Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes divorce teaches a lesson in love

Call it romantic idealism or shallow egoism but most women adore PDA.

A beautiful bouquet sent from a lover is nice, but receiving it at work to the oohs and ahhs of others is better, as if to say, ‘Look how she’s adored.’ A quiet candlelit proposal is surely sweet and intimate, but a dazzling display at a city landmark is grand and cinematic. It bespeaks pride. Even the jewelry a man gives a woman is seen less as a statement of his wealth than how he values his love, as if it says, ‘Look how much I think she’s worth.’

So it seemed promising when Tom Cruise lavishly love-jumped on Oprah’s couch declaring his feelings for Katie Holmes. He had no qualms that people would know, that they would judge, that his private affairs should even remain private. He was bursting and besotted.

“Something’s happened to you!” Oprah shouted with a mix of curiosity and amazement. “Something’s happened to you!”

Who was this gushing goof formerly known as Tom Cruise?

“I’m in love,” he proclaimed, throwing his hands in the air.

“I have to say to you,” Oprah added, admitting her befuddlement. “I’ve known you for a a while and you are such an intensely, I mean intensely, intensely! intensely! private person. And then, now you are just out everywhere kissin’ and a huggin’….I thought, ‘What has happened to you???’”

Cruise threw his arms up again in a triumphant pose, gesticulating up and down, falling to his knees, posing like Adonis, banging on the floor and vociferously nodding (which is what I imagine he might do if he ever won an Oscar). More than “in love” he seemed downright possessed.

“We’ve never seen you behave this way before!” an astonished Oprah said, still not quite believing her eyes. “Have you ever felt this way before?”

Again Cruise jumped on the couch, then, oddly, began wrestling Oprah down while she crowed and cackled.

“You are gone,” she told him. “You are gone.”

“I’m gone and I don’t care,” Cruise rejoined.

Five years and a pending divorce later, the stunt seems shallow. What were we to make of such a public outpouring? Simply that they were madly in love, going to marry in a castle and live happily ever after? That we should affectionately call them “TomKat” since we knew them so well? After all, since their courtship began before our very eyes didn’t we have a right to share in the progress of their story?

But all that glutinous display, though exciting and flattering, inciting jealousy among couples who do not so publicly adore one another, was for naught. Extravagant public displays, Tom Cruise has so generously taught, are meaningless. Remember Bennifer (the one-name moniker ascribed to Ben Afflect and JLo)? Their romance delivered fur, cars, the sexy “Jenny From The Block” music video and a $1 million engagement ring. But it too ended, short of all the romantic promise implied by their public struttings.

The disappointing ends of these Hollywood romances will probably not deflect continued public admiration of them. But they do add a dose of disillusionment. Glamorous though they are, adoring fans would do well to remember that real relationships happen in private. Any love story worth its salt depends on a zone of intimacy between two people to which the public, family or friends, have no access. Foisting adulation and attention on the romantic lives of others is a pleasant distraction when we need it, but much of what we imagine is our own elaborate fantasy and not the reality of the people in receipt of our projection.

Of course, real love is hard to hide. It is magical and powerful and beautiful. But it doesn’t need to be stated; it is seen.