About Last Night: Joni Mitchell’s thoughts on long-term love 24-06-18

July 11, 2018

Q: My partner and I met in the mid-’70s. We’ve shared blissful highs, awful lows, and bumped along through the dull times. We’ve always loved each other, but haven’t always liked each other. At times, anger and resentment have separated us, and, occasionally, it’s been tempting to run away, be free, and experience new thrills. Yet, life’s challenges have also made us close ranks, and nothing has become a deal breaker. When asked the secret to a long-term relationship I have no answers. Do you?

A: When you two met I was an undergraduate, and one of my idols was singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. Her lyrics resonated with many young women of my generation.

Feminism, sexual liberation, and the ideal of pursuing alternative lifestyles brought their own challenges, and Mitchell articulated these, with her themes of multiple lovers, hitting the road, betrayal and loss, and the getting of wisdom.

Today, I also find that I have been with my partner for more than 40 years, and I reflect on how we got here. I was, therefore, fascinated to read what Mitchell herself had to say on her website, earlier this year:
“I don’t know if I’ve learned anything yet! I did learn how to have a happy home, but I consider myself fortunate in that regard because I could’ve rolled right by it.”

Often, part of the “secret” is knowing when you have found love, and committing to it.

Mitchell then describes the aspects of our modern world that make finding love so tricky.
“Everybody has a superficial side and a deep side, but this culture doesn’t place much value on depth – we don’t have shamans or soothsayers, and depth isn’t encouraged or understood. Surrounded by this shallow, glossy society we develop a shallow side, too, and we become attracted to fluff.”

The epitome of this is to be found in soap operas, such as my personal favourite, The Bold and the Beautiful. In this world a misplaced kiss can lead to divorce, most characters have been married multiple times, often to the same few people, and intrigue and misunderstandings are key.
Mitchell explains that, “… this culture sets up an addiction to romance based on insecurity – the uncertainty of whether or not you’re truly united with the object of your obsession is the rush people get hooked on. I’ve seen this pattern so much in myself and my friends and some people never get off that line.”

One way to avoid getting hooked on “fluff” is to cultivate some depth in your own personality, Mitchell says. “Along with developing my superficial side, I always nurtured a deeper longing, so even when I was falling into the trap of that other kind of love, I was hip to what I was doing.”
Esquire magazine might seem an unlikely source of insight on this topic, but Mitchell quotes its article entitled “The End of Sex”.
With a long relationship, things die, then are rekindled, and that shared process of rebirth deepens the love.
Joni Mitchell
“If you want endless repetition, see a lot of different people. If you want infinite variety, stay with one.”

Mitchell’s interpretation of this statement is powerfully insightful. “What happens when you date is that you run all your best moves and tell all your best stories – and in a way, that routine is a method for falling in love with yourself over and over.

“You can’t do that with a long-time mate because [s/he] knows all that old material. With a long relationship, things die, then are rekindled, and that shared process of rebirth deepens the love.”
She acknowledges that this can be difficult to sustain.

“It’s hard work, though, and a lot of people run at the first sign of trouble. You’re with this person, and suddenly you look like an asshole to them, or they look like an asshole to you – it’s unpleasant, but if you can get through it you get closer, and you learn a way of loving that’s different from the neurotic love enshrined in movies. It’s warmer and has more padding to it.”
A relationship is like playing see-saw. The game lasts as long as both players are willing to make the necessary adjustments.

Email: abtlastnight@gmail.com

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