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Vermont couple Leon Marasco and Kate Harper were friends for 17 years before they became romantically involved.
Because of that friendship, they knew all about each other’s former partners and felt that that knowledge deepened the bond between them.
Harper and Marasco wondered if other couples had had similar experiences.
After doing interviews and collecting hundreds of stories, they found the answer seems to be yes.
They share their findings in their books, “If Only I Could Tell You…: Where Past Loves and Current Intimacy Meet” and “Heartscapes: True Stories of Remembered Love.”
As Marasco tells Here & Now, if true intimacy is based on knowing and being known by your partner, “and we keep the part of ourself secret — consciously or unconsciously — that is involved with our deepest heart and soul connections, we can’t be very well-known.”
As a result, Marasco and Harper have founded “Past Loves Day” — a day for those to share their romantic memories. They say it should be celebrated on September 17th.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
We're guessing you missed it, but September 17 was Past Loves Day. I know you might be wondering, is this a day of celebration or mourning? Well, it could be both. And its creators hope whichever it is, you participate in the day with your current love.
Vermonter Leon Marasco is trained in counseling. He and his wife, Kate Harper, are the co-founders of Past Loves Day. They say past relationships color present ones without people even knowing it, and sharing details can deepen the bond in the current relationship. They've interviewed dozens of people, collected hundreds of stories, some of which they share in two books: "Heartscapes: True Stories of Remembered Love," and "If Only I Could Tell You...: Where Past Loves and Current Intimacy Meet." And Kate Harper and Leon Marasco join us from Vermont Public Radio. Welcome to you both.
KATE HARPER: Thank you.
LEON MARASCO: Thank you, Robin.
HARPER: Hi. Great to be here.
YOUNG: Well, this is an idea that we know came to you through your own relationship?
MARASCO: Well, it came out of the fact that we'd known each other for 17 years before we got together as partners. And we had been really close friends, and so we knew each other's current love story in those 17 years. And we also knew that we wanted to stay connected with those people. And so we just kept kind of, you know, working at it. And then one day we asked the question, gee, we wondered what other people would do with this information. So we decided to ask, and that's where the first book came from.
YOUNG: Well, but you, as you just said, had 17 years to sort of know each other in a different way and get used to that idea. I'm betting most people think that it's terrifying, that...
YOUNG: ...it'll be threatening and that it's far easier for couples to complain about a past love.
YOUNG: Right? Than to express that, you know, I had powerful feelings. Talk about that.
MARASCO: First of all, the question becomes what you get for this. If a reasonable definition of intimacy is knowing and being known, and we keep the part of ourself secret - consciously or unconsciously - that is involved with our deepest heart and soul connections, we can't be very well known. And so what we found is that the more we were able to share at deep levels, the deeper our own personal intimacy got.
HARPER: I think most people really are frightened of either comparisons being made or jealousies arising. There, you know, it can be a minefield.
YOUNG: Well, so Kate, actually, help us with this. You're saying someone shouldn't say, gee, I just heard people on HERE AND NOW say I should tell you that I'm still in love with my high school sweetheart.
YOUNG: You don't phone home and say that.
HARPER: Not a good idea.
YOUNG: So Kate, how do you even start this conversation?
HARPER: I think, first, you don't start it as your first step. You start with looking into your own heart and what your reasons are for wanting to share anything about a past love. And I think you have to be careful that you're not going to misuse it in some way, that it's not coming from a, you know, a place of unresolved anger between you and your partner or, you know, some other place where the results might not be that positive.
And then I think you have to start with baby steps. If you haven't shared much at all, or minimally, I think you just have to start and just say, you know, I've been thinking about this or this is something that's important to me and I would like you to know it. But is that something that you'd be open to?
YOUNG: Well, the stories are incredible. You speak to a man who remembers 60 years later a beautiful woman who took him to the opera, which he hated. She broke his heart by, you know, rejecting him, and he still cries 60 years later whenever he hears Franck's "D Minor Symphony." How awful if he can't share that with someone without threatening that person.
