Imagine you’re in a committed partnership with someone you love very much. Imagine that, although things aren’t always perfect, you’re happy and confident in your love and your life with this person, and have a wealth of memories to remind you of commitment when things get a little bumpy. Starting over, rekindling love, is relatively easy when it’s called for.
Now, imagine you wake up one day and can’t remember anything about the love you used to feel for your partner. You can’t, in fact, even remember you’re in a partnership at all. You have no memories of your time with this person, the moments logged, the confidences shared, the promises spoken. You feel alone, confused and unthethered. How do you even begin the process of starting over?
“I will always find you.”
At the opening of the hit television series, Once Upon A Time, the Evil Queen’s curse has zapped all the fairytale characters you’ve ever known to the modern town of Storybrooke, Maine, where they are living more or less normal, and decidedly un-magical, lives. And, to make things more interesting, all but two of the characters have forgotten who they really are and everything about the magical world from which they came, and so they live in community with friends, family members and romantic partners that they don’t actually recognize as such. Unbeknownst to them, they are starting over.
As flashbacks reveal the characters’ pre-curse back stories we find out their lives are complex. Similar to the “mash-up” song style made popular by Glee, the fairytales in this series wind and overlap in multiple, sometimes tragic, ways: connections are made between characters from different stories, a gap in one story is filled in with reference to another; and almost everyone moves back and forth between ancient magical worlds and our modern one.
And, yes, things get complicated. I am a dedicated viewer, and I sometimes feel I need both a flowchart and a team roster in order to keep up.
At the beginning of the season, we are introduced to Mary Margaret, a pale schoolteacher with dark hair looking for love in all the wrong places, and David, a handsome and recently comatose John Doe who can’t remember even his modern-day life. After Mary Margaret volunteers to spend time reading to David in the hospital, they are drawn to each other in a powerful way, and a love affair blossoms.
Turns out, you guessed it, that Mary Margaret is Snow White and David is Prince Charming and they are, in true fairytale fashion, destined to be together. But a long history of near-calamities and seemingly insurmountable separations have made their lives, and their love, very difficult to maintain. Hense their promise to each other: “I will always find you.”
And, somehow, even in this new world in which they don’t remember who they are or the history they’ve shared, or even remember the promise itself, Snow and Charming do find each other again and eventually get a chance to recreate their love, to begin starting over.
But this is just a fairytale, right?
“If I lose my memory again, I will still love you. I will always love you.”
Jeff Ingram, a forty-six-year-old Canadian, has a rare type of amnesia called dissociative fugue. People with dissociative fugue amnesia are fine most of the time, but can, in moments of extreme stress, temporarily lose their sense of personal identity and impulsively wander away from their homes or work places. When this happens, it is as if their memory is wiped clean, and they don’t remember who they are or where they’re from. Hmm. Sound familiar?
Jeff has experienced this dissociative fugue state two times in his life so far, and on both occasions he has had to recreate the different elements of his life all over again, including, on the second occasion, his relationship with his wife, Penny. You can learn more about their story here.
Odds are, this will probably happen to Jeff again . . . and again. At the drop of a hat, he may be called upon to start over. When this happens Jeff knows he will have to make an effort to fall in love with Penny all over again. And he has committed to do this very thing, as evidenced by his promise to Penny above, that “If I lose my memory again, I will still love you. I will always love you.”
Okay. I’ll give you that that circumstances of both of these relationships are pretty unusual. But the necessity of recreating love, making love happen again when it disappears or your can’t remember it, the necessity of starting over, is not. Isn’t this, in fact, the task of every couple that has committed to ride out the bumps and turns of a long-term relationship?
Whether we promise to love each other “until we are parted by death” in a public ceremony or make a similar promise in the privacy of our own home (or castle), I believe we commit to something real here. Like Jeff and Penny, Snow and Charming, we commit to recreate our love for our partner again and again . . . and again. And this sustained, renewed commitment then becomes, in fact, the essence of love.
Oh, sure, we are initially attracted to our partners and fall “in love” with them because of certain factors . . . the circumstances that align to bring us together, shared interests and beliefs or qualities we like about each other (skin as white as snow, charm and whatnot).
But, if you think about it, this list of factors can’t be what creates or sustains love. Because circumstances, personality, physical beauty, interests, beliefs – all of these things can and do change. And it’s easy, like Jeff and our fairytale couple, to lose, to forget, the memory of the “in love” feeling we had at the beginning of our relationship. And to feel alone, confused, untethered.
He has purchased expensive shoes embedded with GPS tracking devices, has tattooed his arm with identifying information, and wears a medical information zip drive around his neck.
And he has chronicled his memories in a recorded interview on NPR’s StoryCorps, where he has left himself a personal message to “trust Penny.”
Knowing that they could, at any moment, be separated again by the Evil Queen, Snow and Charming have embodied a commitment to, against all odds, find each other again each time they are separated, a commitment that turns out to be powerful enough to withstand curses, ogres, pirates and even inter-world travel.
Snow, Charming, Jeff and Penny have taken all of these precautions because they know, from real, gut-wrenching, experience, that love is not this thing outside of ourselves, a perpetual motion machine that hums along nicely on its own volition, until one day when it doesn’t and, oh well, it was nice while it lasted.
They know, because they have lived it, that when we commit to love someone “until death do us part,” we have made a mighty commitment. We have committed to remember what is forgotten, to search and find what is lost, and to starting over when all we can see is a not-so-fairytale ending.
And we have committed to doing this as often as it takes, time and time again.
What about you? How have you and your partner weathered those times when your love has been hard to remember? Share your story in a comment below.