Usually I believe it to be a beautiful thing: the way time colors and shifts our perspective into something refined, something that makes sense out of the past, something that finds the reason for it all or the lesson learned.
But tonight, after watching Dirty Dancing for perhaps the 17-millionth time, I feel the opposite. Because after watching this time, I feel a little blame-y toward Johnny Castle.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. As played by Patrick Swayze, sweet, sexy, swoon-worthy graceful-yet-macho, left-us-way-too-soon Hollywood icon for my generation and others, he remains one of the most romantic and hot leading men of the 1980s, and probably ever.
But as an archetype for a mate, a boyfriend, a first love, the 34-year-old mommy version of me says, No friggen way.
It’s no wonder we fell for him, my Gen X sisters. Not only was he smoldering in every version of tight black shirt he donned in the film, he was sensitive. He had a passion to dance, rather than join the housepainter’s union. He was a supportive, responsible hero to his ‘friend’ Penny. (though give me a break…even the junior high version of me knew Penny would have been more than friends with Johnny faster than you can say Kellerman’s). And he looked at Baby the way a suburban mom with three kids in the car looks at a Panera Bread with a drive-thru, as if she personified hope, kindness, solace, and a one-way ticket out of sure misery.
But, dude. She was 17. Seventeen. And though the magazine tell us it’s where the girl ends and the woman begins, and the Winger song says she’ll show you love like you’ve never seen, 17 is one year younger than my oldest daughter, the age i was when I made some of the worst decisions of my life, and only half the age I am now, and I’m pretty sure at 34 I still know next-to-nothing most days.
17 is not fit to be anyone’s romantic hero. At least not in middle class America.
17 is look-don’t-touch to a twentysomething guy, no matter how noble he is.
And quite frankly, considering a week before he met Baby, he was accepting the room keys of several random cougars a day, I’m not sure noble is a good term for him.
(I still adore you, Johnny Castle, and I still mourn you, Patrick Swayze, but)
You are not a guy I want my daughters to love.
though you’re a guy I’d want my husband to mentor
And watching you at junior high slumber parties, repeatedly rewinding the part when you scrunch your adorable nose and sing, ‘And I owe it all to you’ is probably one of the reasons I had my own ridiculous, soap-operaesque ‘save the males’ romantic complex during my dating years.
though I still love listening to ‘She’s Like the Wind’ on repeat sometimes.
And really, would it have been that hard for you to say to Dr. Houseman from the onset that you were taking responsibility for Penny, not that you were responsible for her pregnancy and botched, horrible, illegal abortion? Would that not have been easier than expecting a 17-year-old Daddy’s girl to stand up for you?
though, seriously, then we wouldn’t have had a movie or a ‘Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner’ onesie for our own babies…
At the end of this recent viewing of Dirty Dancing, my mom, sister-in-law, Facebook friends and I debated whether Johnny and Baby ended up together after the movie. Through 20 years of watching, I’d always just kind of assumed they did. How can you have the ultimate love story if the lovers aren’t together forever? How can you have the time of your life and then just walk away from it? But on the flip side, how can a sheltered 17-year-old heading off to college and the peace corps so dramatically change the course of her life in the 1960s that she ends up marrying a sometimes-employed, older dancer from New York? Does he become a housepainter to impress her dad with his stability? Does she give up her status and family to travel the Merengue circuit as his partner? Do they buy a VW minibus, declare themselves hippes, shuck the establishment, and grow up to be Steven and Elyse Keaton? I can’t imagine any of those scenarios.
As I watched the movie, it was all too easy to remember the passion and temptation of infatuation, the delicious anticipation of new love – and the mysterious, misleading adventure of forbidden love. Does it work out sometimes?
Well, honestly, in real life, I married a version of Johnny Castle – and he looks really good in a black shirt, and he is the best husband I could have, and he’s an amazing provider and daddy to our kids, but the Johnny Castle model of romance is not the one I’d order up for my daughters. Because even though it is a beautiful notion that love rescues, that love redeems, that love conquers all, love in the real world carries baggage and consequences and most of the time, the world is not very forgiving to the Johnnys and Babys.
Love all you can, but keep the restraints on until you know, until you aren’t 17, and until there is nothing about it you are compelled to hide.