Love hurts, especially in Philadelphia

    Is Philadelphia still the “City that Loves You Back,” or did Ed Rendell deem that too wussy? Remember when the city’s ad slogan was “Philadelphia Isn’t as Bad as Philadelphians Say It Is”? People hated it, but it was true to the dry humor and ironic sensibility that prevails here.

    Even in love, Philadelphians do not puddle up with sentiment, preferring left-handed compliments to sweet nothings. We are not sappy. But things can still get out of control when emotions run high. Remember last fall, when a couple of incompatible wedding receptions crossed paths? Things ran amok in an Old City hotel lobby, and soon images of a well-dressed scrum were being downloaded everywhere.

    Philadelphia: The City that Hits You Back

    It could have happened anywhere. Really. Haven’t we all witnessed an overheated Hokey Pokey that almost became a brawl? Weddings are powder kegs composed of equal parts anxiety and expense, shot through with old grudges, stored under increasing pressure as the day approaches, and then doused in alcohol.

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    So when flinty gazes flash across the receiving line, pointy elbows jab on the dance floor, unfortunate words are overheard in a hushed sanctuary, it is only a matter of time. Soon junior bridesmaids are wrestling in the photo booth, angry in-laws are piled up near the bandstand, and cummerbunds are sailing over the dessert table. Frankly, it’s a wonder more nuptials don’t self-destruct. But with our usual civic luck, it happened here.

    Philadelphia: The City Where They Held a Wedding and a Fight Broke Out.

    Overcoming the stereotype

    Web visuals certainly helped, but the reason Philadelphia will be remembered for the Battle of the Banns is that it aligns perfectly with the old stereotype that says this is a dull-witted backwater of aggressive malcontents who speak in a monosyllabic nasal twang, fling snowballs at Santa, and boo everybody else.

    That massively inaccurate image had almost been obliterated, overcome by diligent marketing. Awareness had grown of Philadelphia’s bounty of breathtaking art, astonishing music, mesmerizing theater, glorious architecture, delectable food, inspiring museums, delightful streets, and unmatched history.

    Even the most dubious local characteristic, our utter inability to sugar-coat anything, had gained a certain admiration. The ridiculous stereotype was evaporating. Then fists started flying faster than bridal bouquets.

    Philadelphia: The City That Doesn’t Pull A Punch. Ever.

    So now what should be done? Apologize? Pretend it never happened? Make excuses? No.

    Accept this unfortunate incident as an opportunity to admit who we are. This is the City of Brotherly Love and home to Rocky. It is the City that Loves You Back, and where Joe Frazier lived.

    Philadelphia: The City of Tough Love.

    A fine romance

    It is perfect. Honest, yet not off-putting. And it has potential. Instead of a wedding destination, Philadelphia could be the world’s first marriage destination. Let tropical islands host the starry-eyed and dreamy swooners, we will attract clear-visioned and post-romantic lovers.

    Instead of a single sparkling day that quickly shrivels under the pressure of bills and weird in-laws, Philadelphia will celebrate marriage in all of its ardor and loathing, joy and heartache. Here, couples will begin their lives together in the knowledge that difficulties are unavoidable and arguments inevitable, but a good marriage is a shield of solace and surety. It survives. It withstands testing, deepening and evolving.

    Tough love thrives in adversity — and where better to present that message than the place that has had a love-hate relationship with itself for three centuries?

    As the City of Tough Love, Philadelphia brims with visuals preferable to an agitated knot of taffeta and tuxedos with Penn’s Landing in the background. Recall that the crisp, blocky letters of the LOVE sculpture are just a quick jog down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the statue of Rocky. The building that was Joe Frazier’s gym still stands on North Broad Street. Too urban? There is a more bucolic alternative: Hold the ceremony in Valley Forge and honeymoon in Gettysburg. Love is a battlefield, after all, and the City of Tough Love can help fiancées of all tastes fight the good fight.

    Whether a military battle, title fight, or successful marriage, preparation is key. Here again, Philadelphia is well equipped to provide premarital guidance: Tough Love Boot Camp. Engaged couples can hone marital survival skills in the real world of work, household chores, financial responsibility, and child care. They would be placed in row homes between worst-case neighbors who shovel snow on them and their pavement, refuse to tie up trash, and hold noisy all-night gatherings.

    If athletically inclined, fiancées can pace one another along Rocky’s old route or develop coordination as they scull on the Schuylkill. Those opting for the advanced Boot Camp would shoulder the added challenge of driving and parking two SUVs in South Philadelphia for the duration of their training.

    By declaring itself the City of Tough Love, Philadelphia winks at the old stereotype. We demonstrate that people here are quite civilized, usually polite, and able to take a joke. Sure we’re opinionated; it’s part of our charm.

    Like democracy and marriage, Philadelphia isn’t always easy or pretty. It takes a little effort to appreciate, but it’s worth the trouble. So let’s stop handing ammunition to our detractors and reinvent this city. We can do this, Philadelphia. Welcome to the City of Tough Love.

    Pamela J. Forsythe is a writer and communications consultant in Philadelphia.

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