As a writer, I’m always searching for that great line that succinctly articulates a fundamental truth. As a writer, co-writer and ghostwriter of almost fifty books, I can say that it not always easy to come up with that great line. Sometimes the line is clever and accurate, sometimes it’s clever and misleading. Having tried my hand at screenwriting, I know that movie scripts lend themselves to great one-liners. In fact, many movies are remembered by their great one-liners. I know that you’re probably thinking, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” but please read on.
Screenwriters are incredibly talented people who can create a captivating story by inventing situations, putting them in visually compelling contexts and then adding memorable dialog. And there are two movie lines that stand out for me, that reflect fundamental truths about relationships. One of the lines is brilliant, the other memorable for the wrong reasons.
You might have already guessed one of the lines, or certainly recognize it. It comes from the movie Love Story. The line is, of course:
“Love is never having to say that you’re sorry.”
What a clever line, except that it’s meaning is fundamentally flawed.
I understand the attempt to show that love supersedes everything, but that is a romantic fantasy. For me, the reality is the opposite:
Love is often having to say you’re sorry.
True love involves empathy and the ability to understand and respect the other person, and that includes apologizing when you have hurt them or offended them in some way. True love is appreciating the other person and going out of your way to nurture them, which includes apologizing when appropriate. True love is never taking the other person for granted.
So, my take on this one is that…
Screenwriting sometimes means having to say you’re sorry.
The other line comes from the great movie War Horse. One of the main characters has just done something completely irresponsible by spending a lot of money on a horse when he and his wife are about to go bankrupt and get evicted from their farm.
The irresponsible character asks his wife not to hate him for his recklessness.
She turns to him and maybe gives one of the great lines in movie history.
“I might hate you more but that doesn’t mean I love you less.”
Wow! Our binary brains assume that you can’t love someone AND hate them, but the reality is that you can, and often do. The binary brain’s arbitrary distinctions often cover up complex realities. People, especially our spouses, are complex individuals — as are we — and we will have various emotions about them, none of which are mutually exclusive from the others. Of course, it is possible to love and hate someone, especially someone that you are close, too.
One of the failings of the human brain is that it can only attend to, and feel, one thing at a time, so it is difficult to accept we can have conflicting emotions. When we do, we try to resolve the ambiguity by diminishing one of the emotions, which can be problematic. This can lead to thoughts such as “No, I don’t love him,” or “Okay, I’m not really angry, I’ll get over it.” Both feelings are legitimate and shouldn’t be dismissed. But neither should they be seen as permanent. Love is the ability to keep this perspective when driven by a brain that is trained and geared to come up with a simple answer rather than face the uncertainty of complexity.
The key here is that emotions are signals that reflect temporary, current feelings and the brain lives in the present and overreacts to, and overvalues, current feelings. Sure, you might be angry now but if you really love someone you will make the time and effort to consider their actions, realize that your anger is an important signal designed to help address and resolve a situation through love, rather than a replacement for love.
Sure, as Norman Bates says in Psycho, “We all go a little mad sometimes,” and it’s important not let today’s emotion ruin yesterday’s love. The problem is that often “what we have here is a failure to communicate” not a failure in our feelings.
May the force be with you.