On the steps of the front porch, there she was sitting in the cold. She had been waiting for Oliver because when she stormed out of the house she had forgotten her key. He was walking back to the apartment house and as he saw her he was gripped with regret. Jenny he started to say and she stopped him before the apology could leave his mouth:
‘Love (dramatic pause), love means never having to say you’re sorry.’
And we all believed it because it was coming out of Radcliffe Classical Music major Jennifer Cavalleri’s mouth as only Ali Macgraw could play her. Jenny’s/Ali’s long black locks framing her angelic face covered in tears, forced us to believe in her. She further forced us to wish, no matter how many times we saw the film, that at the end she would not die. In the end, our wish would not be granted and Jenny would die offscreen. As Oliver would meet up with his rich father (with whom he shared an estranged relationship) outside the hospital, we would hear again:
‘Love (dramatic pause), love means never having to say you’re sorry,’ whereupon saying, he would walk away toward the snowbound park where he would sit on the bleachers and wonder, ‘What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died?’ while his old man just stood perplexed and confused outside of the hospital. ‘What the hell did he just say?’, I imagine the character must have wondered to himself. Were these words written by Erich Segal the words of a genius love guru or were they simply a pile of proverbial, romanticized hogwash?
If I had a dollar for every apology I’ve had to formulate during my almost twenty-two year marriage, I could retire today.
My wife knows that she is loved (and she knows she is loved well), but she is not going to give me a pass (ever!) on saying the words ‘I’m sorry’ if she feels that she has been wronged by me. First off I don’t look like Ryan O’Neal in 1970 and she’s not the sacrificial lamb type a-la-Ali Macgraw (at least not anymore). Furthermore, we don’t fight and argue in our home with the haunting music of Francis Lai playing in the background. When we argue, we argue, healthily – and sometimes we raise our voices. Sometimes she is wrong and most of the time I am wrong. I know she loves me too, but if she’s wrong I’m going to make sure I get my apology – anyway that I can get it.
And while I don’t know how I feel about Segal’s hokey dialogue, I do know that in order to move on from a point of conflict there has to be some effort of compromise and/or contrition. Ultimately, I do believe in apologies (giving and getting them) and I believe in forgiveness (granting and receiving it). Basically, there is virtue in ‘sorry’ and in love or not, sometimes it has to be said…except when it’s not. And this is where I finally get the dynamic introduced in Love Story: the simple depiction of a couple in love who didn’t have to use words to communicate because ‘sorry’ was automatically built into their relationship, it was a given. This is where Jenny’s words mean something to me and I’m mad at Oliver for letting her sit in the cold and ruin her immune system and catching leukemia….but I digress…
On occasion, the ‘sorry’ part of the apology may be silent. I might reach out and hold my wife’s hand while watching TV after an argument I caused, we might just look at each other and embrace in a mutual hug to signify our period of ‘anger’ is over or we might do something nice for the other without being asked (in an effort to leave the dog house). In these cases, love truly means never having to say you’re sorry because actions (even when not scripted, blocked or scored in a Hollywood movie) speak louder than words.