Study Guide

Hard Love Love

By Ellen Wittlinger

Love

But to me, the mystery of female body parts is one I'd just as soon not solve. Not that I'm interested in boys either—I'm just not interested in the whole idea of locked lips or proclamations of love. I can't imagine being in love with somebody, letting her touch me and tell me things I wouldn't know whether to believe. (2.11)

John claims he's not interested in love, but maybe it's just that he hasn't found the right girl yet. We can't help but wonder whether his insistence on not being interested in love just means he's never experienced it.

John claims he's not interested in love, but maybe it's just that he hasn't found the right girl yet. We can't help but wonder whether his insistence on not being interested in love just means he's never experienced it.

"Well, I don't. And you better not say it around me either. It's not just a swear word; it's a hateful word. It's a violent word. It's not about sex or love or anything like that. It's ugly. It just means I want to hurt you." (4.57)

When Birdie drops an f-bomb, Marisol flips out. She can't stand that word, and while she's not usually touchy about these things, Marisol is more annoyed at the idea that someone misuses love, just the way Kelly did to her.

So I took all the sadness of the divorce, and all the love I'd once had for both of you, and all the fear I had of being alone, and turned it into a stone wall to hide behind. To protect myself. I'm so protected now, dear Mother, sometimes I feel like I'm barely alive. (10.59)

In his letter to his mom, John talks about his hate for his mom and the pain he's felt since the divorce. Notice how he focuses on love. It's not about being hurt over his parents splitting up; it's about the fact that he expects his parents to love him and is hurt when they don't.

"I needed your affection. I didn't think it would affect me. You are asking me to change without a word." (11.20)

In her poem, "You're Not Listening," Marisol explains her feelings to John in not-so explicit terms. She does love him, it's just that she doesn't love him in the way that he loves her.

She took a deep breath and looked me in the eye. "No, not… love. Some kind of deep… connection…" She put her hand over her heart. "Which is confusing. And that's why it has to be over now." (12.103)

Perhaps Marisol has a hard time explaining her feelings to John because love can't be explained; it's not something that you can create an algorithm for or define. It's about feelings that are messy and complicated.

But I did feel; that much was undeniable. Even though my stomach was twisted in a pretzel, and I hated myself for acting like such a blubbering fool, there was something else going on too. I also felt awake and alive and, in a funny way, almost lighthearted. It sounds dumb, but I felt like I'd been watching people run past me for years while I was tied up on the sidelines pretending I hated running anyway. And now I was finally untied, free to jump in and join the race whenever I wanted to. (13.27)

Love might be complex, but it also makes John and Marisol feel things they've never felt before—it makes them want to experience life. Before, they were guarded and jaded; now they are open to possibilities and willing to do new stuff.

"I'm not lying next to you and I never will. There was a night we needed more than affection, though neither would admit it. To tell the truth it couldn't matter less who wears the pants or the dress, but only who becomes visible to whom. You saw me truly, and I saw all you let me; I'm not lying now, and I hope I never will." (15.74)

Isn't that what love is? It's not all grand gestures and red roses. Sometimes, it's just about opening up a part of yourself that no one else gets to see. For John, that's more than he can say about anyone else in his life, which is what makes Marisol so special.

"Love is never wasted, even when it's hard love. Yes it's hard love, but it's love all the same, not the stuff of fantasy but more than just a game. And the only kind of miracle that's worthy of the name, for the love that heals our lives is mostly hard love." (16.44)

The song Diana sings is for John, and it's also the title of the book, so we know it's important. Check out the first line: "Love is never wasted." We might think John will swear off love given all he's been through, but here, we see that it's still worth it, even when it breaks your heart.

The love that heals our lives. While everybody was applauding Diana and whooping and yelling for another song, that one line kept circling back through my head. I didn't feel healed—I felt destroyed—and still I knew it was true. I slipped away from the group quietly, without a plan, but as soon as I realized I was headed for the office, I knew what I was going to do. (16.46)

As John lets the words of the song sink in, he realizes that despite how he's feeling in the moment (destroyed), he's been healed by love. He's no longer afraid of letting people in, or scared about what might happen if he does. He's finally willing to have friends and love.

She turned around though, halfway up and gave me one last gift. "Hey, I love you too, Gio," she said. "As much as I can." (17.33)

Marisol's goodbye to John is heartbreaking, and not just for him. We're lost when she says this to him, mainly because we wish there was more she could say. We get it, though: Sometimes, love just isn't enough. For these two, theirs is the wrong kind of love.