An exercise in romance

I fully expect a letter from Jack Vettriano’s lawyer saying something like: “Please remove the shocking illustration of our client, Mr Vettriano, on your blog He does not appreciate the terrible bump on the head.” To which I will reply: “If you buy me a lifetime’s supply of Wispa’s.” If you don’t know what he has to do with romance, Google his paintings.

Romance has been kicking around in my mind for a while now, and it has nothing to do with a relationship I am in — I’m single — or, in fact, anyone else whatsoever. It’s both more simple and more complex than that: a while ago I realised that although I could be romantic, I couldn’t actually define what romance was. Not really — not anymore than the obvious things which instantlysprang to mind, anyway, and romance seemed much bigger and more important to the world than that. As a writer, the notion of being so baffled by something that I couldn’t even begin to put it into words perplexed me. It was not the same as the so-called writer’s block either — which I don’t really believe, but that’s another story — and that was when I realised that I had unknowingly set myself a kind of challenge: write about romance and try and get to the bottom of what it’s all about.

It was a big challenge, but it has to start somewhere, so let us begin here.

Here are a few statements about romance which I think are generally held to be true by much of the world’s population (note: this is only my opinion — you are entitled to yours. This is not a competition):

* Romance is generally considered more feminine than masculine.

* Romantic men are considered inferior by male friends, even if this isn’t directly inferred.

* Being romantic is generally considered synonymous with being weak.

* Being romantic for too long is considered by some to be potentially dangerous.

* Being romantic means you are reliant on another person and thus weaker than if you were independent.

* Romantic people are generally more unlucky in love than un-romantic people who think logically.

Personally, on a deeper level, I think these make no sense whatsoever. If being romantic is considered more feminine than masculine, then how come many hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of men buy flowers for their girlfriends, wives and lovers each and every year, many of whom don’t actually like flowers? Don’t tell me it’s because these men solely believe their partner will appreciate it. I know from experience that buying flowers for someone feels like a wonderful thing to do, no matter what the recipient’s reaction will be; it is the act of giving flowers that holds the raw power — the surprise, the sudden shock value —Β  and not just the pleasure of the receipt of a physical thing which is really quite beautiful. It’s not so much to do with the flowers themselves, as far as I can tell: it’s something much more than their material value (though how much more depends, I think, on the reason you’re buying the flowers…and if you feel your face warming now, then you know better than anyone what that reason is!).

Romance, it baffles me. Just when I think I have a handle on it, something radical happens. Romance twists and bends. It never stays still for long. It’s odd, hard to identify and makes me feel strange. I can be a romantic one morning, but by midnight I’m another man.

I once knew an old jeweller who was the most romantic man in the world. Well, maybe not in the world, but in my world, my experience, my life so far. Every time I met him — his shop was next to the shop I worked in and I’d inherited his friendship from my boss, who’d introduced us — he saw the beauty of life in a way which seemed too surreal to actually be happening; too naive for this modern world, somehow — or that was my by-turns naive conclusion. Standing in his shop, listening to the energy he had for my experiences and things I told him, his eyes would glow with delight and enthusiam for life events which had nothing to do with him. Things which couldn’t really have been that important. It was almost as if he had some supernatural power to perceive what I was feeling. To feel and re-live precisely what I had felt. It was nothing to do with femininity, and it wasn’t always about his wife either (he did love his wife). To be honest, half the bloody time I had absolutely no idea what the hell it was about. I often walked out of the shop feeling both bemused and exhilarated.

It was a bit scary actually. I was in my early twenties then, and though I didn’t think it at the time, now, romantic is the only word that really makes sense. It seemed more than just something he was — instead, I consider it now as an approach he had to the world: a state of mind.

Far as romance being synonymous with weak, there are doubtless hundreds of essays, books and websites out there which can shed much more light on the psychology of this — and the other points here in this blog post — than I can or ever could. Even without venturing into that, the conclusions are quite obvious, no matter what depth you explore the idea of romance at. Either way, the point still remains: you do not generally hear romance being held in the highest regard as a personal attribute. When was the last time you heard someone — man or woman — described as strong, organised, assertive and romantic? I’m reasonably confident that in any situation other than concerning a lover or a gorgeous work of traditional art, romantic would be the last word to include when speaking of anyone or anything else.

The hopeless romantic, of course, fares even worse. Die hopeless romantic, die! If you’re considered one of these then there really is very little that can help you. You probably spend every single Friday night watching and re-watching Bridget Jones’s Diary and crying into your pillow while pouting. I could go on, but being a hopeless romantic, you’d probably only wet yourself.

As for being romantic too long…well, in a way, I can’t argue with that. It really can be dangerous. But for me, this isn’t something inherently the fault of romance. Actually, in some ways I think the opposite is true. If you’re romantic for a while then chances are you’re more comfortable, and if you’re more comfortable then you’re more likely to feel happier and thus be more at ease. If that’s the case then surely life should go smoother and easier? Decisions should happen seamlessly. Life should be in flow.

Which is where the trap is — the one you almost certainly fell into if you bought into that last statement: if we feel more confident then we also let our guard down massively; gone is our ability to judge right from wrong and all its many shades of gray. Failure becomes an option but we just can’t see it. Is that romance’s fault? Of course not. You should be more wary, lock yourself in a room and forbid yourself from any human contact (joke!).

