“I can’t imagine you with someone who doesn’t watch movies.”
I was describing an ex to a friend, who responded with surprise. My initial reaction was to disagree, but looking into his eyes I realized there’s at least some truth in that outrageous statement. I was in his city for a grad school interview. Really, I shouldn’t have ignored all my responsibilities and flown all the way out just for a 15-minute interview. I wanted to, at least partially for him.
A month prior we spent three weeks on location shooting my thesis film. He was my cinematographer. As a terribly indecisive director who works in the experimental realm, I’ve always shot my own films, fearing how hard it might be for others to work with me, and me with others.
Those three weeks turned out to be magical. I never thought I could communicate my vision so clearly and smoothly with someone else, and when I struggled to make a choice, his input was always helpful. I felt seen, understood and better still, supported. What more could you ask for in a relationship?
Needless to say, I fell in love. I do use the phrase “in love” very loosely, though – my close friends would often ask me to clarify if I mean “in love in love” or just “Ruby’s kind of in love.” In the weeks immediately following the shoot, I had to answer that question many times as I caught up with friends. Eventually I began to wonder, too. Was it just a surprisingly good artistic collaboration? A crush? Or something I can’t quite define yet?
I do believe there’s something special about artist couples. During the past awards season nothing made me happier than this joint profile of Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach titled “The First Couple of Film.” The way the writer sketches out their mannerisms and complementary personalities made me smile like a fool in the middle of the library. Agnès Varda made The World of Jacques Demy, a loving documentary tinged with nostalgia for her late husband, which brought me to tears despite its cheerful tone typical of Varda films. And this wall text at a David Wojnarowicz retrospective about his relationship with Peter Hujar that I hurriedly scribbled down, “They were briefly lovers, but the relationship soon transitioned and intensified into a friendship that defied categorization. The two, as the works in this gallery demonstrate, frequently made artworks using the other as subject … After Hujar’s death, Wojnarowicz would claim him as ‘my brother, my father, my emotional link to the world.’”
“My emotional link to the world,” — how could one ever become so indispensable to another’s existence? And there are so many more: Jean-Luc Godard’s best films always featured Anna Karina, same with Hong Sang-soo and Kim Min-hee (On the Beach At Night Alone, Hotel by the River). My favorite couple graduated film school two years ago and have moved to the West coast together, their new films consistent with but even better than their individual work. I joked that they could become the next Straub-Huillet, which they gladly accepted. Oh, and did you know that Lulu Wang (The Farewell) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) are dating? Even Walter Benjamin wrote with his lover Asja Lacis. To be honest, I’ve been with my fair share of artists too, not only in my own discipline, but anyone with an artistic impulse that vibrates with mine.
I was on my therapist’s couch ranting about all this when she asked, “But what exactly about it? It can’t be all about aesthetics.” I paused for a minute before hesitantly answering, “Uh, the promise of mutual understanding?” She laughed, “I’m not with another therapist.” “No I don’t think it’s about having the same profession, it’s more about having the same … sensibility? Taste? But the artist type tends to be more expressive about their sensibilities? Does that make sense?”
She just sipped her tea, and gave me the tired advice of “maintaining neutrality” when I asked if I should move to his city after graduation (I was half joking! Don’t worry). Before I headed out she threw me a final question that I still don’t have the answer to — “but will you be happy in that city by yourself?”
I hate that I totally sound like a desperate middle-schooler right now. At the end of the day, don’t we all just want to be loved? By someone who shares the same sensibility or life goals or taste in fucking cream cheese — I don’t know. And to love, of course. It goes both ways. And don’t buy into my romanticized depiction of artist couples either, it’s probably smarter to opt for a reliable dentist instead.
Ruby Que is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Escape runs alternate Fridays this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.