What does it mean to be a romantic in this day and age? Is romance dead? Jules fervently hopes not. She’s been riddled with romantic fever her whole life.
I have a confession to make.
I am a hopeless romantic.
I know, right? How frightfully old school.
In this day and age of busy-busy, swipy-swipy, speed dating and Netflix binges, who has time for love letters, roses, romantic getaways, candlelit dinners, serenades, slow dances, and hours of gooey eye-gazing?
Well, I don’t know who has the time, but I definitely have the yearning. Though I’ve done my best to keep it my dirty little secret most of my life.
An early romantic
There was nothing closet about my sentimentality as a kid, mind you. I hit what you might call ‘romantic puberty’ at around age 9, when I woke up one day and suddenly found myself head-over-heels in love with pretty much every boy in my class and the rest of the school. They weren’t sexual feelings I was having – I was still too young for that – they were palpably heart-centred . I just wanted to pour my adoration at these fellas, and hopefully feel some of theirs in return.
Soon thereafter – dangerously armed with a penchant for writing and the cutting-edge tech of a ghetto blaster with a double tape deck I got for my 10th birthday – I started to express my feelings to these poor young gents in the form of love poems and mix tapes, whether they liked it or not. And it’s pretty fair to say that without exception, they did not.
Who can blame them, really? Many of them hadn’t even started puberty themselves. Regardless, I can only imagine how terrifying it would be to be on the receiving end of flowery rhyming couplets and badly edited selections of tear-jerkers and power ballads from the latest episode of Take 40 Australia (often with Barry Bissell’s intros still attached).
But I digress.
The boys’ mortification soon became my own, as my devoted efforts were met not just with rejection, but in many cases crushing humiliation, as my writing was passed around the class for everyone to laugh at and quote back to me for months to come. One kid’s mum even wrote to my mum requesting that I leave her son alone. Thank goodness there was no Facebook in those days, is all I can say.
I imagine that was when my formative romantic self first decided ‘It’s not safe out here’ and disappeared into the catacombs of my heart, only coming out to play in my imagination and behind closed doors (yes, often with hairbrush microphone in hand).
I did have a couple of lovely relationships in my teens, which were as romantic as they could be given the context; that unfortunate teenage territory where raging hormones and emotional vulnerabilities collide with a complete lack of any real education or skills in effective communication.
A change of heart or image?
Then somewhere in my early twenties, I started identifying as a free spirit. It befitted my attempts to salvage some street cred from the cringe-laden crimes of my youth by becoming a bohemian.
In the relating realms, this presented as my first conversation with a new connection being peppered with statements like “Whatever happens, happens”, “I don’t believe in labels”, “I don’t need anything from you” and “No strings attached”.
I was a fun and dependable best mate, friend-with-benefits, or one-night-stand in my more promiscuous era. But apart from in a few exceptional cases, I wasn’t ‘girlfriend material’. I embraced the meetings of minds and bodies, (and sometimes even souls), but I kept a lid on the expression of any of that messy heart territory – at least to the other party involved. When they weren’t around, me and my best boho self-image were straight to the nearest dimly-lit café to sip black coffee and smoke Stuyvies while cathartically pouring my poor, misunderstood heart into poetry infused with Ani DiFranco and Jeff Buckleyesque angst. (Hey, if nothing else, my taste in music had improved.) I have a large collection of poems from that time I call the ‘Unsuspecting Muse’ series.
Because, while there was certainly some truth in my desire to honour freedom as my highest value, the fact remained that beneath all the bravado still beat a deeply romantic heart that yearned to adore and be adored.
So what is romance, anyway? Is it simply this state of mutual adoration? And how achievable or sustainable even is that?
Perfection or projection?
Many of the teachings I’ve explored on the subject, from both the psychological and philosophical perspective, suggest that our human desire to share romantic love with another stems from our memories of being in the womb; of being fully supported and nurtured and having all of our needs taken care of. Apparently, a significant part of our psyche is always striving to return to this experience of complete fulfilment. So essentially, at least subconsciously, we’re sizing up every potential partner with the hope that in them we might surrender into this blissful state of oneness and perfection again. Which of course is a tad unrealistic.
Author and speaker Alain de Botton has this to say;
“Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping we won’t find in another what we know is in ourselves; all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise, and stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one and decide that everything within it will somehow be free of our faults. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through our union with the beloved hope to maintain (against the evidence of all self-knowledge) a precarious faith in our species.”
Ouch, dude. Touché.
de Botton actually has a whole excellent body of work in which he explores the history of romanticism and its arguably tenuous place in the practicalities of modern-day living.
Even as a confessed romantic, I can appreciate the danger of over-indulging our temptation to project the onus of perfection onto another or onto a relationship. No matter how perfect the honeymoon phase may seem, it’s bound to land in reality eventually when someone has a bad day (or month), stinks out the bathroom, or the ex comes to town.
For me, romance is not so much about the whole Disney or Mills & Boon fantasy of happily ever after. Rather it’s about finding ways of loving and being loved for the full-spectrum totality of ourselves; imperfections, warts and all. Truthfully ever after, if you will. Doesn’t sound as sexy, I grant you, but it has a longer use-by date than the initial intoxicating peak experience.