HARPER: Exactly. What a loss it is if something that is so close to your heart cannot be shared with another who is close to your heart.
MARASCO: And then think about what - how much - well, how much more that person knows who you are. I mean we open the book with a story about ourselves. We're in a restaurant. A song starts playing on the jukebox, and it turns out that I recognized it. It's a song that Kate's past love used to sing to her. And I knew immediately what was going to happen, and she started to cry. Well, I could just reach over and hold her hand, because I knew what was going on. There was a very intimate moment for us there, which could never have happened if we hadn't shared.
HARPER: Yeah, and this was very early, after we got married. But we had done a lot of sharing about past loves, and I had happened to tell Leon, you know, this story. And I'm so glad I did because then I didn't have to worry about what I might be showing.
YOUNG: And it strikes me too that if Leon had A) just thought what's wrong with her, you're building a distance there, or B) gotten angry because he knew what was going on and he felt not included in that moment, then you're not included in that moment. You are removing yourself from that moment, where in fact you went the other way and it became your moment.
MARASCO: That's exactly it. That's where the increased intimacy comes from having done that.
YOUNG: Well, you do talk to one man who - the love of his life was Christine. She's long gone, but not out of his heart. There's no room for anyone else in it. And after a long line of questioning, he kind of reveals that, well, actually, it's so tender, this feeling that he has for this old love, that he resents anyone else being a part of that. I mean this is another part of recognizing old loves. In holding on to that, he's not going to have anybody.
MARASCO: I think you'll remember also that he short-circuited when he started talking about that. He actually came unglued and he couldn't talk anymore. And we ended the interview because we were in a strange place to be doing the interview. We were in a retail store that he was taking care of, and the phone rang and he had to answer the phone. But we picked up the conversation afterwards and he began to understand what was going on, that he was really experiencing this total fear of going to that place of deep intimacy because it's so scary.
YOUNG: We've been talking mostly about people who are holding on to past loves. There's also David Galassy(ph) in your book. He writes a beautiful piece about feeling, decades later, that he was the one that let a high school friend down. And, you know, here he is. He says I only kissed her once, I think. I think I held her hand. So why after 30-some years do I feel so damn bad for what he did to her. Past loves can have different kinds of grips on you.
HARPER: Oh, absolutely. A feeling of wanting to apologize, wanting to say thank you. Some people just feel, later in life, with a different perspective, oh gosh, now I realize what you gave me when I was, you know, at an earlier point in my life, and I wish I could thank you. And some people actually do. But then other people like David say, I wish I could tell this person how sorry I am.
YOUNG: That is why you recommend that everyone start getting ready now for next September 17.
HARPER: Well, yeah. I mean, and it isn't that we think that everybody ought to tell about every past love or even the significant ones. But we think that it's really important for each individual within themselves to at least acknowledge I had this relationship, this is what it means in my life, and I know that this person is in some ways still a part of me. And whether it worked out, you know, just drifting apart or ended really badly, that person still meant something to me and still has a little piece of my heart in the sense that we loved each other once, and that matters.
YOUNG: Kate Harper and Leon Marasco, editors of the books "Heartscapes: True Stories of Remembered Love" and "If Only I Could Tell You...: Where Past Loves and Current Intimacy Meet," and founders of Past Loves Day. Thanks so much for talking to us.
HARPER: Oh, thank you.
MARASCO: Our pleasure, Robin. Thank you.
HARPER: Thank you so much, Robin. Yes, our pleasure.
YOUNG: And yes, this is Cesar Franck's "D Minor Symphony." So as we just heard, somewhere, somewhere in this country, someone is mourning a past love. And Jeremy, in the spirit of our guests, here goes: If you are that young man who led a bunch of 13-year-old Dutch Reformed kids from Long Island to a retreat in Holland, Michigan and gave one of them her first kiss in the luggage rack of the bus - note to parents, beware religious retreat bus trips - you mattered. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.