You Say ‘Toledo,’ I Say ‘Libido!’ Two Cuban Lovebirds Tell All

Valentine’s Day is as good a time as any to contemplate the horrible dearth of happy unions in this unromantic, materialistic city of ours. Admit it: Even the depressive, weepy duos in The Hours are more happily conjoined than the average Manhattan couple. On Feb. 14, the majority of Manhattanites are far more likely to take out a hit on their S.O. (significant other) than buy him/her a gift. Don’t eat the chocolates in that heart-shaped box! Strychnine! Ricin!

The disgruntled Georges and Marthas of New York, both gay and straight, will doubtless spend a chuckle-free Valentine’s Day bitching and raging their way through a litany of spousal disappointments to anyone who will listen, especially their psychotherapists. He’s not there for me! She’s a controlling see-you-next-Tuesday! Too overbearing! Too underbearing!

This ubiquitous finger-throwing, eye-rolling and sighing is causing many young hopefuls to shy away from love and commitment, and embark upon a life of Goodbar-esque promiscuity. It’s hardly surprising that, as reported in the Jan. 31 New York Post , “SYPHILIS IS BACK!”

What gives? Are Manhattanites simply too cool and edgy to dote on each other? Is it just too corny, or too 1950’s, to tingle with delight over another human being?

Certainly not for me and my adorable Jonny. After eight years together, we are happy, giggly lovebirds and only miserable when we’re separated and can’t do pedicures together (preferred salon: Iris Nail at Broadway and 10th Street). I’m not exactly sure why it works, but it does.

The only couple of my acquaintance who enjoy a similar Hallmark togetherness are the talented Toledos, frock designer Isabel and illustrator Ruben. Figuring that Latinos are all experts on romantic stuff, I sat them down in our over-decorated Ninth Street aerie and probed them for insights into what it takes to have a blissful relationship.

These two Cuban émigrés-she came in 1968, at age 8; he preceded her in ’67, at age 5-were teen sweethearts. When the gorgeously stylish Isabel walked into 13-year-old Ruben’s high-school Spanish class, he was totally smitten. “I knew she was going to be my wife,” recalled the John Leguizamo–ish, snappily dressed Mr. Toledo, without a shred of irony. “It was very Cyrano de Bergerac …. Isabel ignored me because I was too young and spotty. She started dating my brother, who was a big jock, because she liked his sensitive artwork, which I was secretly doing for him.” Eventually Ruben revealed himself to be the creator of the enthralling sketches and gouaches. By 1980, they were dating; by 1984, they married three times in one month: once in a Catholic church, then at the local town hall, and once more during a family reception in a suburban West New York, New Jersey house.

As I grilled these chicly petite, jet-black-haired former Communists, telling idiosyncrasies emergedwhich shed light on their deliriously happy union. “I go to the supermarket, and Isabel cooks whatever I bring back,” Mr. Toledo said. “It’s a hunting-and-gathering Cuban tradition.” He eschews the use of an unmanly cart or basket and carries his purchases to the checkout counter in his pockets and teeth.

As with me and my Jonny, the Toledos are insanely embroiled in each other’s work. I asked Isabel if this shared creativity is the secret of their continuing joy. “Yes, we work together creatively,” said Ms. Toledo, whose impeccably designed garments are available at Barneys, “but my parents weren’t creative and they were just like us. They knew how to dance together, if you know what I mean.”

Realizing that I had reached the crux of the matter, I pressed further, and Mr. Toledo responded: “It’s about merging. I could become Isabel overnight and she could become me.” His wife concurred, tempestuously stroking her waist-length mane of hair. “Happy couples grow together,” she said, “like vines with knotty bits.” But what about your individuality? “You have to melt ,” replied Mr. Toledo, whose stupendously beautiful artwork can be seen all over this season’s Nordstrom fashion ads. “You can’t worry about your individuality.”

Et voilà ! Manhattanites with their insane focus on me! me! me! are doomed to an unmerged, conflicted isolation. It’s not their fault: The prevailing developmental notions of the second half of the 20th century encouraged people to move as far away from their parents as possible and embrace the treacherous cult of “independence” and the even sillier concept of physical and psychological Personal Space. The result? Many people in New York are unable to even yield to a date, never mind fall in love. Those of you who do make the scary leap into marriage spend the rest of your lives resisting the tendency to merge while defending your tragically precious “space” with any means available.

Want some advice on how to have a happy Valentine’s Day this year? Start by throwing your sense of self, along with your Virginia Woolf–ian misery, out the window. Surrender it now!

Re making whoopee: How to keep the flame of lust alive? The Toledos do not recommend scheduled sex dates. “I like to be taken by surprise,” says Isabel with bemused, unblinking Kahlo-esque eyes. “Sometimes we get home from a party and wooooo ! And after I think, ‘Where did that come from?'”

Happy Val!

You Say ‘Toledo,’ I Say ‘Libido!’ Two Cuban Lovebirds Tell All