For one thing, you cannot reasonably talk about romance as an entity which moves around freely like air, affecting everyone in the same way that oxygen does as we breath it. The truth, I believe, is that romance is in everything we do, to some extent — and not just the typical things which come in tones of pink and smell all girly. It’s not a feeling, exactly, and it also isn’t a hunch. Instead, I would say it’s a collection of a billion tiny moments — most of which we don’t even realise when they happen, other than we know they feel good. So maybe romance is only something which happens in the mind after an event, I don’t know — something mixed-up amidst a tornado of human emotions: something which we can only recall.

Or some such pretentious bollocks. Maybe I’m over-thinking it? But surely, that’s the point.

Of all the statements in this list which irritate me, though, the biggest one is this: Being romantic means you are reliant on another person and thus weaker than if you were independent. Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is nonsense (which of course it literally is — I just made up that sentence. The same theory existed as a general belief before I wrote it, but that doesn’t make my sentence any less so). What’s worse is that for many thousands of years, people have been writing similar sentences and suggesting human minds; telling us how to think, perceive and feel. You see it and you start to believe it; the more you think it, the more it seems like truth. It’s not your fault of course, it’s nobody’s — we all can’t help but think like that.

As for: Romantic people are generally more unlucky in love than un-romantic people who think logically…I don’t even know where to start with this one. Yes, people who are more romantic may be more willing to go with their feelings rather than think logically — and yeah…this can certainly get you into big trouble — but does that mean that every date or relationship forged in romance must be instantly consigned to doom? I somehow doubt that. Feelings can be a hell of a guide when you’re lost in the world, and thinking logically can sometimes get you into more trouble than you’d ever have believed. Both have a downside. Think logically too much and you’ll find a reason to not do anything whatsoever. Logic kills us inside and procrastination is always lurking, ready to derail hopes and dreams, so you really can’t blame people for letting their emotions guide them through this difficult journey we call life.

Chick-flicks really don’t help romance’s cause, of course…many films paint women as naive angels and men as stupid ignorant know-nothin’ arse-holes, and all this does is make us laugh at romance. Belittle it on every level. Mock it when really, it’s the one thing which unites us all and makes us feel warm inside. You can try and deny it, but do you think you’re really capable of feeling intensely romantic in the best possible way and also feeling entirely cynical with it at the same exact time? Somehow I doubt that — in my experience it’s always the cynic in me which comes out after — but go ahead and try!

On the subject of chick-lit, I’m completely and utterly split on this subject. The why is easy: because many chick-lit books are beautifully written, engaging and hilarious; there is nothing generally wrong with them (aside from being labelled in the most condescending way known to man — a title which is condescending in itself). Though many get it wrong, plenty of writers also manage to get it very right. That leads me to believe that the issue isn’t with the writing itself, or often even with the plot (unless the plot is terrible, unrealistic and insulting, in which case it’s a big issue). My conclusion: that we don’t appreciate, like or look forward to how romance makes us feel vulnerable. Or maybe the idea of romance; the many levels leading up to it. The idea that if we’re not careful, we could end up in a mental state where we might like someone a lot or maybe even fall in love. And it isn’t exactly like you have a choice in the matter. If you’re feeling deeply romantic, chances are you’re vulnerable, no matter how in-control you believe you are.

As for the notion of romantic and un-romantic people — I’m not sure it’s as simple as all that. How can you divide the two so easily and so confidently if romance, as with love, cannot be measured or even remotely quantified? Where do you really begin, when in every second of every day, our emotions tumble and evolve in an endless procession of good, bad and amazing? If romance is a moment, a rapid heart-beat, a glance across a room or a sensation within one’s body that total peace and solitude has momentarily been achieved, then surely it’s as likely to happen on a ball-r0om as inΒ  a crowded prison yard.

Don’t give me statistics. They may dictate a number, but a number isn’t people. A number cannot contain and explain the tiny imperceptible nuances in a trillion happy, sad and elapsed lives.

We think of many things being tabboos, yet what I find really strange is that unlike romance, we accept them as tabboos and openly talk about them, making them real, making them subject to the same laws and reasoning as everything else. I don’t see people around me talking about romance in the same way. Instead of questioning what romance actually is, I see the mocking tones of too much drink down the local pub. I hear romance being skirted around, or being talked about as if it had been buried long ago and there is no hope of a return. All I really hear is nonsense: men cannot be romantic, women are too romantic. Surely we’ve come further than this?

As for people who say Romance is dead! I get it. We all get it. You can’t avoid it. I get how you can be so hurt, feel so damaged and used and pissed-off that the mythical entity of romance has deserted you and whisked away to only surround all those walking-smiling-couples who could only ever be happy unlike you. Who am I to say it isn’t, anyway? I guess it all depends on your perspective.

Think about it: do you feel more or less romantic now than when you started reading this blog post? If psychological theories are correct then, thanks to reading about romance a lot — and not just reading about it, but thinking about it, both consciously and unconsciously, leading to a chain of impossible-to-trace emotions and question and answer sessions deep within your mind — then you should now be feeling more romantic than you did before you read this article. Do I believe that? Not really. Maybe. Sometimes. No. It all depends. Nothing is that simple and even if it was, romance certainly wouldn’t be…


9 comments on “An exercise in romance

  1. Karen says:

    I am a very romantic person (I blame my star sign :D). How is it, then, that I am married to the most unromantic person in the world? πŸ˜‰


    • chrispink says:

      Karen, that’s a VERY good point. Once again confusion takes over! If I had to guess I’d say that you’re together because he evens you out and is the practical, straight-thinking part of the equation. But then that is what I have been conditioned to believe from psychology, music, movies and people. I doubt anyone but you knows the real answer πŸ™‚


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