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Love Isn’t All McDreamy: Valentine’s Day, from the Hart

Betsy Hart is author of the new e-book, From The Hart: on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports), perfect for many Americans today. She tells the story of an unexpected and unwelcome divorce, but has advice for many others, as well.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why an ebook for Valentine’s Day?

BETSY HART: I love writing about people, romance, relationships, and marriage — maybe all the more so because of my own (very unexpected) divorce in 2004. As I think you know, Kathryn, I’m often swimming upstream, as in “forget the idea of soul mates, and by the way, girls really shouldn’t call boys!”

But what really touches me is how often I write a column on these topics, and then I’m deluged by folks who say, “That happened to me and you helped me to feel better” or, “I left your column out for my husband/wife to find.” So, I thought for Valentine’s Day I would pull together some three dozen of my favorites from the years I’ve been single, add some new narrative and backstory, and there you go!

#more#LOPEZ: Isn’t calling chick flicks romantic pornography a bit overly dramatic?

HART: Okay, you caught me. Yes, there is a little hyperbole there. But just a little. Romantic pornography presents to women such a destructive view of men and relationships. In so many of those movies, men are recreated in the image of a woman’s fantasy. Mr. Super Sensitive, a girl’s new best gal pal (once he sees the light of how much he needs to change and be like her, of course!)

And isn’t that what sexual pornography does for so many men? Allows them to recreate women in the image of their fantasies 

But you’re right: that doesn’t mean I don’t watch these movies. Some are cute and innocent. My girls and I loved Enchanted for instance. We will sometimes enjoy them together, but then we talk about how real men don’t usually act like Patrick Dempsey (the lead.) And that’s okay!




LOPEZ: Is any chick flick or chick lit good?

HART: Anything that presents men and women as being fundamentally different, which we typically are, and (more importantly that that’s okay), that’s probably going to be a thumbs-up film, or at least it has the potential to be. When Harry Met Sally might be one such example. At least BOTH of the leads there are delightfully neurotic!

LOPEZ: Why on earth would you want your kids to delay dating and marry early?

HART: Dating is, or should be, about getting married. So then, when you are in a position to get married — date a lot, and a lot of different people. In the meantime, enjoy friends of the opposite sex and just have fun, but keep it at friendship. By the way, my children of course think I am from a different planet on this one, so as they get older we’ll see what happens.

Yes, I’m for both short courtships and marrying young, or at least being really open to marrying young. The former because love and sex are meant to go together. Hello, that’s how a loving God designed us! Long-term, exclusive, chaste dating relationships, even where they are possible, are not only for the birds — but it seems to me they are in their own way unnatural because love, marriage, and sex are all supposed to be part of the same package.

I’m also for being open to marrying young because rather than marriage being about a capstone after all the other stuff in your life is figured out, marriage is really about having a commitment even when all the stuff that goes along with life is hard to figure out. There was a really interesting piece in Christianity Today called “The Case for Early Marriage” that the particular column you refer to is based on. I found that original piece fascinating.

LOPEZ: What’s the difference between being a writer and putting conversations on paper?

HART: The latter is much more personal, much more fun. For me at least! I write how I talk as if we were having, well, a conversation!

LOPEZ: However did you convince your teenage daughter to go to a David Cassidy concert with you?

HART: She volunteered. Seriously. I think when she found out I’d been in the David Cassidy Fan Club as a kid she just had to see for herself how goofy her mom had been. And yes, middle-aged ladies really did storm the stage for David Cassidy. But not me! Really.

LOPEZ: Why do you talk so much about chemistry?

HART: I think the science about how and why we are attracted to someone is so interesting. It really does have to do with a “dopamine high” that is a lot like crack cocaine in how it operates on the nervous system. The problem is when people keep looking for that “high” instead of settling into the long hall and enjoying the oxytocin or “connecting hormone” that comes later in a long-term relationship; they sell themselves short. Maybe if they know how to approach romance and the physicality of it, it will help them to embrace the deeper, “settling down” phase of a relationship.

And by the way, the chemical basis for so much of what we feel doesn’t mean we are automatons at all. We always have choices in how we respond no matter how we feel or don’t feel. And to me, it just shows that God operates in amazing and mysterious ways!

LOPEZ: Why are you so convinced Roman Holiday would have a different ending today?

HART: Because that movie and others — such as Casablanca — had endings in which the characters were so self-sacrificing. The idea of Audrey Hepburn (the princess) giving up true love (Gregory Peck) for the well being of her countrymen? Putting duty before love? And that being good? I doubt it. One might die for someone if otherwise everyone is going to die anyway (e.g., Armageddon). Or sacrificing for the lover herself, e.g., Titanic — though frankly, I was so disgusted with that movie, Leonardo couldn’t go down fast enough for me. But sacrificing real romantic love for the sake of duty to others, including strangers? Hard to conceive where that would be considered a satisfying ending today.

In other words, in a remake of Roman Holiday, I’m convinced the princess and the pauper would run off together in the end.

LOPEZ: Should divorce be harder to obtain?

HART: Actually, divorces are very difficult to obtain. They are time-consuming, and emotionally and financially draining. I would love to see a fault-based system resurrected. Far from perfect, at least where there was an innocent spouse left behind, he or she might get some sense of recognition that there had been a wrong done. But barring that, I’d like there to be more truth-telling about divorce. That’s a column in the book too. I mean, why the same women who can’t get their husband to help with the kids when they are married think somehow divorcing him and living in different households is going to help the situation is beyond me. And add in the new girlfriend? Fogeddaboutit.

LOPEZ: What’s key to making it easier on kids?

HART: Recognizing how hard it is for them, how much it goes against God’s design — but also that in some way, all relationships in this world are tainted by sin, so they aren’t really alone in that either. Not lying about it and telling them it’s something you and your ex both wanted, if you didn’t. Making sure they know they are not responsible for it. Remembering that there are still nice things to say about your ex no matter what he or she did. If she was once funny or a good skier, she probably still is. Go ahead and remind the kids of the genuinely good things about your ex,  and that God does amazing things even in very difficult circumstances.

LOPEZ: What can we all do better to support marriages in the lives around us?

HART: Value them. And, be so intimately involved with your friends and your community, be so much in the homes of other couples and have them in yours so often, that when a crack starts — and certainly if there is an outright rupture — you have standing with them.  You have the right to say, “I’ve been at your home, I’ve eaten at your table; you’ve been at mine. Don’t walk away from this! Let me help you, or let me help you get help.” It’s hard to say that to that to someone if you’ve never darkened their doorstep, or to have someone say that to you if it’s ever necessary who hasn’t darkened yours.

LOPEZ: What’s your best advice to someone who is on the surprised end of a divorce on Valentine’s Day and every other day?

HART: Get to know God in a whole new way if you don’t already. Gather your friends around you. Look for new things to enjoy that you might not have before. Volunteer and help others so it’s not all about you.

And, accept that you weren’t a perfect spouse, and neither was your husband or wife, but it was his or her job to love you faithfully anyway. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to be better at our marriages — we should. But don’t beat yourself up. We are — and are given — flawed sinners to love in marriage. That’s all there is! If your spouse chooses to leave instead of fight for a marriage, you can’t fix that. But you can grow from the adversity of it.

It’s an amazing, joy-filled world out there. Really. When I was married and my four little kids ran around the house yelling and playing, it was music to my ears. After I became a single mom, and they did that in our new house? It was the New York Philharmonic! Keep looking for the little joys. You will find them. And they add up.


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