Conflict: A Love Story

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As featured on Huffington Post 50

As some of you know, I’m spending the winter working on a novel I’ve wanted to write for many years.  It’s a love story.  Usually I write the “one woman’s search for _________________” kind of book.  But this time there are two protagonists, a man and a woman, and the story spans over fifty years of their lives.  It’s a made-up jaunt in the fields of abundant love, and who wouldn’t want to play around in those fields?  The bummer is…turns out, a love story is hard to write.  Go figure.  I thought it would be a breeze.

Here’s why:  in the story of every important relationship, real or imagined…there is a conflict.  It’s not about avoiding the conflict, or denying it, or being afraid to meet it head on—it’s about accepting the conflict and learning how to navigate it with all your heart.  That’s not easy when you factor in the origin and foundation of each player’s sense of self, future, safety, risk.  A love story can be blood-sport, and it often is.  It’s how you play the game that matters.  (Not that it’s a game—I’m just using a metaphor.  At least I didn’t use “s***-storm.”)

Most of us do not want to accept this universal truth.  We want our relationships to come easily, without bumps and hiccoughs, never mind gutting pain or bottomless challenges or high-altitude hopelessness.

In fact, you may be one of the people out there who blithely claims that there is no conflict in your relationships.  But I’m not sure I would believe you.  I have a Golden Retriever, known to be one of the most docile, uncomplicated, forgiving, accepting creatures on earth.  And believe me, we are in conflict every single day, and for a large part of it.

It goes something like this:  “No, I can’t pet you—you rolled in deer guts in the woods and you reek and I don’t have time to give you a bath.  Don’t give me those eyes again.  I can’t handle the guilt!  I have a deadline and I’m late to pick up the kids!  And no you can’t come in the car because you rolled in deer guts in the woods!  That’s what you get for being a Montana dog!  Maybe you’d rather live in a three story walk up in lower Manhattan and regularly go to a dog groomer, and enjoy Chinese take-out at the dog park!  I apologize for your 20 acres!  I know—I’m a horrible horrible person.  All you want is a little love.  I love you.  Does that work?  Do you speak English?  Can I write you a love poem instead of touching you right now?  Ugh.  I promise, I’ll get one of the kids to wash you later today.  I just don’t have time right now!  At least I let you in the house with the deer guts all over you!  Can you throw me a bone here?  Ok, that’s twisted.  I know.  Especially when I haven’t given you a bone in a long long time.  It’s probably my fault that you went out foraging for animal bones.  You’re probably lacking in calcium or something.”

And that’s just my relationship with my Golden Retriever.  You should hear my conversations with my teens!

This afternoon it sounded something like:  “I’ll give you five bucks to give the dog a bath.”

“I’ve got homework.”

“I’ve got basketball practice.”

“How about ten?”

“Twenty.”

“Fifteen.  Do you want me to show you the C-section scar again???”

“Fine.  I’ll do it for fifteen.  But I’m still mad at you for not teaching me how to do a somersault.”

I offered my best glare.  I should never have taught them how to negotiate so well.  Mother of the Year.

And so the dog, the dog I love, does not get rubbed behind the ears for the better part of the day.  But at least he gets to stay in the house.  (I don’t profess to have the cleanest house.  We choose our battles.)  And the teens, they get their homework done, and the dog gets washed eventually, and we sit at the table on that rare night when everybody’s home and we talk.  What do we talk about usually?  Relationships.  About them being hard.  With teachers, and friends, and family members, and bosses.  That’s the stuff of life:  conflict.  Otherwise there’s no story.  Otherwise we talk about the things you talk about when you’re trying to help your kid not have nightmares.   And strawberry shortcake and fields of daisies only go so far.  Strawberries mold, and daisies wilt, and fields get hit by thunderstorms and blight.

Think about it.  Even jokes have conflict.  They wouldn’t be jokes without them.  Here’s our family favorite:  ”So  there’re two muffins in an oven.  One muffin says to the other:  It sure is hot in here.  And the other muffin says, Wow.  A talking muffin.”  Conflict:  Muffin vs.  Nature.  Muffin vs.  Muffin.   Muffin vs. Itself.

The fun of it all is in Conflict Resolution.  After the dog gets his bath and you are snuggling with him, rubbing him behind the ears and down his back, after the kids forgive you for not teaching them to do a somersault, fifteen dollars richer, after the house is quiet and the I love yous get whispered…that’s when I’m thankful for the love story and its inherent conflicts.

There is an arc to love.  It doesn’t just hatch and bloom and self-groom.  It comes, double-helix sometimes, like the Northern Lights.  But one thing is sure:  it comes.  Maybe not in the way you’d like to write it—as a beautiful, sweeping, epic love story.  Maybe it just wants you to scratch behind its ears.  And take it for a drive with the window down.

…Or maybe you want to love yourself, and give yourself a Haven Retreat!

The next Haven is from April 2-6 at the fab El Ganzo in Los Cabos, Mexico– considered one of the most romantic places in the world.  It all begins with self-love:

11 Comments

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11 Responses to Conflict: A Love Story

  1. Loving this loving you dish out with love

  2. christie coombs

    That was entertaining, inspiring, and so relatable. It felt like you were telling me the story, rather than me reading it. Now I want to go write something … xo

  3. Love this! I miss my golden! ;-)

    But more than that, knowing that love is alive in the midst of conflict has been a big lesson to me in my grown up years. Before that, I thought conflict meant the end of the relationship. Now I see, the faithful ones, stick it out through the conflict.

    Happy Valentine’s Day, dear Laura!

  4. Jan Myhre

    After being married off and on for 52 years (forty- four to a really nice guy), I’ve had my share of conflicts in loving. And Maria is correct when she says the faithful ones stick it out through thick and thin. I would add that along with “sticking to it” there’s a lot of hard work along the way. Thanks for a delightful look into your book and your struggle to write about love, Laura.

  5. Donna Naquin

    I loved hearing your “voice”. Thanks for climbing out on that “skinny branch.” It takes courage; looks like you have a mountain of that! <3 Donna

  6. Laura,
    Good points about conflict being part of the game. Have you read The Night Circus? Talk about conflict in romance . . . Whew! It’s a great read. I’m just finishing it. — Barbara

  7. Polly Driscoll

    Oh Laura, I hear your thoughtful, loving voice and you make us all think more deeply about this complicated thing called LOVE.
    Happy Valentine’s Day

  8. margaret

    Spoken like a true dog owner! Having 2 labs this winter has been an unbelievable challenge. “I’m sorry it’s just TOO cold. I can’t go out in this weather. It’s 7 below and there is 2 feet of snow on the ground. Not to mention the wind chill……And the plowed/shoveled areas are full of salt which hurts your paws”. And then finally, angrily, “Oh alright!!! Let me take the 30 minutes to get dressed and then we’ll go” And we are all better for it. But I never remember that the next day/time they want another walk!!!
    Loved your blog!

  9. Sharley Bryce

    When I think of Haven and you, I’m never far away from my feelings there of my true self. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, all that you see touches your soul and you share it and make it real for us. Thank you, dear Laura, for your honesty. It makes me be honest with myself. Sharley

  10. I love this, that without a conflict there is no story. and this: “There is an arc to love. It doesn’t just hatch and bloom and self-groom.”

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