As summer comes to a close and I reflect on the romances around me that begun and ended this season, I ponder the question of what exactly makes a successful love story.
Simply put, I do not know the answer. If I did, then it’s probably safe to say I could quit my day jobs and live comfortably off of book and workshop royalties for the rest of my life.
Another thing I have been thinking about is whether or not a love story is only successful if it lasts forever or until one of the parties dies. While many would automatically say yes, I take a different approach.
Some of the greatest love stories are those were the two participants didn’t live happily ever after. Indeed, the reason they didn’t end up together often makes the story all the more poignant and romantic.
So, without further ado, here are some true real-life romances where together forever was not in the cards.
The exact details of this 11th century French couple are a little sketchy, but basically, Abelard was hired by the uncle of Heloise to be her tutor and the pair fell in love. No one was aware of the affair until Heloise became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy. Her enraged uncle, Fulbert, demanded the pair married, which they did, but they tried to keep it a secret lest it damage Abelard’s reputation.
Nonetheless, the secret got out and a group of Fulbert’s friends castrated Abelard in an act of revenge. Afterwards, Heloise spent the rest of her life as a nun in a convent, and Abelard became a monk. The pair never saw each other again, but continued a passionate correspondence that lasted until Abelard died. Eventually, the pair where reunited in death and Heloise’s remains were said to be buried with his once she died.
2. Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner
The pairing of these two glamorous stars is the stuff of legends. The fiery, North Carolina-born beauty caught the eye of the still very-married Sinatra while she was still married to her second husband, Artie Shaw. Eventually, the pair married in 1951, even though many of the Hollywood establishment and the Roman Catholic Church blasted Sinatra’s choice to divorce his wife, Nancy, for Gardner.
They loved, they fought, they made up and they repeated this several times before they finally parted ways for good in 1957.
Despite the fact that both became involved with others and Sinatra went on to remarry twice, the two publicly said that each was the love of their respective life.
When Gardner died in 1990 at the age of 67, Sinatra was said to be so distraught that he didn’t leave his room for a number of days. While he decided not to attend her funeral in NC, he did reportedly send flowers bearing a ribbon that simply said, “Love, Francis.” If true, then this proves that sometimes the simplest message says the most.
3. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethrope.
Before they went on to become famous as a rocker and a photographer, respectively, the two lived together for a time in NYC.
While many speculated over the exact nature of their relationship as Maplethrope lived openly as a gay man and was famous (or rather infamous) for his series of homoerotic photographs, Smith set the record straight in her National Book Award-winning 2010 memoir, Just Kids, that the pair were indeed lovers.
Having read the book, I can honestly say it’s one of the most touching, moving memoirs I have ever read about two people who were clearly soulmates.
Even after Smith went on to marry and Mapplethrope became involved with a number of male lovers, the two remained friends and loved each other to the end. In an eerie premonition, Mapplethrope suggested that if something ever happened to Fred (Smith’s husband), the two should move in together and raise her children. As it happens, Fred Smith did die in 1994—five years after Mapplethrope died of complications due to AIDS.
4. Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann
Bergman was already a respected, award winning filmmaker when he met Ullmann, a respected actress in her own right, while working on the masterpiece, Persona. Despite the fact that Bergman was 20 years older than Ullmann and she was already married, that didn’t stop the two of them getting together. For the next five years, the two collaborated personally and professionally, producing a daughter and a series of movies where Ullmann played the female lead.
As with many great hot romances, things eventually turned cool, and the pair parted ways. However, they continued to work together and remained friends for over 40 years, right up until Bergman’s death in 2007.
In the documentary Liv & Ingmar, which was released last year, Ullmann recounts their great love affair and talks about one of the last times they saw each other: they walked around Stockholm together, and Bergman pointed out various landmarks including the church that his Lutheran minister father once preached at. At one point, he mused how lucky they were to be friends. Watching this brought tears to my eyes. It was far more touching than anything even the great Bergman could have scripted in one of his many of wonderful films.
In researching and writing about these great love affairs, it became even clearer to me that many of the greatest love stories don’t always have to end with the two living happily ever after together. In some cases, the love that was there grew and evolved into something even deeper once the two parted ways.
While I chose to share the stories of famous people, there are many non-famous, everyday people who have similar sorts of love stories. Therefore, think carefully if you look back on a “failed” relationship and ask yourself if it really failed just because the two of you didn’t end up together. It may be that it was not a failure at all, but a very special time that produced some fantastic memories and even created a bond which will never be broken.
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Ed: Sara Crolick