That nebulous feeling fed by candle-lit dinners, flowers, chocolate, quirky surprises and a sense of playful spontaneity that appears fresh and inventive, yet never strays too far from the standard expectations set up by greeting card companies and rom-coms.
But what is romance, exactly? The definition often changes with whom you ask, and when exactly you ask them. A 20-year-old woman swimming through the dating pool would probably give a very different answer from a 36-year-old mother of three with a mortgage and an absentee partner to contend with. Men who idolize women and identify as feminists themselves would surely describe romance and all that a romantic life entails quite differently from a serial pick-up artist who spends his life in tanning salons and singles bars.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one possible definition for romance is: to give special attention to (someone) in order to get something that you want from that person.
This, of course, begs the question: what is given, and what is received in return? A romantic surprise in exchange for a kiss? A bouquet of flowers for a second date? A barrage of earnest (or insincere) compliments for a chance at a roll in the hay?
Is romance something inherent and deep within us that allows us to express how we feel when simple prose won’t do? Or is it just a rotten ploy conjured up in order to pleasantly deceive another human being — one that ensure boots will be knocked at a later date, whether for the sake of a little recreation or the continuation of the human race?
Why does it seem like either scenario could be the real one?
It’s easy to be cynical of romance, given how we’re constantly bombarded by the media with images of how romance should be. I’m going to reveal secret to you, one that could get me kicked out of the boys’ club: men often fake it in order to get somewhere with the ladies. (Actually, it’s not really a secret, but if you didn’t know that already, sorry for shattering your romantic dreams.) Jewelers, travel agencies, chocolatiers and greeting card companies take advantage of our collective desire for that warm, bubbly feeling inside, by marketing romance as an obligation that can be penalized when we go without. No romantic dinner for two on Valentine’s Day or flowers for the anniversary? Time to sleep on the sofa, buddy…
Yet despite all of the disappointments romance can bring, I still kind of like it. Admittedly, I could care less about flowers or chocolate. As a guy, that’s never been a big problem for me. (But it’s important to ask: why do the candy and roses only flow in one direction?) What I do seek is an intense look, a true feeling, loving affection and an expression of deep compassion and kindness in the little acts that make up a day, a week, a year and possibly even a lifetime.
Are you paying attention, Hallmark? Now that’s something you should put on a greeting card.
Am I expecting too much? Probably. Romance certainly has changed over the years. Much of the modern wooing going on nowadays takes place online. Match.com and eHarmony are the new meat market (or, if you prefer, “dating grounds”) for people looking for everything from casual sex to a committed, monogamous relationship — and all of the possibilities in between. But courtships in the 1950s were a world apart from the amorous adventures taking place in the new millennium. The desire for casual sex wasn’t something that was advertised, even if it was what you were looking for, and the stages of dating were much more defined and clear-cut; you’d definitely know if you were in a monogamous relationship, or “going steady,” as they called it back in the day. It was a different time, one that’s been lost to this era of Tinder and OKCupid and casual encounters.
Although, at the end of the day, the results are still pretty much the same. Just because the rules have changed doesn’t mean the game has. People come together, people break apart, and then they voluntarily go through the occasionally-delightful and oftentimes soul-destroying circus of meeting someone new all over again, hoping that the nth time will be the charm.
Hoping that they’ll find someone charming enough to make it all worthwhile.