How Is That Love

Recently, my husband and I were talking about aspects of love. What does it actually mean when we say we love someone?

Or more precisely, what does the word not mean. In our conversation, I  referred to the brief marriage of Joe DiMaggio, the great American baseball hero and Marilyn Monroe as an example of what love is not. Why them, you may ask? And how do I know this?

In my soon-to-be-published memoir Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe I talk about my marriage to Marilyn Monroe’s step-son, Joe DiMaggio Jr. I talk about what I learned about Marilyn and Joe from conversations with Joe Jr., and from what has been widely reported over the years about their infamous relationship.

Numerous authors have written books about Joltin Joe’s undying love for Marilyn. It has been said that she was his greatest love. I would guess he would agree, if he were here. But I would argue that while he may have had many feelings for her, love  of her was not one of them. There was little about how he treated her during their brief marriage that indicated love. Possession, Yes. Control, Yes. Rage, Yes. Threats and ultimatums, Yes. Appropriation absolutely! Appropriate as in the verb, “to lay claim to for oneself or one’s right.” Aaaaah, Appropriation.

What did Joe D get out of the deal? Sexy, beautiful, and in demand, Marilyn was the fastest rising star of her time. Men practically fell at her feet with lust and intrigue.

According to Richard Ben Cramer who wrote Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life: “Joe and Marilyn had one thing big in common. In fact, they may have been the only two people in the country, at that moment, who could understand each other. Because both were living inside the vast personages that the hero machine had created for them. And inside those personages ─ those enormous idols for the nation ─ these two, Marilyn and Joe, were only small and struggling, fearful to be seen. And alone ─ always. They were like kids left in a giant house, and they must not be discovered. Or it would all come crashing down. In their loneliness they might have been brother and sister. Joe’s insistence made them husband and wife.”

There was nothing in it for her except the illusion of safety and the hope of being truly loved (her part of the symbiotic relationship), the illusion of safety implied in his strong, quite shy, 6’2″ character. His all-American hero persona was loved and respected by the public.

Public knowledge states that Joe wanted her to give up making movies, the entire Marilyn Monroe public image which included her walk, whispery voice, glamour and all things Marilyn that elicited excitement from men.

Give up everything, she ever wanted, which was to be a STAR. Her one and only dream! Her Dream. She was supposed to choose: Your deepest desire to be a star or become Mrs. Joe DiMaggio, you can’t have both. How is that love?

Dr. David Celani, author of, The Illusion of Love, says the only way one can feel comfortable in the relationship is when their partner’s position, opinions, and behaviors are in perfect compliance with their own. There is little tolerance for partners to form independent ideas, feelings and choices that are dissimilar. This is what therapists refer to as a “symbiotic relationship”. Absent is the differentiation (tolerance) for one’s partner to have different ideas, beliefs, and feelings. This is not love, yet common in relationships where one or both partners have low self-esteem or little sense of self. Differences can feel quite threatening when one partner has very different ideas.

When partners manipulate the relationship so they feel more comfortable with differences and the other partner complies, this becomes a relationship of control that only serves the partner with the most dominance in the relationship at the moment. The connection is doomed to fail once one person grows emotionally or flees the relationship, whichever comes first. There can be no genuine relationship without differentiation (the ability to tolerate differences).

Years ago I was determined to become a certified scuba diver. This scared the heck out of my husband, primarily because I couldn’t swim. Oh, I could float pretty well but I couldn’t do the─ turn your head, catch a breath and blow it out under water ─ thing. Rather than putting his fears on me, my husband decided to become certified with me even though he hates water. It was his way of trying to protect me. The point is, he did not try and impose his fears and opinions about the insanity of my choice.

In turn, many years later, he decided to get a pilot’s license which scared the begebees out of me. With great effort I remained quiet  because this was his choice, his desire, him fulfilling his life, becoming his best self, not accommodating my fears.

I believe genuine love is about assisting your partner in their endeavors to reach their dreams, to become all that they can be in every aspect of their lives without imposing a thousand forms of control in order to arrest our own fears.

Do we need to take into consideration finances, stages of life in terms of raising children, etc? Absolutely, we must consider these things. But it seems to be in Joe and Marilyn’s situation none of these factors were involved. It appeared to be solely about control and self interest of the, “if you loved me you would…” variety.  And in my book, I reflect upon how this kind of unbalanced connection unwittingly offered up a role model for relationships, only to end in tragedy. Neither I nor Joe’s son, Joey, ever had a balanced sense of what a true relationship meant.

How well do you tolerate differences in your relationship?

What were the relationship models in your life?


This blog is a reprint of the same post I wrote for

Photo from:  Wikimedia Commons: Photographer Unknown 1955

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  1. Ron Kelley says:

    You really explained this subject well. You also explained the DiMaggio/Monroe situation in a way that many of us never realized. Good job.


    • Hi Ron,

      Good to hear from you. Glad you liked the article. Relationships can be quite daunting when working out everyones wants and needs.

      Kind regards, dawn

  2. Bonnie Southard says:

    My Dearest Dawn,
    I have always known you’ve had something to say, something to give people and the largest heart of most everyone I have made contact with in my short life on this planet. This is brillant and very insiteful, but then I expected no less from you. I will continue to follow your genius and revel in the fact that I knew you when we all began. Love to you and that wonderful husband of yours.

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