Old People Sex, My Romantic Heart, and Other Surprising Notions

Since I didn’t make it to church this week, I’m going to use today’s blog as a confessional vehicle, okay? It’s about…romance.

I know. I’m aghast, too.

Friday night I fell asleep watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on my iPad. The falling asleep part had more to do with my tiredness than the film. Mostly. I had tried to get my daughter or husband to go with me to see it when it was in theaters, but had no takers. (Insert mimed vomiting actions, here.) For me, the appeal of the film had nothing to do with the story–which is perfectly telegraphed by the title–but with its cast. It had many of my favorite British actors-of-a-certain-age in it, from Judi Dench to Tom Wilkinson, with the exception of Helen Mirren and Joanna Lumley. The scenery was gorgeous, the colors magical.

The plot is as thin as tissue: A handful of nearly-broke pensioners take off for a retirement hotel in India, where they are promised cheap, easy, elegant living for the rest of their days. Of course, the actual hotel is in a state of constant deshabille, its owner is young, idealistic, broke, and in love. The food is too exotic, and India turns out to be a tad whiffy for their delicate noses. The pensioners are variously widowed, gay, single, unhappily married, or just plain horny. They mix and match and confess and learn about themselves and flirt. They pair up at the end. Really, most of the film is about love and sex. Even the parts of it that aren’t end with happy, lovey-dovey resolutions.

Reader, at the end of the film, I cried. Eleven o’clock in the morning, and I was weeping on the stationary bike even as my legs pumped away. I cried more than I did at the end of the last dog movie I saw–Balto, in 1997. (I no longer watch dog movies. Ever.)

I felt ashamed. I felt manipulated. Worst of all, I felt…happy and hopeful for the the characters. Oh. My. God. It was like someone else had taken over my body and had forced me to watch this film that seemed to have no other purpose but to make Judi Dench a bunch of money, and make people… *whispers* feel good. I fell for it. And even maybe liked it a little.

The film was about Romance, which does not necessarily involve sex. I didn’t understand that concept for a long time. Well, I understood it, then forgot, but now remember it, again. I wonder if it’s because I’m a woman-of-nearly-a-certain-age, myself. What a disturbing thought. (BTW–there was nothing graphic about the film, thank goodness.) Sex after a-certain-age is fine and healthy, but we should all remove the mirrors from our bedroom ceilings after age 45 or so, IMO. Yes?)

I’ve mentioned here before that I was a Phyllis Whitney fan when I was quite young. And I enjoy Luanne Rice’s books because they’re really family dramas and happen to be engagingly well-written. But with those exceptions, I tend to run screaming from romantic books and films that don’t contain 1) murder 2) ghosts 3) ghost murders 5) murderers in love 6) psychos in love (two or more) 7) infidelity 8) unfaithful murderers.

Please don’t ever pick up anything I’ve written looking for an unabashedly or even kinda sweet, happy ending. I try. I really do. But it just comes out, hmmm, weird. There’s plenty of genuine love in my books if you look for it. Chances are, though, the love is going to be a little twisted. Strange or obsessive or unexpected. Oh, I’ve dallied with true love. Bill and Margaret in Isabella Moon. Jolene and her young daughter in Devil’s Oven. As I said, I’m trying.

It’s a funny thing that true, romantic fictional love eludes me in both reading and my writing. In life, I’m completely goofy about the people I love. I send birthday cards and Valentines. I fret about who’s getting a cold and who didn’t have whole grains at breakfast. I love many, many people–and not in creepy, obsessive ways, either. I’m like the anti-poster child for the school of write what you know. I’m beginning to see what readers mean when they say, “You seem like such a nice person. How can you write what you write?”

What If… What if I write what I know? You know–let more of that love into my work. Would it still be suspenseful and disturbing? Already, I’m pretty shut out of the horror genre because I’m a girl and I’m not ambitious enough to fight my way in. Would I lose any of the scary cred I’ve been building for the past decade if there were more lovable characters in my stories? What if I wrote a *gasp* happy ending? The idea fascinates me. My work would change. Would I lose readers? Gain them? That feels scary to me.

I should end this blog right here, but the confession’s not over. A few tears over a big-budget, light drama and a peek into my writerly insecurities really isn’t much to confess, is it?

Reader, I was ruined for the entire day! Sometime after noon, I chanced on the Hallmark Channel and a Faith Ford film called A Kiss at Midnight. Ford played a pretty, single matchmaker who falls for the handsome CEO of a Match.com-like website when she decides to do an exposé on his company. The film ended with them, yes, kissing at midnight! At their wedding! Then there was The Seven Year Hitch, about a guy and gal who become roommates (in a house she’s bought with money she’s saved from summer jobs since she was twelve! Aw.), and run into trouble after 7 years, when she gets engaged to another guy. But in the end, after much wacky agida, the roommates realize they’re really in love! They had a wedding, too! It was all so simple. So easy. So deliciously full of resolution. And big, white teeth, and perfect houses, and everyone has a job, a house, a car, great sex, and a true love. Except the cheating fiancé *grrrr*, who loses most of those things except his car, white teeth, and great sex (which he was also getting elsewhere).

I’m just going to gloss over the fact that I spent five hours on Saturday watching silly films when I could’ve been reading or watching something useful, like old Cracker episodes. Or Dr. Who. Let’s get to the point. There is something that all three romantic films and my own work have in common: FANTASY. None of it is real. None of it could be real. One is an escape into a candy-coated cheerfulness. The other is an escape into the dark. Is one better than the other?

Die-hard genre devotees might say, “yes.” I disagree. We’re all trying to escape, to try on other worlds for size, to see how we–our emotions, our temperaments, our dreams–fit.

Maybe that’s what I was doing yesterday. All I know is that–after The Seven Year Hitch was over–I watched three back-to-back episodes of 48 Hours Live (or somesuch) on the crime channel. Three hours, two real-life wife murderers, and a trampy husband-killer later, and I felt like all was right with the world, again.

I’ve left the television off for most of Sunday. My heart can’t take anymore emotional whiplash–until Downton Abbey comes on at 8:00. *swoon*

***Gorgeous scherenschnitte photo borrowed from this guy’s terrific blog about architectural preservation in Cincinnati, my home town.

2 thoughts on “Old People Sex, My Romantic Heart, and Other Surprising Notions”

  1. Joe DAgnese says:

    Maybe sometimes we all just need a little fantasy, good or bad. And don’t worry: Downton will pervert us all just as truly as the crime channel.

  2. Haha! I actually loved BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. It was super cute — and not my normal fare either 🙂 I think I run a lot from typical romance but I do occasionally enjoy a cheesy chick flick. I don’t know what I’d call BEST EXOTIC but I’m fond of all of those actors and that’s enough to draw me into a movie most of the time, almost regardless of genre (there are a few exceptions).

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