It Came From the 80s: Dirty Dancing (1987)

May 17, 2011

Dirty Dancing posterby Sheri White

In the Summer of 1987, Mitch and I had been married less than a year.  We had gotten married in September 1986, and in December, he was sent on TDY to North Carolina.  Since there weren’t any jobs for me there, and the Marine Corps’ motto was “If we wanted you to have a wife, we would’ve issued you one,” I stayed behind in our apartment.

We’d take turns visiting each other on the weekends, but then in April of 1987 he was sent to Okinawa for six months.  Talk about a death knell on the relationship!  But although I missed Mitch at first, I did settle into a sort of single life for that summer.  I never cheated, but I had fun going out partying with my friends, visiting my dad in Texas and going to the beach as often as possible.

Then Dirty Dancing came out, and I became obsessed with it.  I developed the biggest crush on Patrick Swayze.  Like a teenager, I bought a poster of “Johnny Castle” and put it up on my cubicle wall at work.  I played the soundtrack over and over.  I actually went to see the movie several times in the theater, usually with my friend Kathleen, who was just as obsessed.  We could talk about the movie for hours, especially after a few margaritas.  I know we drove everyone around us completely crazy.

Nobody puts Baby in a corner!

Nobody puts Baby in a corner!

It sounds silly and clichéd, but Dirty Dancing got me through that summer and fall as a “single woman” and gave me a completely new perspective on my marriage.  I knew I wasn’t really happy in the marriage, and had gone through with it because my mom was so determined to throw a big wedding and took out a loan for it.

I felt trapped, so I got married.  I have to admit, it was a beautiful ceremony and a really fun reception.  But it wasn’t worth it.  I knew at some point I wanted to get a divorce, but how long was I supposed to wait so my mom wouldn’t blow a gasket about the money she spent?

Trapped, I tell you.

But after watching Dirty Dancing for about the tenth time, I realized that I wanted something better than I had.  Johnny and Baby were truly in love, and you could see the sparks flying.  I wanted that.  I was only 21, and guys seemed to find me attractive, and I wanted to be out there meeting them and hopefully someday finding the guy I’d really want to spend my life with.

You know you practiced this in the pool!

You know you practiced this in the pool!

I did go visit Mitch in Japan, and I was glad to see him and spend time with him.  I hadn’t yet decided to end things, and I’d been lonely in the apartment by myself, so we had a good time.  And then he returned to North Carolina in October, and I thought maybe that would be the time to talk about our relationship – until he proudly displayed his new tattoo with my name on it and that he got it because he knew we’d be together forever.


I was still listening to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and going to see it whenever I could, even though the showings were tapering off.  I desperately wanted to be free, but wasn’t sure what to do.  We began to fight when we were together on the weekends.  I felt horrible; he had no clue how miserable I was and he would always try to cheer me up, but instead his efforts would just get on my nerves.

In March of 1988, Mitch received his Honorable Discharge from the Marines, and we were going to truly start married life.  I was a mess.  I was so used to living alone, doing my own thing and going my own way.  I wasn’t ready to be a real married woman, especially now that I was 22.  Hey, I wasn’t getting any younger.

I finally decided to tell Mitch everything I had been feeling and that I wanted a divorce before he left North Carolina, which would give him a chance to re-enlist if he wanted to stay there.  But then my plans were thwarted in a big way – I got a positive pregnancy test.

My dream of finding my own Johnny Castle was going to have to wait a lot longer…

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