It’s my belief that we each have an innate human desire to be seen, heard, felt, and loved for the unique and amazing being that we individually are. In the early days of a relationship, this is relatively easy. But as our starry-eyed gaze comes into clearer focus, the challenge to continue to see, hear, feel and love someone wholly requires a deeper fascination with the quirks and intricacies of ourselves, each other, and the connection itself. Perhaps it’s in fact here that the true romance begins. And I believe a connection can still be rich with aesthetics, love and inspiration, whether we choose to move forward as partners, lovers or friends.
But what if we don’t have a partner or potential love interest? Does that render our life devoid of romance?
Self-romance? Is that a thing?
Some years ago, while navigating the frustrations of being both hopelessly romantic and hopelessly single, I decided to try an experiment. What if I decided to romance myself? I made a list of all the ways in which I longed to be seen, heard, felt and loved and then set about doing my best to give this to myself.
Me and myself began courting each other. We made weekly date nights. We went dancing. Sent each other texts. We gave each other massage and loving touch. We wrote each other poems and flirted with each other in the bathroom mirror.
OK, I admit that initially it did feel bit weird. Was this even sane behaviour? Was I allowed to have this much fun? Did this mean I’d never have a romantic relationship with an actual human being ever again?
But I persevered, and it got easier. In fact, it got awesome. For a while I was sure I’d discovered the key to the universe, and that I was going to live in this state of rapturous bliss forever more.
Then – lo and behold – it began to get tough. I got annoyed with myself. I didn’t like the sound of my own voice. Then I couldn’t be bothered keeping to weekly commitments or daily routines of self-reflection. I was bedridden with a bug and desperately wanted someone to take care of me. Anybody, please! Just not my own snotty, tracky-dacked, whingey self.
So for a little bit I wanted to break up with myself. But how do you do that? You’re kind of stuck with each other for life, hey? So I decided to see what happened if I romanced this grumpy, ugly, unmotivated, self-loathing version of me.
I sat in front of the mirror, looked myself in the eye and went through the morning honouring practice I had started some months earlier. Then I said to myself, “I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I love you. And I honour you.” And then I began to list the things I observed in myself, honouring each of them as I went.
When I first started this practice, and up until this point, I had focused on honouring the more positive or easily likeable aspects of myself. This time, I let myself really see all my less attractive qualities (and goodness me, there were plenty), and honour them out loud. “I honour your blood-shot eyes…I honour your greasy hair…I honour your inability to focus on one thing for more than ten minutes without getting distracted… or I honour your terrible sense of direction…I honour your appalling money management…etc”.
After a little while I began to smile. Then I started laughing. Then I started crying. Eventually I had a sing and a stretch and a little dance and hug with myself. Just when I thought our relationship was doomed, a small door had opened that illuminated a whole new layer of possibility for this connection.
While these less loveable characteristics of myself were not things I wanted to indulge or amplify, my acceptance of them – and by acceptance I mean my embracing, not just tolerating – created a playing field in which life and I could find fascination in each other again. Before long, my cheeky, playful, creative, romantic self was back, wooing me into all sorts of luscious adventures.
And what of romance with others? Ah, yes. I really ought to end this tale with a word of caution. Dear reader, please note…
The practice of cultivating self-romance can be a powerful beacon for attracting other romantic beings into your world. You have been warned, friends.
This mix tape of my life features a vast range of songs and genres, muses and magical moments, and grows more eclectic and colourful all the time, as my experiences expand.
I wish the same for you, good human. May your days and hearts be filled with passionate adoration and romantic intrigue, from within and around. You so deserve it.
Here are some suggestions for fun ways to get romance blossoming and thriving in your world, with or without a partner.
- Stand or sit in front of a mirror.
- Observe yourself as if you were meeting yourself for the first time. Look with kind, loving eyes.
- Ask yourself, “What can I see, hear, feel or love about this person?”
- Begin to state your observations out loud (eg “I see your sparkly eyes…I feel your passion…I hear your cool turn-of-phrase… or I love your intelligence” etc). Try not to think about it. Rather let your stream-of-consciousness lead the way.
- After each few observations, repeat the statements but beginning with the words ‘I honour…’ (eg “I honour your sparkly eyes”).
- When you feel a judgmental or negative observation creep in, just as with the positive observations, speak it and honour that part of yourself straight away. (eg “I see your crooked nose…I honour your crooked nose.”)
Your romantic style
- Make a list of the ways in which you would most like to feel seen, heard, felt, and loved for who you uniquely are. (eg. ‘I want to be given flowers…I want to be acknowledged for how hard I work… or I want someone to whisk me away to the hot springs’ etc)
- Commit to doing at least one of these things for yourself. Diarise it. Mark it as non-negotiable. For example;
- Take yourself out to dinner.
- Write yourself a love letter.
- Send yourself a flirty, loving lunchtime text.
- Give yourself a massage with words of affirmation.
- Make yourself a mix tape! (I’m serious. Nowadays we call them playlists, but it’s never been easier to serenade yourself with a whole array of songs that other passionate humans prepared earlier). Go nuts – I dare you!
Enjoy, rinse and repeat, friends. May romance flourish and love prevail.
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