Monday, May 11, 2009

The Empty Promises of Patrick Swayze's Hips

NOTE: The following is a piece I wrote for class, but in the spirit of posting something to the ol' blog during this frenzied finals week I thought I'd share it now. My professor told me to address love and relationships from my position as a woman scorned. (Where he got the "scorned woman" thing I HAVE NO IDEA, as I'm very much a hopeless romantic and am not the least bit cynical. ...oh bugger off, what do you know?) Kristina should be especially happy to see this, as she's been wanting to read it for quite some time. I hope the rest of you enjoy it too, and much love.

When I was 11 years old and Sister 13, we were finally, finally allowed to watch Dirty Dancing (which in retrospect is still dreadfully young. Abortion? Teen sex? The side of Patrick Swayze’s naked ass? It’s a miracle Sister and I turned out as morally sound as we did). We were overjoyed to the point of giddiness for two reasons:

1. Everyone else our age had already seen it and, as we were both socially…challenged, we felt being up on Baby and Johnny’s torrid love affair would help our cool-factor (it did not).
2. We were young and naïve, and therefore still completely enamored with the ideals of movie love.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this second point would prove to create an earth-shattering crossroad in my life.

I remember sitting Indian-style in front of the TV (in the‘90s “sitting Indian style” wasn’t so un-PC), totally engrossed in Johnny’s chin-dimple and the way his hips moved when he danced. Sister sat beside me, no closer than 3 feet to the screen as that was the rule, and together we settled in for 100 minutes of mild raunchiness never before experienced by our virginal eyes.

Without realizing it, we were building our expectations of our existences to come; we were on the verge of transitioning into teenagers (a conversion that would result in our hating each other for 3 to 5 years), and we were thus on the cusp of boys and relationships and first romances. And as the opening credits rolled and sweaty miscreants grinded in slow-mo to “Be My, Be My Baby,” a societal fairy-tale began seeping into our impressionable minds.

Then, somewhere between “I carried a watermelon” and “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” my all-business, proud-feminist mother marched into the room. Standing defiantly in front of the screen, she put her hands on her hips and in her sternest, do-not-question-what-I’m-about-to-tell-you voice said, “This is not how it happens in real life.” Then she turned on her heels and was gone.

This is not how it happens in real life.

Sister and I were frozen in place, not knowing what to do but being entirely aware that, on some fundamental level, our views of the world had been forever changed. After several moments of stunned silence, we turned back to the TV and pretended not to be scarred for life. We still enjoyed the movie; we booed when Johnny got fired and we cheered when Baby did the lift, but underneath our exaggerated reactions, we knew a part of our souls had died.

At least, that’s what I thought at the time.

For many years following that memorable incident I held a tiny grudge against my mother. I thought her words were completely unwarranted, and I attributed them to some sinister desire to hurt my feelings/be a mean-spirited-dream-crusher (keep in mind that at this point I was the epitome of a foul-tempered teenager, and I was pretty much in a mood 24 hours a day). More than anything in the world I wanted to believe my mother was wrong, and I’d therefore be damned before I’d heed her warning.

Then real life happened to me.

At 17 years old my first love was what you might expect; I fell fast and hard, named both of our future children (Robert and Amber), let him sloppy-French-kiss me even though I hated it, and began preparations for our long, happy life together. And then, just as I was becoming convinced that there was no truth to the saying “love hurts” or to my mother’s words, he dropped by my house one night and lowered the boom: he didn’t love me anymore. Suddenly I knew what it was to have a broken heart.

At that point in my naïveté I still wanted to believe the fairy-tale, so when he called two months (and 12 pounds of woe-is-me-weight-loss) later, I joyously accepted his proposal to get back together. Maybe this was my dream come true! In every life some rain must fall, right? But now things would work out and be perfect…the break-up would become a distant memory, and now I’d have my Prince Charming.

I don’t have to tell you what happened next.

