Although it ranks 13th on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movie Quotes, I always thought “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is one of the dumbest things I ever heard.
But I’m changing my tune.
The line is from the 1970 movie “Love Story.”
Written by Erich Segal as a screenplay, “Love Story” was released in book form the same year as the film and became the top selling work of fiction in 1970. The book spent 41 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. The movie is No. 9 on AFI’s list of Top 100 Romantic Films of All Time, just two behind Dr. Zhivago.
But that quote.
It seems to me “I’m sorry” are two of the most important words you can say to someone you love. And I still believe that. If you’re sorry, say you’re sorry.
But I read something the other day that’s caused me to see that “Love Story” quotation in a different light.
Theodore Finch, a young, misunderstood character in the book “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven — a book given to me by one of my students — tells his would-be girlfriend, a troubled classmate named Violet: “You have to live your life like you’ll never be sorry.”
It’s pretty simple, he tells her. Just never do anything you think you will be sorry for later.
To me this sounds anything but simple. Do the right thing all the time? Never trip up? Always strive to be on the high road?
Who can live up to such a standard?
Well, someone who loves, that’s who.
Which brings to mind another movie, “As Good As It Gets,” for which Jack Nicholson won the Academy Award for best actor and Helen Hunt best actress in 1997.
Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a misanthropic, germaphobic old bachelor who doesn’t know the first thing about being nice to anyone, let alone the single mom waitress Carol (Helen Hunt) for whom he is developing feelings. When he invites her out for dinner and is told the restaurant won’t seat him without a suit jacket, he cringes at the sight of the one they offer him. A jacket previously worn by countless others? They must be kidding. So he leaves Carol standing there while he dashes to a men’s store and buys a brand new one.
“Do you believe this place?” he asks her when he returns. “They let you in here in that house dress but they make me put on a jacket.”
It never occurs to him she’s wearing the best dress she owns.
“You better pay me a compliment right now or I’m leaving,” Carol says.
After some thought, followed by a long, drawn-out explanation, Melvin finally tells her, “You make me want to be a better man.”
To which Carol responds, “I think that’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever received.”
In a way it’s the nicest thing anyone can say to anyone. And perhaps the surest way to know you are in love.
My son once asked me how you know if a girl is “the one.” I wish I had said, “If she makes you want to be a better man.”
Because that’s what love does.
And ... follow this ... when we are better people, we won’t do anything we will be sorry for later.
And if we won’t do anything we are sorry for later, we won’t ever have to say we are sorry.
And therefore ... maybe love really does mean never having to say you’re sorry.
How about that? After 47 years, the line finally makes some sense.
“You make me want to be a better man,” by the way, did not make the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movie Quotes.
In case you are curious, number one on that list is, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Now, there’s something to be sorry about.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com