Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships– Essay III: The Stories We Are Told
While the nature and purposes of intimate relationships changed dramatically during the 20th Century, many of our 21st Century images of intimate relationships and expectations regarding the needs that these relationships will meet have not changed. The words about marriage that appeared in the magazines of 1902 and 1912 have hauntingly contemporary rings about them. Somehow and in some ways we still want our intimate relationship to be based on an eternal commitment, a moral force, a spiritual journey–Churchill’s “rebirth.” We still participate in ceremonies that sanctify our intimate relationships and are still deeply disappointed when our most cherished dreams regarding a rich, enduring relationship tumble around us in conflict, separation and divorce.
Intimacy and Media
What then were the dominant images when you were 5-10 years of age? For men and women who were children during the 1940’s, common images regarding the “perfect” relationship may have been Judy Garland and — (the boy next door) in “Meet Me in St. Louis” or perhaps a slightly more realistic Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in one of their many movies together (or Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett and Elizabeth Taylor in “Father of the Bride”). What did these movies teach those of us who are now in our 70s and 80s about the appropriate role for men and women in a relationship or about how to overcome conflict in a relationship? Many of our older friends grew up during this era, as did some of the men and women we interviewed. They suggest that these movies portrayed women as affectionate, family–oriented and conciliatory, while the men tended to be oriented toward the outer society and often acted a bit foolishly when confronted with family matters.
Popular radio programs of the 40s—such as “Jack Benny” and “Fibber Magee and Molly” conveyed similar themes Popular novels (such as “I Remember Mama” and “Forever Amber”) tended to portray women in relationships as either saints who are deeply embedded in family relationships or prostitutes or seductive mistresses who have no permanent relationships at all. The independent woman was inevitably described as in some sense “fallen” or at least “tainted,” while men were either in charge of their relationship or cuckled by a too-dominant female.