“Somebody Like You” – Keith Urban, 2002.
If you’ve been with me since April 1st (or longer) you’ve probably gotten the sense that I take music just a leeetle bit seriously. Maybe that’s not the right word; it implies a certain lack of humor about things, and some of the songs I’ve selected for this blogging odyssey reflect a lighter sensibility. What surprises me is meeting people who are far more cavalier about it – not, I should add, that there’s anything wrong with that – to the point where music, to them, is a bit meaningless. This is crystallized for me in the songs that couples select for their first dance at their wedding. Granted, you can’t speak to why a particular song means one thing to one person and something else to another, but often, you’re left scratching your head and wondering, did you even listen to the lyrics?
Three of the most popular choices are “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston and Celine Dion’s infamous Titanic anthem “My Heart Will Go On.” If you pay attention to the lyrics, the first is about a woman treating a man like garbage, the second is a farewell to a relationship that has ended, and the third is about a lover who’s died. Hardly the greatest sentiments with which to start a new life together.
When my then-fiancee and I were planning our ceremony and reception, we wanted to avoid the typical hug-and-shuffle-to-a-cheesy-ballad that besides being tired didn’t express who we were. The initial selection was Barbra Streisand and Bryan Adams’ duet “I Finally Found Someone” from The Mirror Has Two Faces. We were taking ballroom classes at the time and thought a choreographed routine might be a fun twist. Our dance studio was amenable (for a modest fee, naturally) and we began a series of hours learning the sways and steps of a rumba. A few weeks in, though, despite the best efforts of our patient teacher, the sense was that it wasn’t working; too slow, not enough energy. I’d never paid much notice of country music, but my better half put forth this Keith Urban number as a suggested alternative. Hardly rumba material – this meant cha cha.
It might be worth pointing out at this juncture that my dancing has always been average at best, veering between extremes of “hopeless white guy” and “spastic goofball.”
Not wanting to disappoint, I accepted the challenge, and we moved immediately from gentle sashays to bold struts and turns and twists. One of my less endearing traits is my lack of patience with myself when I can’t nail something, and the complicated series of steps and movements we’d assigned ourselves were a recipe for frayed nerves and easily blown fuses. Outside the weekly classes we’d find any chance we could to move the living room furniture out of the way and run through the routine, and my attitude during more than one of these chances was substantially less than game; to my regret, it was often downright curmudgeonly. Some sessions ended in curses and angry exits from the room, followed by apologies and pleas to try one more time. At one point I may have mused that I was more concerned about this dance than any other aspect of the wedding, which did not go over very well to say the very least. The days ticked down, the practices continued. Finally we got it to a state where we were as confident as we were going to be. All that remained was performing it for someone other than our cat – just sixty-four family and friends. No pressure.
Married now, wine and dinner and dessert in our bellies, an emotional set of speeches given, and now the DJ is set to go and it’s time. Keith Urban’s guitar starts up, my new wife and I bow to each other, and we are off. As soon as we move into hold and start shaking our hips, our guests go crazy. They are completely surprised, mainly by the fact that I haven’t tripped over myself, and every new step brings cheers and applause. Sure, I mess up a couple of times, but by the time I spin my bride into my embrace, dip her and plant a kiss on her like the most seasoned swinger, the joy of the moment has long surpassed any remaining performance anxiety. I get more than a few astonished congratulations afterwards, but more than any external accolade I’m proudest that I’ve done well for my lady.
One of the biggest adjustments you make in moving from bachelorhood to marriage is recognizing that you’re not living only for yourself anymore. The transition to selfless living is not an easy one to make and the habit of clinging to vestiges of the single life can linger for years afterwards. Wanting to love somebody can sometimes too be seen as a selfish need, looking outward to fill a void, without necessarily thinking whether or not that person particularly wants to fill your void at all. What helps us move beyond the fear of losing oneself is the euphoria that can result from putting another’s needs before our own – the filling of a void we didn’t even know we had. Though we are not always (or even often) successful in living this way, we need to stop and remember the moments when we did and work tirelessly to recreate them. Keith Urban sings that “sometimes it’s hard for me to understand that you’re teaching me to be a better man.” Truthfully, we don’t often get it. But each time we do something for our partner without thought of what it means to us, we’re getting better. Sharpening our steps. Perfecting our soul. And that is what wanting to love somebody can mean – wanting to make ourselves better by doing better by another.