Thursday night, 9pm.
I sit in my chair, pull up Spotify, and hit play. It’s not what I was expecting.
“Secret Lovers” by 80’s R&B group Atlantic Starr comes on. Yeah, not the song I had in mind but it also works perfectly. I listen to it six more times just to make sure that I hear it correctly. Love sucks. Got it, that’s the lesson I get from the song. Well I mean if you are the others to these two cheating birds that is.
Yeah, let’s talk about love. What it means and how we display what the heart wants because after all, the heart wants what the heart wants. For so many love does suck, it is an emotion that eats at us and leads to heartbreak. But it is also an emotion that we chase our whole lives with the hope that we at least taste its sweet taste at least once.
I recently went to San Francisco and got to visit The Golden Gate Bridge and while this story is not about that visit, it inspired it. On the north end of the bridge in Sausalito sits what was Fort Baker. The remains of the fort face the bridge and you can visit it as I did one foggy morning. It features a steep hillside with a chainlink fence that has hundreds of padlocks on it with names written all over them. I took pictures and looked around and started to think about what these locks meant to those who placed them. Was it young love or love that ended far too soon? Did two lovers make a pledge to always be true as they attached them or were the locks placed as a symbol of a love that never ended even if one partner is now gone? After I got home the questions in my mind grew and so I did some digging on the matter.
Our love will last forever, well at least till someone gets the bolt cutters. It’s such a weird thing but I had never really put much thought into why we do something like put a lock somewhere as a symbol for the love of someone. I had seen them on bridges like the Brooklyn Bridge and on fences before. But the important question of why had gone unasked in my mind. They gotta be unsafe right? I knew that they were not legal on the Brooklyn Bridge but that didn’t stop people from attaching them to the bridge. So is this romantic idea as meaningful as it seems?
First, we start with the why. And a romantic gesture like this of course started in Europe. I can’t imagine something like that to have kicked off in the U.S., we just are not made to be this thoughtful. So pull open a bottle of wine, get that violin started and get the handkerchief out because this is a doozy of a story.
The setting is World War 1 in a small town whose name changes every time the story is told. In this unnamed town is a woman named Nada, and the names of the people like that of the town also change but I am going to go with the first one I saw. So Nada is in love with a local officer in the military named Relja. They love each other but Relja is sent to fight in Greece and he does what men always do, find someone else to love. Nada is heartbroken and never recovers and the heartbreak is so bad that she dies from this. Soon the local women start to write the names of loved ones on locks and attach them to the bridge near the spot where Nada and her unfaithful man used to meet. And if you are like me, you are wondering that this is an odd tale because Relja was really a dick, not some romantic guy who was killed in a war never to come back or a lover who somehow spent years to make it back to his one true love. No, he got sent off to war and looked at someone else and forgot about his gal back at home.
So why put names on the locks? Well, the locks would protect the love of the young girl whose man was off fighting. I guess the hope was that the lock would bind them in some black magic spell to keep the man faithful. Now that’s just one of the tales that I saw, but they more or less follow the same kind of sob story.
In the early 2000s, the idea of putting locks started to spread all over the world. The French of course are famous for this kind of romantic gesture. But the locks are done in lots of places and not just on bridges. From Australia to London and lots of countries in between, the locks get attached to all kinds of places.
I visited a display in Philadelphia that had a love lock fence. Found at Penn’s landing at the waterfront promenade, the city put up the fence as a way to encourage people to place the locks for overcoming moments of personal victory, like overcoming cancer. These types of fences are becoming popular as they do not damage property while keeping the symbol of the lock in place.
So what do I think now? Well, it’s strange, I’m not sure if I feel one way or another about them now as I did back overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. The idea behind them is great, but also an empty gesture because after all, love can be fleeting. They are banned in many places in the world and seen as a danger to public safety. But they don’t hold any more weight than giving someone a ring and promising never to part.
I thought that this would be a deeper dive into a much newer tradition but I have run out of words. People cheat, that’s why songs like Secret Lovers are so popular, it’s a sad part of life. I am sure that we have been doing it since the first primates looked into each other’s eyes and decided that sticking together was a good deal. And it hurts. But even if we do have that hurt, we also have that hope. That is what the simple lock provides, hope. Hope that our love will be the one that defies the odds. It seems like it will be a thing that will be around for a while because we want to believe that a lock will keep this fragile thing known as love safe and real.