John Masterson: 'Love is no basis for a long and happy marriage'

Bob Dylan playing Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo: Dylan Vaughan.

John Masterson

Social occasions are now littered with couples no longer together who are both in the same room. They may have children together. It may have been a great love affair. Or a brief fling. To say it has made life more complex for everyone is an understatement.

New partners wonder if a flame is still lit. Former partners may be hurting, healing or even relieved. Both members of the former couple may not be feeling the same way about their once joined past. Many of us would like to be a fly on the wall were the former partners to be alone together.

There is such a moment in Scorsese's Rolling Thunder film which I watched on Netflix the night after a fantastic performance by Bob Dylan in Kilkenny recently. I was transfixed. This was eavesdropping on intimacy. We see the Joan Baez of today saying she only has to hear Bob singing to forgive him 'everything' with a smile that maturity and wisdom bring. We are not told what 'everything' was but walking out on her probably counts.

A decade after that break Joan joined Bob on the Rolling Thunder tour. We see them singing together and Bob talking about hearing her sing in his dreams. Then we see the two together in a flirtatious two shot.

Joan tells Bob that Hattie Carroll is the best song he ever wrote. He replies that it is the best song she ever sang. And without skipping a beat she asks him why he went off and got married without telling her. I defy anyone to disagree that this is a couple in love. Bob says he married someone he loved. Joan replies that she married someone she thought she loved. "That's what thought does," Bob replied. They had a big love. I wonder did either of them ever get over it.

The older I get the less I believe that love is a good basis for marriage. Perhaps, as Bob says, thought is not a great deal better. As the human lifespan increases young loving couples may be facing into 60 years and that is a big ask. Then there are the further problems of not having children until in one's thirties having travelled the world and finally found a place to live that they can afford.

Bob and Joan seem to have had the maturity to know that their great love was in the past where it was best left with all of the great memories. They both moved on to complex love lives - his so secretive that we don't know how often he was married.

Most of us have a 'Bob' or a 'Joan'. We had madly passionate romances that preceded the settling down romance. For the lucky ones the settling down one is the love of their life. For it to stay that way for half a century would be nigh on a miracle. There are times when all of us remember that weekend on a Greek beach or that six months in California. Or Cork. We all wonder 'what if' and 'why did I get on that plane. Was I mad'? And then we go back to normal life again.

Until social media got in on the act. These days blasts from the past suddenly appear smiling out of our phones. You might even be tempted to check their current status. I like the ones that say 'complicated'. It suggests that there is a life lived and stories to tell. But do I have any interest in catching up? No. Never.

That said a friend of mine was recovering from a marital break up in London in pre-social media years. Out of the blue he got a phone call from an American former colleague who was passing through London.

It turned out that she and her husband had also parted. That night was definitely the start of something new. A year later they were happily married. And still are. Both are probably relieved that the renewed contact wasn't made on Facebook. Neither would have bothered following it up.

They are far too sensible.