The Ricardo/Mertz Syndrome

One Monday morning a friend asked me what my husband and I did over the weekend. I told her, “My best friend hates my husband, her husband hates me and I’m not too crazy about him. We all went to a Bill Joel concert Saturday night. Everyone likes Billy.” She looked stunned. I shrugged. She’s single.

She spends each weekend trying to meet Mr. Right to spend her life with. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it’s even harder to find Mr. and Mrs. Right to see a movie with. Soon after she becomes a couple, finding couple friends will be her new mission. She’ll see that on a boring weekend we all lower our standards, just like dating. A body to split the Caesar’s salad will do.

Being a newcomer to the couple world, she’ll set her sights high. And why wouldn’t she? Like all of us, she suffers from the Ricardo/Mertz Syndrome. After years of watching, I Love Lucy, Lucy/Ricky and Fred and Ethel are our role models for couple friends. The episode where they all drive to California together convinced my husband and me that we could go on a vacation for more than two days with another couple and actually come home still speaking to them.

Even when I was a twelve-year-old and I hadn’t gone on my first date yet, I knew I wanted my future husband and I to have adventures with the Mertz’s. (Everyone takes the part of the Ricardo’s for themselves because Lucy and Ricky are younger and not dumpy) Today, we know the Ricardo’s and the Mertz’s had a real bad case of co-dependency, but nobody really cares. Everyone wants a Fred and Ethel to go to California with.

When I was growing up and my parents were still a couple, they had a million couple friends. Knowing my parents as I did, I could never understand why anyone who didn’t have to would actually choose to spend time with them. It seems I was just a stupid kid with no experience in anything, much less ‘couple dynamics.’

How could I know that couples continue to go out to dinner for years just so the women would have someone to show off their new outfits to? When a kid hasn’t reached double digits it’s beyond them to comprehend nostalgia or the ‘good old days’ before Steve was a pompous lawyer and his wife Janet only cared about two things: that their son Jeffrey got a perfect score on his SAT’s and their daughter Allison plays the flute “to die for.”

Back in the 1950’s Sylvia and Victor and Helene and Marv would come over to our house to play cards with my parents. They’d play canasta or whatever and talk about whichever couple wasn’t there. Apparently, if you didn’t show up for the Saturday night game, you were the game.

I’d sit up in my bed straining to hear. As it got closer to mid-night their alcohol level peaked and the gossip got better. They got real loud too which was good because I didn’t have to keep sitting up to hear. I was tired at that hour. When you’re eight and your bedtime is nine midnight is like three o’clock in the morning.

Most of what I heard I didn’t understand, like decimals. I did instinctively know though, that their behavior would not be approved of by ‘Do-Bee’ on Romper Room. So, was I influenced by witnessing this backstabbing by couple friends who couldn’t hold their tongues, their liquor or their plastic Kem cards; cards that seemed to slip through their fingers and scatter on the linoleum floor no matter who was shuffling? Who knows?

I do know that TV was my biggest influence. Besides I Love Lucy I watched other shows that showed couples always together. I tried to figure out what the couple friendship ‘formula’ was. What did they all have in common? I scrutinized Ralph and Alice, Norton and Trixie and their cartoon counterparts, Fred and Wilma, and Betty and Barney.

I finally found the common denominator. They were all NEIGHBORS! The Kamden’s simply opened a window and yelled, “Come down here, Norton!” The Flintstones (originally titled The Flagstones…a little trivia) and the Rubbles were only a cave away. The Ricardo’s apartment was in the Mertz’s building.

Naturally, I grew up to believe that to be really close with another couple you had to live within walking distance. As years went by, I noticed with all this TV research my social life was suffering so I finally turned off my TV set long enough to get dressed, get out and meet my future husband and become a couple.

Before long, we were ready to try out couple friends. When we got our first apartment, I insisted we live in one of those giant apartment house complexes, so we’d have more couples to choose from.

Eventually, we found Connie and Charlie and Janet and Steve.  They weren’t perfect, but we did all live on the same block. My proximity theory sort of worked except for one thing. Connie and Charlie couldn’t stand Janet and Steve.

I watched re-runs for guidance. The truth hit me hard. There were no episodes where Lucy and Ricky had to deal with Fred and Ethel’s other friends. That’s because they had no other friends. Neither did Lucy and Ricky. They only had each other. It just goes to show you. You can’t learn everything from I Love Lucy.





4 Responses

  1. Sharon says:

    Funny and true !

  2. Carol says:

    I think the reason why everyone wanted to be Lucy was because in real life, Ricky was eight years younger than her, making her a cougar. Meanwhile, Ethel, who was the same age as Lucy, was married to Fred who was more than 20 years older—making Ethel a very smart woman because Fred owned the building!

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