This week's "Modern Love" is a paeon to old-fashioned romance. Well, by way of "cynical bearded Peace Corps volunteers."
Rachel Monore is a modern cynic in an untidy modern relationship with a cutely-named "un-boyfriend" she keeps on a string.
Being a girlfriend seemed so old-fashioned, and besides, it made me behave in ways I disapproved of. I needed him in my life and resented that fact. In my early 20s, wasn't I supposed to be careless and uncommitted?
They're on-again, off-again; the relationship is undefined in a way familiar to most of us, even if the author's initial flippancy feels a bit off-putting.
She gets a grant to study first-generation literacy in teen girls in Morocco, and bonds with the daughter of her host family. Despite her own jaded views on love (which involve an "addiction" to "cynical bearded Peace Corps volunteers, none of whom stuck around for more than a week or two") she becomes the ennabler in the girl's illicit romance with her boyfriend, chaperoning their fairly innocent makeout sessions and readily providing pretexts for the lovers to see one another. As she puts it, "I was all for the drama of an illicit rendezvous, especially when it wasn't mine." Inexorably, Monroe becomes an advocate of old-fashioned romance.
As our Internet cafe ploy became routine over several months, I found myself in the strange position of being not just a chaperone but a secret advocate for romance. I kept waiting to be soured by all the longing and adoration, but this love stuff was increasingly addictive. My visits to Amizmiz became something to look forward to, and I was happy to obsess over each delicious nuance with Fatima-Zohra and her sister. The best were the taxicab evenings, dates I could attend but didn't have to participate in.
The romance plays out according to classic dramatic conventions: the lovers are found out and separated; there are tears and pleading; ultimately, the boyfriend steps in in a crisis and saves the day.
On a day when Fatima-Zohra's father had traveled to Marrakesh for work, Amel had a seizure. There was no money in the house and no way to take her to a doctor. Panicked, Fatima-Zohra called Jawad, who swooped to the rescue, delivering the family to the hospital and even spending his own meager salary on the necessary medications...His white-knight act immediately endeared Jawad to the family, and Fatima-Zohra's father agreed to their engagement. If I had seen it in a movie, I would have scoffed at its implausibility; hearing it recounted by Fatima-Zohra, I cried.
Seeing True Romance prompts the author to end her own sorta-relationship; having been converted to romance, we presume, she can settle for no less. "In a way, it was my own version of the grand romantic gesture, the best way I knew to honor love." Which is a neat conclusion, but rings somehow false: is a heightened relationship, ennobled by drama and tied up Jane Austen-neat, the only real "love?" Don't get me wrong, I think the essay works a treat - and it's certainly true that the romance which she chaperones serves to make hers seem extra-callow - but the neatness of the parallel seems to do both kinds of romance a disservice. At the end of the day, is love just love in any language? The author's conclusion would seem to be yes, but ironically the subtleties of her essay make us wonder.
My Back-Seat View of a Great Romance [New York Times]