The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 14, 2007


Finding one's way in the ways of love

for the Commentary page

By Teresa Leo
Have you ever been in a relationship that feels like a foreign country where you don't speak the language, have no map, no ability to read the signage, and no idea where the closest shelter or watering hole might be?

These days, with the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS), we can know just about anything regarding our whereabouts: our precise location (in 3-D), how far we are from our destination, the path of least resistance to get where we want to go. If there were an equivalent system to guide us in our relationships, a GPS for love, would we want such a device to help us navigate the terrain?

Imagine a calm, soothing voice that gently tells us when to turn, that doesn't change intonation when we make a mistake, but rather takes our errors into consideration and simply recalculates directions to get our relationships back on track. We could avoid calamity, cliffs and traffic jams, dead-end streets and roadblocks, and just happily cruise the highways of love, perhaps plotting a specific landmark or scenic vista to visit along the way.

GPS applications range from guiding cruise missiles to finding the best fishing spots to tracking a lost pet. Maritime GPS units include useful functions such as the "man overboard" feature that can instantly mark the place where a person has fallen into the water, something that would come in handy for those occasions when the object of our affection has vanished into oblivion.

We could set the "avoidance points" feature to steer clear of those who would eventually break our hearts. And if we ourselves were truly lost, our trusty GPS could transmit a signal for emergency rescue, or we could use the "backtrack" feature as a bread-crumb trail to get us to our starting point, a kind of do-over benefit for the murkiest relationships.

I could have used a love GPS in one particular relationship where I dated a man who was unusually secretive about what he did for a living.

After several weeks of dating, he finally agreed to "show me" what he did, and told me to drive by a street corner in downtown Philadelphia, a busy intersection during rush hour. I drove to said coordinates at the designated time and hovered in my car. Men in suits bustled past; my boyfriend was nowhere to be found.

Then I spotted the giant flower. That is, a man in a full-body rose costume who was handing out flyers for a florist shop. He was my boyfriend; this corner was his center of operations. If I'd had a full-featured love GPS, it might have emitted some kind of warning signal, something that would reroute me, steer me clear of a man dressed as a giant bud. I kept thinking of how I'd have to clarify this for my girlfriends: "No, he didn't bring me a rose; he was the rose." Or, "He was just 11 friends shy of a bouquet."

As the Poison song says, "Every rose has its thorn," which, in this case, seemed true on multiple levels. But in the end it didn't matter to me what he did for a living. We dated for several months, during which time I received more long-stem roses than I would in any other relationship.

Though it would be nice to know where we stand (literally) in relationships, I wonder what we might miss if we kept our love GPS up and running. Maybe a rose is more than a rose and shouldn't be avoided, even if it's 6 feet tall and standing on a street corner. Perhaps the shortest distance between two points might not be the most exciting.

Maybe that wrong turn leads to an unknown eatery that serves the best homemade Italian Love Cake we've ever tasted.

Poet Theodore Roethke wrote, "I learn by going where I have to go."

A GPS certainly has its benefits, but sometimes in love, as in life, going off-road can lead to the happy accident that changes who we are or will become.

Though some of us may still prefer to have a "position fix" in our relationships or to know the exact route to take to get to love, others of us are willing to go off the grid and see what comes. Thorns and all.


© 2007 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.