I never really believed in true love or romance for that matter. As a male, I felt some obligation to be realistic, even fatalistic. When the life I knew collapsed in less than three years, I found myself suddenly miserable when watching Netflix’s Bridgerton.
I am no stranger to romances. I studied them and wrote a dissertation on women romance writers from the 19th-Century. Yet, I was able to keep a distance from these stories, which really were eroticism for girls and women at the time. I respected these women writers such as Mary Jane Holmes and E.D.E.N. Southworth because combined they were arguably the most popular American writers, male or female, in the 19th-Century.
No, I was hit with the concept of true love in a rather unexpected place, the definitive edition of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Her isolation appealed to me since we all went through COVID. I also had a huge crush on her when I was an adolescent. No, the edition I read is not likely the one you read, which is condensed, censored, and provides only an idealistic view of Annelies Marie Frank. She is what sparked this interest in me about true love.
Here was a 13-15-year-old girl that took me back to her age with her quest to really love a friend, a friend she made up named “Kitty.” She wanted total confidence in a person. She wanted to confide in someone because she never felt anyone really knew her. Adults often talk at kids and seldom see them or consider that they, too, are individuals that are unique in many ways.
Such may just seem adolescent to us. As adults, we may dismiss Anne Frank as trivial or cute, or the girl that puts out sweet sounding zingers in light of the horror she experiences while she dies of typhus along with her sister in Bergen-Belson. Yet, I know well that Anne Frank was asking and wanting genuine answers to our most pressing problems. No one that truly loves could ever do what the Nazis did to 1.6 million children and teenagers.
Far from the cute little scribbler we idealize, Anne Frank was searching for true love, true enough, but she was also searching for humanity and standing up for herself as a young woman. She saw her potential as a professional writer in conflict with the feminine duties of the time: cooking and raising kids.
My definitions of true love and falling in love, were influenced by Anne Frank. I do not mean that, as a young woman, Anne Frank should only be concerned about love. This seems to be a female obsession; rather, I would vow that seeking true love should be all of our obsessions. Such would not only make our lives fulfilled, but we would treat others so much better as well. We cannot truly love others if we don’t love ourselves first. Yes, I did learn from a 13-year-old girl. So can you.
Most of us fall in love and miss our opportunity for true love. Anne Frank’s experience, though adolescent, highlights this. She notes that she cannot even speak to a boy for 5 minutes. If she does, he goes head over heels and can no longer live without her. She then goes on explain how she dodges these hapless love-struck boys, even noting that she knows she is beautiful because boys will try to catch a glimpse of her with pieces of broken mirrors they carry. She also knows that such is not true love. She does not feel it, and these boys will move on soon enough. Yet, it is the practice of falling into love that these boys will eventually master. But it also has the beginning elements of true love in development.
One of our greatest mistakes is that we try to plan for love. This works to a degree. We plan on a career and then falling in love. But just as it is possible to fall in love with someone, it is just as easy to fall out of love with them, hence our divorce rate. The fact is, we may love that person, but we are not in love with them. Most of us come to find out that we have become comfortable with our dysfunction for falling in love.
Some of us like falling in love so much that we are in love with the idea of falling in love only to run away in terror once we know marriage or a serious relationship is coming. We try to control love. The Bridgerton’s success is nothing new for a romance, but the difference is that most people see the series as these young hot people “falling in love,” but the real value of Bridgerton is that those most passionate relationships are really examples of true love. I would argue that the Bridgerton series is fighting the notion of falling in love because that aligns more with duty. Sure, you will hate the person you marry, but you will learn to fall in love with them later. Hell no! Do it the Duchess Daphne way. Do it for true love! Daphne’s mother knows this well, as does the Queen, all of which married for true love.
Before our true love definition, what is so apparent in the Secret Annex is that no adult relationship is based on true love. Duty, maybe, but no true love. Anne Frank even writes mockingly that Pim, her father, kisses “Momsy” the way he kisses his children. She knows he does not truly love her. And she calls her mom, “Momsy” because, as Anne Frank puts it, her mother was never a real mother to her. Everyone there seemed to marry out of duty, because the time is right. Though one may argue that my assessment is not fair given the stress these families are under, I would retort that it is exactly such instances that prove if we truly love or not. As many of us know, having and raising children is often the end of marriages or “the way we once were.”
True love will scare the hell out of you because it just happens. It happens suddenly. Bridgerton has many examples, where the rules say we should not love because this person is too old, too young, too poor, or someone does not approve. But really that does not matter. No one can control who they fall in love with. No one can decide who they are attracted to, and no one can choose who to love. True love just happens, and it is the most wonderful, scary, powerful, and moving experiences that will ever happen to us because we cannot control it. True love is a deep connection often expressed by eye contact and the most beautiful smile. You can totally love without even knowing the person, speaking to them, but these feelings have to be mutual, not one-sided. Both feel this. Nothing else matters. In that moment, you would give your life for that person.
Here is my example of how I would deal with my true love if we had to wait to meet together. If, for some reason, we had to be away from each other for two years. I would say this to her. I will be at such and such place two years from now on this date at this time frame. If you still think of me, I’d very much like you to come. If she shows, that is true love. If not, she chose falling in love with someone else.
This is the kind of love Anne Frank wanted and what is so well demonstrated by the Bridgerton series. Yet I cannot promise you that you will get a true love experience. I did because someone looked at me that way, and those two seconds totally changed my view of romance and of true love. True love may never happen for me, just as it never happened for Anne Frank, yet I somehow hope at least one person gave her that true love look, even if for only two seconds.
Earl Yarington was a professor and social worker. He taught literature and writing for nearly 20 years. As a social worker, Earl focused on human sexuality and child sexual abuse prevention by working with those at risk which included those with sex offenses, pedophilic disorder, dual diagnoses and other comorbid factors. Earl now writes literary fiction, poetry and non-fiction and often incorporates difficult subjects in his work.
He drives buses for a living.