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October 25, 2013

Two For the Seesaw

Man and woman arguing
Years ago when I was a college theater student, one of the plays we performed was William Gibson's Two For the Seesaw. I saw it mentioned somewhere recently, and vaguely remembered that it had something to say about the nature of love and attachment. The library's battered copy hadn't been checked out in ten years, and a couple of pages were missing. The characterizations and dialog (written in 1958) are painfully outdated, but the theme, searching for a connection with the right person, is still contemporary.

In this story, Jerry is a Nebraska lawyer who moves to New York in order to reinvent himself while he waits for his divorce to be finalized. There he meets Gittel, a wannabe dancer who is recovering from a few bad breakups of her own.

This may be the world's most extreme case of opposites attracting. He's a cynic, she's an optimist; he's a relentless smart alec, she's a straight shooter; he holds back, she's impulsive; he's at loose ends, she has goals; he thinks about it, she blurts it out; he needs to prove himself, she just needs to be loved. They have no common ground, but there wouldn't be a story if they didn't fall for each other, so they do. It's a volatile relationship between two people who aren't really on the same wavelength. Despite the complications, the arguments, and the irreconcilable differences, they stay together with the sense that there is something here worth having.

What they give each other is a chance to grow by stepping out of their habitual roles. Gittel has always been generous to the point of being exploited. Jerry has always depended on someone else's money and influence to smooth the way for him. Now she learns what it's like to be nurtured and cared for, and with her encouragement he discovers that he can succeed on his own.

Eight months after they met, Jerry and Gittel have become a steady couple, and Jerry is about to move in. But when his divorce is, at long last, made final, he looks at the document in his hand and realizes that in his heart "the bonds of matrimony have not been severed". He has some long, serious phone conversations with his wife, Tess. She wants to try again, and so does he. He has come to realize that love means more to him than being "in love", more than simple desire and affection. It is the bond that has been formed through years of every kind of intimacy, so that he now feels his wife to be part of him, loved the way he loves his right hand. He knows how she sees the world, and he wants to see it with her. Gittel realizes that, despite all their good intentions, she and Jerry will never succeed in connecting that way. After a lifetime of settling for whatever she could get, she is ready to hold out for what she deserves.

The message is that love, true love, is more than a feeling. It is an experience. Physical attraction and kindness may fill the loneliness for a while, but they are no substitute for the multilevel connection and wordless understanding between two people who are ready to spend a lifetime discovering each other and rediscovering themselves through each other.

2 fabulous comments:

  1. A gorgeous post, Rosemary, and a marvy connection between your thoughts and the play. What we've built could never be replicated. The words, the feelings, the laughter are simply too great. It's a universe of exchanges.

  2. I love this post, Rosemary, and was so happy to hear that he reconnected with his wife. Long-lasting love is like that- your right hand. You just would never want to be without it. I am a little misty-eyed and sentimental (most days, but especially after reading this), and I just have to second what you said - that love is waaaaay more than that rushy-gushy feeling of attraction and kindness. Well said.


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