What is Love? Baby, Please Hurt Me: The Love Olivia Seeks
I’ve seen many a comment regarding Olivia’s idea of what love should be. I wanted to offer a possible explanation for where she’s coming from, and what she expects from love. Olivia and Edison have two very different concepts of what love is. They are both valid. I’d love to hear your opinions, especially if you disagree.
Olivia: Edison, I could marry you. I could become a Senator’s wife. I’d probably be happy. I could probably give all this up and live in a country house, and have babies, and be normal. I could. But I don’t want to. I’m not built for it. I don’t want normal and easy…and simple. I want…[emphatically] I. WANT…
Olivia makes it plain to Edison that, yes, she has the choice and the ability (‘could’) to become part of his vision for a successful life: wife of a senator, kids, country house, blah blah blah. But one very key thing is missing for her: desire. She does not want to do it. Her lack of wanting, desiring for that life means she is unable to can, so to speak.
Let’s set aside the obvious: Olivia is an ambitious, independent woman who has garnered a lot of power and success for herself in male-dominated Washington. She has not even reached the pinnacle of her success. She did not get to where she is by being relegated to an apostrophe ‘s’. Everything that Edison proposed to Olivia was a consequence of his life. He wants her to be his wife, mother of his children, keeper of his home in the country. To put it plainly, Olivia ain’t about that life. Not with Edison. I have said this before (When Simple Minds Watch Scandal), but Edison reminds me of successful men who purport to want an equal partner. In reality, they just want to possess them. These type of men expect women like Olivia to stand a little less tall than them because of their own need to be ‘the man’.
Olivia could take the traditional path laid out for women, but she wants to Robert Frost her life and take the road less travelled. From a feminist perspective, the “But I don’t want to” is the most important part of what Olivia says above. She’s making a choice, letting Edison know that she is in control of what she wants her life to be (even if it involves pain). She doesn’t have to accept anyone’s idea of what her life should be. Her physical constitution may be built for being a wife, a mother, keeper of a country home, but her mental and emotional stability are not built for that life. So, she rejects the life that Edison has laid out for himself and her.
Edison [interrupting]: What? What do you want, Olivia?!
Edison is hurt, and a bit frustrated when he asks this which is understandable. What Edison has proposed sounds like a pretty nice life to him. He can’t fathom what possible alternative would be better than his offer.
Olivia: I want painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love. Don’t you want that, too?
Let’s break down Olivia’s choice of adjectives for the love she seeks:
Painful: aching, laborious
Difficult: challenging (opposite of easy)
Devastating: ruinous; causing severe shock
Life-changing: altering a person’s life or circumstances in a substantial way
Extraordinary: unusually great; remarkable
Do you know what all of the above terms have in common? Grave risk. Some people are afraid of risk because you can’t guarantee the outcome. Though the success might be extraordinary, the failure of such a love would be devastating. The fear of the devastation is enough to drive people from taking the risk. Not Olivia. We see Olivia taking big risks all the time in her line of work. She works towards the outcome she wants but she can never guarantee it. The stakes are even higher for love because emotions are involved. Olivia has no dominion over her emotions, especially when it comes to one Fitzgerald Grant III (and IV). In that regard, one could argue that up ‘til now she has been a coward. Her brilliant intelligence aside, she is a passionate woman who thrives on the instinct of her gut, and her convictions. She has no conviction for Edison’s love because for her, there is no risk, no passion in ‘normal’ and ‘easy’. Most of life is mundane. Shouldn’t the love we have feel special and worth remark?
Olivia essentially sums up by saying to Edison, don’t you want to feel alive, too? I can’t be the only one. Don’t you want someone who will give you an extraordinary kind of love? I am not that person for you, so please, go and find her.
Edison: Love isn’t supposed to be painful, or devastating. Love isn’t supposed to hurt, Liv.
Notice how Edison has no retort for the ‘life-changing’ and ‘extraordinary’ components of Olivia’s statement. I believe he knows he can’t offer her that type of love. They never had it, not even the first time. What he can offer her is a love that is constant, like a flat line when someone flatlines and dies. You ever notice that in hospitals? The monitor beeps and blips with peaks and valleys of a heartbeat. When the life goes out of a person, the line becomes flat. To Olivia, that is Edison’s love: flat and lifeless. Another woman would find that same kind of love to be a comfort because it’s quiet and consistent. Not Olivia. To her, it’s like a death march into oblivion.
A love that is truly dynamic and alive will sometimes hurt because pain is a part of life. And love is like art: it is provocative. I don’t mean that in the prurient sense, but that love—like art—should move you in some way, make you feel something. The worst thing you can say about any artistic piece is, *shrug*, as in you feel nothing, indifferent. Indifference is the opposite of love, not hatred. Love and hate are cut from the same cloth: passion. Edison’s love is passionless, and Olivia is a passionate woman.
Olivia gives a flare of her nostrils when Edison gives his response, but she just stares at him. Because, what is there to say, really? They have a fundamentally different approach to what a life with love is supposed to be. Their attributes as a couple stack up well on paper, but in reality they are completely, and totally incompatible. Just like ‘vanity’ and ‘happiness’. Both notions of love e are valid, but both people in the relationship need to feel the same way.
I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favourite movies:
“Then we shall remember, that regret is an essential component of happiness.”—Marquise de Merteuil, Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
We make a choice to be happy. Making choices for that happiness is sometimes difficult because someone or something gets left behind. I have no idea if Olivia and Fitz will end up in Fairytale land, but I do believe in their painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love. The sacrifices they make are the regrets, but they can’t have the happiness they want without those sacrifices.
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