Wednesday, May 2, 2018

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Notting Hill.

Most would say this isn't the best Julia Roberts film - or the best Hugh Grant film, for that matter. It's cheesy, cliche, and perhaps somewhat narcissistic in that it portrays Roberts as a film star who is hunted down by her adoring public and just wants to escape from the fame that ... well, made her famous.

The movie remains a favourite of mine. Perhaps it's because I was in university when I first saw it, and it struck a chord on many levels. I could envision myself living the quaint life of bookstore owner Will Thacker (Grant) in Notting Hill. I could in my youth also see myself being the glamorous Anna (Roberts), the movie star who needs to get away from it all. My roommates and I would hold our breath, waiting for her to utter her famous line, "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."

Perhaps more than the predictable happy ending, it was the soundtrack that captured my attention for this film. The playlist includes Motown classics from Bill Withers and Al Green, country-flavoured crooning from Shania Twain, boyband vocals from flash-in-the-pan groups like 98ยบ and Boyzone, and an unlikely ballad from Elvis Costello.

This was the soundtrack of my life for a few years. I remember listening to many of the songs on repeat, languishing in the melodies and memorizing the lyrics. I recall driving my father insane when I included the whole first verse of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" on my answering machine. He complained that he didn't call long distance to Vancouver to spend three minutes listening to music before he could leave me a message.

So what exactly was it about this film and its soundtrack that spoke to my twenty-something heart with such power? 

It wasn't the cheese-factor, although I admit, I was sucked in by Anna and Will's love story.

I loved the goofy roommate, but he wasn't the draw.

Really, when I listen to the songs now, even most of those are stuck in the late-90s in terms of style and musicality. Think: too much synthesizer and a lot of hair gel.


It was the sheer angst of the love affair that sucked me in and kept me captive. The man and woman who both clearly wanted each other, but couldn't find a way to make it happen.

I admit: at this point in my life, I have a lucidity that recognizes true love doesn't need to be difficult. When it's right - really right - it's not encumbered or laborious. In this, I disagree with Shakespeare, who wrote that "the course of true love never did run smooth." Not true, Will. Not true.

Hollywood wants us to believe that truly GREAT love affairs must only happen through some great miracle. There must be frustration and initial dislike of one another; there should be constant bickering that is but a veneer covering secret adoration. Neither party should be willing to admit love for the other, let alone attraction or a desire for a relationship. True love should be wrought from agony and tears and desperation. True love should only come from broken hearts that somehow magically find healing when both parties see the light and come to their senses.


I've been through that love. It's not love. It's hell. It's the constant second-guessing, wondering if you are losing your mind, questioning your senses, never knowing what he'll say next. Will he talk to you today? Will he ignore you? Will he bring you flowers for no reason, or forget your birthday? 

No. True love does none of those things. True love IS none of those things.

Somehow in my youth, I was misled by the Hollywood version of love. I believed the movies that told me true love would come from heartache. I believed the lie that not getting along with another person was a clear indication of "sparks" and a secret connection.

And so, for a time, I let the sentiments of this film and all it stood for dictate how I looked for love.

Recently, I had been feeling in a bit of a "love slump" you might call it. In my selfishness, I had somehow forgotten that true love is a constant current - a wave that comes and goes with the tides, but is predictable and reliable. I had perhaps been lulled into believing that what I needed was a spark, something new, something exciting. I started questioning whether there was even any love left between my husband and me. Things seemed monotonous at best, and downright frigid at worst.

I began to think that love could be found elsewhere.

I am not proud of these feelings. I'm not proud that I toyed with the idea of walking away from my love, my marriage, my children - that I seriously considered how amazing it would be to start over with someone new who appreciated me and found me interesting and exciting. Sometimes, that constant current of love can feel more like an undertow, dragging you down and drowning you.

I felt that way. In those months, I felt convinced that I could find meaning in the Hollywood version of love. Love that was hard, impossible, perhaps even unrequited. That the chase, the courting, the conquest was what I wanted. 

As I write this today, I am thankful that I have people in my life who can speak truth to me when I need to hear it. 

I am thankful that I didn't allow the lure of the sirens to drag me onto the rocks of infidelity.

I am trying to figure out how to ride the waves of love, even when they threaten to drag me under and drown me, or when they lull me into believing that the light of love has been extinguished.

I suppose in that sense, Shakespeare did have it right: the course of true love never does run smooth. It runs hot, cold, intense, distant, smoldering, explosive, high, low, and everything in between.

Here's to you my love.

May we weather these waves together.

Al Green - How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? (listen here)
from the Notting Hill soundtrack (1999)

I can think of younger days when living for my life
Was everything a man could want to do
I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow

And how can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down?
How can you stop the sun from shining?
What makes the world go round?
How can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again

I can still feel the breeze that rustles through the trees
And misty memories of days gone by
We could never see tomorrow, no one said a word about the sorrow

And how can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down?
How can you stop the sun from shining?
What makes the world go round?
How can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again

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