in the ancient world she needed to attach herself to a man in order to legitimize her power, and she used Antony to get what she wanted. In my opinion (based on research, yes, but also gut instinct) she didn’t love him. Not the way he loved her. I’m not judging her, not one bit. Feminine wiles were often the only tools available to women back then. Antony had a reputation for being something of a romantic, playful man before he met Cleopatra – I’ve always had the feeling he’d spent his life searching for something more than Roman politics. He found it in her, and he paid with his life.

I’ve detailed the story of Titus and Berenice on the blog before, you can read it here if you’re curious. The short and long of it is this: She was a Jewish Princess who fell in love with the Roman general destined not only to become Emperor, but to destroy the second Temple. No matter how many times I read the sources, their fates never fail to sink me into a depression. Unlike Antony and Cleopatra, Titus and Berenice had nothing to gain from being with one another and everything to lose. They continued down the path of their love, daring to hope. Those hopes were dashed when, backed against a wall, Titus chose Rome over love.

These are the historical types of love stories that have endured. The fictional love stories that strike the most resonant chord also tend to be the ones imbued with horrible choices and tragic endings. Romeo and Juliet, Love Story, The Notebook, and Wuthering Heights are some of my favorites. The message they convey is this: If you want to know true love, real love, epic love you’ve got to be willing to risk it all. That a love like that will be worth the pain, the sacrifice, perhaps even the life it will cost you.

I don’t know. I mean, it’s not very realistic. I’m not a believer in fate, or love at first sight. I think the saying, “if it’s mean to be it will happen” is a total load of crap. Timing, in my book, is more important than just about anything else when it comes to relationships. I think most people end up with the most convenient one, as opposed to The One.

I’ve had that moment, when you meet someone and talk for a while. Nothing much has happened, certainly nothing like love, but you know if the two of you had a real chance it would be good. Maybe not forever, maybe not epic, but good and right. If you don’t have that real chance, for whatever reason, you can stop yourself before it becomes something messy.

Therein lies the potential for tragedy. When you know – because of timing, because her parents don’t approve, because of the place you are in your life, because he’s the general appointed to destroy your people – that you should walk away before one or both of you gets hurt.

But we’re human. We can’t. The lure, the possibility, the need to know what could be overwhelms us, spurs us to make ill advised decisions, all for the chance to know for sure.

It’s so stupid. It’s so beautiful. When writing about love, exploring these pieces of the human psyche is what snatches reader’s hearts, makes them root for your lovers, and leaves them desperate for more. (Anyone who wants to criticize Twilight, take note. This is the reason we can’t put it down. The story of star-crossed, ill-fated lovers will never get old. There’s always a new generation discovering the exquisite pain in it for the first time.) My critique partner has to talk me out of a heartrending turn in about every story I write – I’m always trying to kill my MC’s love interest.

I might have a problem, that’s true, but it’s the tragic that snags its bony fingers in my soul.

Even if you’re one of those happy ending people, don’t make it too easy – no one wants to read about that.

What I’m watching right this minute – The Italian Job, otherwise known as the film that makes me want a tricked out Mini Cooper really, really badly.



  1. This was lovely!

    My thoughts afterward were, there is not really a “They lived happily ever after. Period. End of story.” There is, “They lived happily ever after because they were patient and selfless with one another for many years. And even then, it wasn’t perfect.”

    We are imperfect people in an imperfect world.

    Compatibility and that all-consuming fire are two different things. It’s nice when both elements are present, though. Thanks for this.

    • Also, Wuthering Heights I think DOES have a happy ending. Heathcliff and Catherine, selfish and evil as they were, had a love that survived death. That’s mother f*cking real.

      And the younger Catherine, she made a logical choice in the end. She let love, not immediate love, work on her. Likes.

  2. What Harley said. 🙂

    And I am so with you on that tricked out Mini Cooper. I’m not really much of a car person, but those things look like all kinds of fun to drive.

  3. I’ve never seen the Italian Job. How can you trust my opinion as a critique partner now???

    Love is as necessary to our soul as air is necessary to oxygenate our blood. I think we tend to idealize it though, thus the “love at first sight” philosophy. But to me, that’s lust not love.

    I think there are some people who find their “true love.” Unfortunately, I think those are very rare. The rest of us find someone to love and struggle to make it work, but that’s REAL life. That’s the way it usually works.

    That’s not to say I don’t want my Happily Ever Afters. You know I do, thus I wouldn’t fight to save those poor helpless saps you constantly try to kill off.

    And one more thing. I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive you for making me read The Notebook and sinking me into a two day depression. But I got a look into your soul, so maybe I will.


  4. I agree with Harley.

    I actually have a lot of thoughts on this, but they’re quite personal for a blog comment.

    Oh, and I think love at first sight can be more than lust. There are certain things about people that make us feel comfortable or compatible with them, and that’s very sexy, and some of them we can recognize at once.

    YOU are beautiful, and I liked reading your thoughts on love.

  5. Lovely post.

    However, in a sense when you are speaking of “time” or “timing” you slightly contradict yourself with the theory of Fate.

    Love is also hard work. There is no real Disney fantasy love in the real world. There are so many obstacles in the real world to overcome to make a relationship last.

    Tragedy seems to linger longer in our memories than happily ever afters.

  6. I love reading about tragic love stories, and I am a complete sucker for the Notebook. But I think very few authors really get it right, even the tragic star-crossed lovers. Wanting to pair the two together as soon as possible normally kills it for me. Or putting pretend obstacles in the way, Jacob anybody? Love is hard to get right, even harder to nail is the love-triangle, at least for me.

  7. Love this post, and ditto everything Harley May said. Though I do love “happily ever after” endings, I can’t ever read one without asking, “and then what?”


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