Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What is your Love About?

A first meeting with the love of your life may or may not be dramatic. In Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain, I had Jean Laffite and Theodosia Burr meet on board The Patriot after he saved it from a British attack and then proceeded to commandeer it for his own use, having found that the Captain and all of the crew had been killed as prisoners aboard the British ship he sank.


In the sequel, Theodosia and the Pirates: The War Against Spain, Jean Laffite unwittingly introduced his daughter Denise to the man she would marry by inviting him to make her a spinning wheel.

by Platt Powell Ryder, an American artist 1821-189
Denise had just come out of a disastrous marriage to a pirate, and she was dressed all in black because her father had recently killed him to avenge her, and she had made the statement that she wanted henceforth to remain a spinster. Taking her literally at her word, Jean Laffite commissioned a spinning wheel to be made for her by Francis Little, who turned out to be her future husband.

Of course, I made all that up because I'm a novelist. In real life, it may not have happened anything like that. But does it really matter how they met? Does it ever matter? According to this article  recently read, it does not, but people sometimes feel very deeply that it should.

Modern Love: When the Words Don't Fit by Sarah Healy

Should your first meeting make a great story to tell the grandchildren? Well, not necessarily. If there is nothing to sustain a long-term love, then we are certainly not going to marry someone because it would make a great story. But the entire sum total of your love should make a great story, and that is where the article left me cold.

Is a meeting at a bar where friends introduce you really all that conventional? (I've never had anything like that happen to me.) And what exactly is a conventional marriage, the kind the author is happy to claim she has? This has got me quite mystified. Every love story is about something. What is a conventional marriage about?

A person once answered me with this: "Sex, companionship, children." But even in a conventional marriage, aren't the sex, companionship and children about something? Something bigger and more important and at the same time much more personal than such a generic listing of three nouns?

In a novel, to be interesting, a love story has to have both a plot and a theme; conflicts built in that enhance and ignite the love and keep it going for a very long time. For Theodosia and Jean, they loved one another because of her Battle against Britain and his War Against Spain, because she loved her country and her father, and because he loved the Constitution and hated tyranny. He wanted to avenge her wrongs, because it was too late to avenge his grandmother directly. They served as surrogates for other people they had loved and worshiped, and they also served as agents of catharsis whenever their interests clashed. His deep respect for Thomas Jefferson, but her hatred for the man who ruined her father and his alliance with James Wilkinson who had been the chief witness for the prosecution at Burr's trial for treason were both jarring and hateful to Theodosia. How could she keep loving Jean and still hold on to her honor?

 The sex, companionship and children in Jean and Theodosia's story were a byproduct of their plot and theme. They were not an end in themselves.


In the case of the romance between Denise and Frank, I made the story much more understated. Still there was a story. It was the conflict between the high spirited, imaginative Denise and her artistic and domestic urges, and the question of whether kindness alone can sustain passion. Sometimes after rough sailing, we want a little peace in our lives. But peace is never enough. There has to be art and beauty and courage and a common cause. And ultimately, in order to be sustainable, a marriage has to have a built in theme and a recurring conflict. For Frank and Denise it was art and weaving and furniture making and all while facing up to evil.

Do you have a love story in your life? If so, then you know what it's about. You don't have to tell, of course. It can remain your secret. But it can't be about nothing. There's no such thing as a conventional love. If it's conventional, then it's not love.


  1. I think some people focus too much on having a big wedding to impress others, whereas not having such grandiose expectations will make it possible to find a person you can have a real connection to share things with.

    1. Hi, Julia. I think the wedding -- big or not -- is kind of beside the point unless there is a true understanding between the two people. That, of course, has nothing to do with impressing others.