So after heartbreak #2 and 8 more pounds lost, I finally decided to branch out to new specimens. I started dating other guys…some secret pot-heads who used me for free meals, others manipulative womanizers who pitted me against their exes. There were those who called me a “princess” and then hit on my friends, and some who told me they loved me (but could I just dress differently and be less opinionated?).

With every new date seemed to come a new disappointment, and I quickly lost faith in relationships altogether. If true love existed, then where was my perfect romance? Where was my slow dance ‘neath the moon? Where the hell was my Johnny?!

And then my mother’s words played quietly through my head.

This is not how it happens in real life.

Our society sets us up to believe in love at first sight and happy endings and Johnny Castles. We’re raised in a culture where reality is considered over-rated; people would rather seek movie-perfection and fail trying than settle for the world as it actually is. I don’t claim this as an original thought; we all know romances like that between Johnny and Baby are oversimplified and idealistic. We’ve all heard “only in the movies,” and few of us would admit to believing a Cinderella story could happen for us.

And yet, we do believe it….or at least, we’re keen enough on the idea to feel slightly cheated when our relationships don’t turn out that way. That’s not to say my past beaus were actually upstanding gentlemen, because they weren’t. I had remarkably poor taste in the past, and I’m hoping to God that I’ve since learned from my mistakes. But there is merit in expecting something human from your relationships- and by “human” I mean complicated, often frustrating, awkward at times, and most of all…real.

Johnny wasn’t real, and Baby wasn’t either. He wouldn’t have abandoned his playboy ways for the cute-ish girl named Frances, and she would never have been able to learn to dance like that (I mean, come on). But if you think about it, who would want that kind of relationship anyway? Real love can’t survive between wayward bad-boys and innocent do-gooder girls (and I should know, as that’s what caused heartbreak # 3).

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: for anyone younger and thus less baggage-riddled than I, please heed the lesson my (come to find out, well-intentioned) mother once tried to teach me. Do not expect perfection. Do not expect swells of music when you kiss, or heartfelt I love yous on the second date, or hand-holding strolls on the beach that fade to black and end with the assumption of happily ever-after. Because as a wise woman once warned me, This is not how it happens in real life.

In real life there is heartache. There is arguing, and tension, and differing opinions and constant compromising. Sometimes your relationships won’t work out; you may be mistreated, and karma may never avenge you. You might be lonely for a little while. You might be lonely for a long while. And you may never have a blockbuster “love realized” moment to rival Johnny and Baby’s legendary last dance.

But if you’re very patient and just a bit lucky, you might find somebody who is pretty great - who cares about you and understands how you feel and wants to support you from day-to-day. You may meet someone who makes you laugh and holds you while you sleep, and you may just find someone who will love you for exactly who you are.

And if you do find that, don’t be deterred if there are bumps in the road or if his hips don’t move quite like Johnny’s. Trust me on this one, or at least trust my mother; your romance won’t be like Johnny and Baby’s, and that’s okay. Because real life love isn’t like movie love. It’s something a little bit different. It’s something a little more complicated. It’s something a little more real.

And real is always better in the long run…even if you never go dirty dancing.

This is dedicated to the eternally dreamy Patrick Swayze
, who put my middle name on the map and made me proud to be a Frances.


  1. Groggle, I am so glad I have someone in my life who so fully understands the cultural impact of Dirty Dancing!
    (and I'm so glad you love me despite my horrible 18-year-old self)

  2. I'm sorry..I'm still stuck at the part where you called yourself a hopeless romantic.

    Another twist in this cruel lesson is our beloved Patrick dying from cancer. Yet I still hope for a miraculous recovery. Life would not be the same without him

    **Aaaaand if you do find that special someone who will hold you at night, the downside is: he won't let you buy a flowery comforter.

  3. did you not catch the surly sarcasm in my "hopeless romantic" comment? perhaps you don't know me as well as you think, Mammy Kaa.

    and PS, flowery comforters don't hug you when you dream about aliens (like I did last night). you can borrow my quilt whene'er you long as you agree to come serve me warm milk when I have nightmares.