The Rocky Road to Great Love: Famous Couples and Their ‘Not So Meet Cute’ Storiesby Liz Bartucci on March 01, 2013
Plenty of single folk believe that real love happens easily, at first sight, that its entry into our lives will be a simple knock and an answer, and the path to sustaining it will be filled with rose petals and music. The rest of us know better. Falling in love doesn’t happen along any particular trajectory, and staying in love is a complicated affair. Perhaps you meet at the wrong time, only to meet again years later. perhaps you split, only to reunite. Many of the greatest lovers in history did not follow a well-paved road to bliss — sometimes, the road wasn’t even gravel.
Frida & Diego
Born around the time of the Mexican Revolution, Frida Kahlo was born a fighter. A survivor of polio, and a near fatal accident, this artist shared most of her life with Diego Rivera, another artist 20 years her senior. Kahlo called their union “a marriage between a dove and an elephant.” Amidst their affairs with other people, her multiple abortions, and their explosive fights, they split and remarried several times. At one point, they lived together in one home with separate quarters connected by a footbridge. While their union may not have been smooth, their admission to being each other’s greatest loves and supporters of each other’s work is a testament to the power of the freedom of creative expression within a relationship. Rivera said “I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life.”
John and Yoko
At a London art gallery in 1966, John Lennon first faced the work of avant-garde artist, Yoko Ono. Later, John recalled the "happening" as hardly memorable to him. But when Lennon climbed the ladder of one of Yoko’s installations and looked through the attached spyglass to read the tiny words “YES” written on the canvas suspended from the ceiling, his interest was piqued. Yoko, seven years older than John, was in an unhappy marriage, as was John. The future spouses communicated through cryptic notes until they came together again. John’s first wife Cynthia, did not fight his new union, as she revealed in her memoir, A Twist of Lennon: "I understood their love. I knew I couldn't fight the unity of mind and body that they had with each other.” But the world certainly reviled it. Challenged by fans, critics, journalists and The Beatles themselves, John and Yoko bonded together against their critics, producing art, music and by becoming political activists. Later, the pressures of immigration issues, an estranged daughter, an affair, and nonstop negative press caused the couple to separate. When they reunited again, John reinvented himself with new music, acknowledging his "other half of the sky" in his song Woman, where he sang that he was “after all, forever in your debt.”
Hillary and Bill
He first met his first lady in a civil liberties class in Yale, and he bought an Arkansas home for her before they even married. Since then, this political and marital partnership has withstood untold challenges, including the many, many dalliances of the 42nd Commander in Chief. In “When Bill met Hillary” in Salon.com, the author examines the question of why these strong-willed people might have remained together. Chafe interprets Bill’s memoir declaration that he simply liked being with Hillary and could see himself being old with her – a perspective that is neither romantic or impetuous, but rather "a vision over time – a long time." Perhaps keeping their goals in sight helps these running mates navigate through the battles – two powerful individuals rebounding from defeats to become a more united front.
Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson
You heard the story – man has kingdom, man meets girl, man loses kingdom. In 1936, Prince Edward, only a few months into his gig as the Monarch of the Church of England, proposed marriage to the not-so-common commoner, socialite and two-time divorcee Wallis Simpson. Their love affair caused a scandal, to put it mildly. Edward was forced to chose his lady love over his mother country, abdicating his throne so he and Simpson could marry. Eventually their sacrifice turned them into cult celebrities, making them party hosts and jetsetters from Paris to New York. There is some speculation that their relationship was less of a mythic fairy tale and more of an arrangement, but despite Royal Family strains, they are buried together behind the Royal Mausoleum of Queens Victoria and Prince Albert. Proving that sometimes in a relationship, you get more than what you bargained for.
Gertrude & Alice
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are regarded as the most famous literary gay duo of their time. Theirs was an intense intellectual bond, rumored to be one of mistress and muse. Surrounding themselves with the actual Picassos and Hemingways of their generation, Gertrude and Alice held court at their Paris salon, "living as husband as wife, she with a sheet of linen (Toklas) and he with a sheet of paper" (Gertrude) as author Diana Souhami described in her book Gertrude and Alice. Their unconventional companionship was seen as pretty codependent, with Gertrude even writing Alice’s autobiography. But the two not only survived two World Wars, but also intense social scrutiny and discrimination against their partnership. After her death, Alice said of her lover, “I am nothing, but a memory of her.”
Bert & Ernie
While still a debate, Bert and Ernie’s status as a couple is not their greatest contribution to coupledom. It is, in fact, their bickering that makes them great. Equals in material and moxie, they do they not see eye to eye, and Ernie often removes Bert’s nose in an argument to prove this point. The original odd couple fights over semantics and genuine misunderstandings usually resulting in fits of laughter. They seem to understand their inherent roles as teacher and troublemaker. In the sweetest testament to their friendship, Bert and Ernie sing “But I Like You” from their single twin beds, admitting while they don’t always like what the other one does, ultimately, it is their partner that they like.
Odysseus & Penelope
Sometimes it’s not the incredible differences that bond lovers, but the miles themselves. In Homer’s masterwork, Penelope and Odysseus are kept apart by war. While waiting for her king to return, Queen Penelope’s fidelity is tested by suitors in that Greek fanatical style. Ultimately, Penelope waits 20 years for her King to return. Even though she refuses other men, the lonely Queen develops a desire to fan those suitors' hearts and inflame them more. Finally, the king shows up, but given that this is Greek mythology, Odysseus arrives in disguise and decides to participate in a contest where the winner gets the queen. To win this challenge, a suitor must be able to string and shoot Odysseus’s bow. Of course, the king wins, and then slaughters everyone who tried to win his wife. Odysseus and Penelope’s mutual love of each other and their penchant for drama kept them together even when they were apart. They don’t call it "The Odyssey" for nothing.
Adam and Eve
Not only did this couple survive eternal damnation, but, according to the Bible, they lived over 800 years together. The leaf-layered duo raised Cain, Abel and the lesser-known Seth. They bickered, blaming their loss of Eden on each other, like Adam’s clever defense to his Creator in the Book of Genesis: "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” But Mark Twain’s literary license on this couple’s story, the wise and beautiful The Diaries of Adam and Eve, tells the deeper story of the first couple. In Adam’s entry he expresses how he was at first, overwhelmed by Eve: This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don't like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals. While Eve, ‘faked her’ first expressions of love for Adam, expressing pleasant surprise in her partner’s ability to name things in the Kingdom: When the dodo came along he thought it was a wildcat--I saw it in his eye. But I saved him. And I was careful not to do it in a way that could hurt his pride. In the end, Twain noted, Adam and Eve were each other’s world – at Eve’s Grave was written: Adam knew that “wheresoever she was, there was Eden.”