To my daughters,
I’ve loved you since before you were even plausible. I’m doing my best to raise you right. So, before you lift your sweet, adolescent hands to your head and encase your impressionable ears to the candy-crushing pull of pop music, I need you to hear this:
Love is not a Bruno Mars song.
I know you never ‘said it was’, but I’ve raised you to listen hard to music, and to look for meaning and instruction everywhere. I see your notebooks filled with dreamy lyrics and the quiet knowing in your eyes when a great song hits you in the guts, and I just want to qualify a few things about how love and forgiveness really work.
Here’s the thing, when Bruno Mars is wrong, he’s wrong in a way that makes you want to tap dance to the rhythm of his wrongness and forgive him every day.
When he is wrong he is: “WRRRR-AH-AH-AH-AH-AH-AHHHHH-O-NNN-ANGGG.”
That’s just not that way most people experience being wrong about stuff.
I don’t want you to think that when your man makes a mistake, when he forgets about something that’s important to you, misses an obvious point, or fails in some way that matters to you, that he is going to apologize like that.
Because here’s the thing about out of-studio-love and forgiveness: It’s not produced. Real emotion is unpolished, it’s not packaged, smoothed or cut for popular masses to buy and sell. It doesn’t bounce between stylists and managers.
It very rarely rhymes.
So I want to tell you a few things about what love is and how forgiveness works, because Top 40 hits can sneak into your consciousness and inform your heart –as they did mine- and can compete with what you intrinsically know to be true. Pop culture can lay heavy tracks on your emotional playlist if you let it, so listen up ladies.
The man you marry won’t croon when he’s wrong. If we’ve served you as parents then, he will say sorry when he’s erred – but he won’t be wearing sunglasses and a corsage sitting at the piano crying it to you. Chances are saying “sorry” will make him feel so vulnerable and small that it might be hard for him to make eye-contact for a good few beats of his heart.
So, your job is to listen hard child. Listen past the words he says and into the behavior he displays. You’ll find your Bruno Mars apology in the things that he does to make it right.
To that you may tap dance.
Here’s something else you need to know: Love and forgiveness are not apps you download; (yes, I know you never ‘actually said they were’) but man, this world could make you believe that important things happen quick and easy. You’ll get lucky sometimes, for sure, but don’t bank on it. Because if you are expecting poetry at every turn, “come-on-baby-pleases,” “oh-la-la-la’s” and stereos held high over his head outside your bedroom window, you will spend precious time waiting, when you could be living and making good miles on your love.
My sweet girls, you will not stop defining and redefining your love, in all its versions; that’s the glory of love*. You’ll talk about things that matter. You’ll try your best to never go to sleep with a heavy heart, you will put him before any other man, and when in doubt, you will “try a little tenderness.”
And don’t stop trying.
Forgiveness is about shifting focus from the fall to the rise; that’s where love grows.
And in that space that you’ve allowed for mistakes, for imperfection, for humanity, you’ll find yourselves planted on new soil, hand in hand, muddy toes with an empty wine bottle for a watering can, ankle deep in the love of your own making. There are few things sweeter in life than reaping fruits you’ve sown together.
So, as you continue to wade through this wild maze of adolescence and self, towards your other half, if you keep yourselves tuned in to what’s “real” more than to what’s “pop,” I’m pretty sure you’ll find your way just fine.
May G-d bless you in every sweet, melodious step.
* (Otis Redding version)