January 20, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

When two for the road become two for life

Cynthia DewesThe New Year brings a time for examining our expectations. We expect to find a job or possibly a better one. We expect to graduate from high school or college. We expect to enjoy a happy marriage or to raise decent kids or to make new friends and have fun. Our expectations may be realistic or not, but they are hopeful, and that’s the magic of starting a new year.

Expectations were a major component of a favorite old movie of ours called Two for the Road. It was a 1960s film starring Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn as a couple involved in a lifelong relationship.

The two began a road trip in Europe alone together by chance, as their other traveling companions dropped out. Their expectations were low at the beginning because they didn’t like each other much, but as they buzzed around in their decrepit old convertible they fell in love. They had no money, only lots of laughs and adventures until the idea of marriage crept into the equation.

The girl wanted to marry because she loved the young man and wanted to continue having fun with him forever. And while he loved her too, he was undecided about making a commitment. Does that sound familiar? It seems to be prevalent these days, but back in the ‘60s it was fairly new.

Finally, fearing that he would lose the girl, the man married her. Later, we see them on another road trip in Europe, this time in the company of another married couple and their bratty little girl. The experience enforced the young husband’s expected aversion to marriage and having children, and the young wife’s expectation that they could do it better.

Nevertheless, the couple had a child of their own whom they both adored, and they settled into a comfortable life. The husband worked all the time for a demanding boss, the wife had too little to do, and they moved in glamorous social circles. Eventually, there were affairs on both sides and they decided to divorce. Again, the husband believed marriage was the root of their troubles, and the wife thought she had misjudged its value.

Somehow the two wound up driving around in another sporty car one evening and it was déjà vu all over again. They still loved each other, and suddenly they both realized that their expectations had not led to the results they anticipated.

It was not marriage, but bad decisions to prioritize money and fame that failed the husband. And marriage was not all happily ever after as the wife expected. Still, loving each other and the child they had created out of that love was a reasonable expectation if only they would commit to it and act on that commitment.

A friend whose wife died last year wrote on his Christmas greeting to us that he still missed her terribly. He said that over the years the two of them had indeed become one. It seems to me that that is the kind of commitment, the kind of marriage, that God intended, and that the “two for the road” had not understood that until later.

Expectations are good and necessary, but if they are to come true they require commitment and hard work. That goes for all kinds of expectations, from hopes for happy marriages to good jobs to healthy children. And that’s true in every era, not just now or back in the ‘60s.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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