I was looking at the little collection of heart – shaped stones that I have gathered from the beach, whilst walking the dog. And I wondered “why hearts?” And I thought about my latest book, of which I am very proud, and which just so happens to be a contemporary love story… and I thought “how odd”, given that I don’t have a romantic bone in my body!
But suddenly, it clicked: I DO believe in romance… and my version is very much tied up with friendship. I mentioned the subject to my youngest daughter, who is 24, but she didn’t see it exactly the same way, and I realised that romance probably means different things to different people, at different stages in their lives. However, we both agreed that ‘forced’ romance, such as Valentine’s Day, is unappealing, and she laughingly told me that when she was employed as a waitress, she enjoyed working on Valentine’s Day because it was guaranteed that at least one couple would end up arguing! I said that was probably because of ‘disappointed expectation’, and that maybe those couples would have been better off spending the evening at home in their pyjamas, with a bottle of wine and a take – away (or apart, dependent upon the actual state of the relationship!).
I do believe that my work has played a big part in convincing me that I had become completely devoid of any romantic notions or feelings… along with my own life choices and experiences, of course. I spend a huge portion of my working life looking into other people’s love lives (or lack of), and a lot of it ain’t pretty. And I have seen how easily the desire, the expectation, and the demand for romance can lead to misery and disappointment… but IS that romance, or something else entirely?
I have concluded that, for me, the stereotypical version of romance is embarrassing. Sitting opposite a partner in an overly decorated restaurant on Valentine’s Day, trying to ‘feel it’ and behave accordingly, is really hard work, and causes me to feel like an idiot. I enjoy the company, and the food, but that’s all. By the end of the evening we are leaving, me clutching a long – stemmed red rose that was kindly supplied by the restaurant, too full to do anything other than drive home and collapse onto the couch or into bed. But that’s probably just us, a pair of past – it old farts.
However, I have noticed that a huge number of people, mostly young women, appear to confuse sexual tension with romance. If it’s all intense and highly charged, then it is romantic and exciting… and their expectations soar, like ecstatic birds finally freed from a cage… birds that often end up being brutally shot down.
I have also noticed that romance appears to be something that men are expected to do to or for women, and that they tend to either do it spectacularly well, or pathetically badly. Which is probably one of the reasons men, especially those who are self – conscious, shy away from obviously romantic acts wherever possible. It doesn’t always mean that they don’t care… it just means that they are terrified of getting it wrong, or looking stupid.
So, back to my little book (You Wear It Well, available on Amazon Kindle, plug, plug, plug). I fell in love with the characters as I was creating them (well, in truth, they created themselves), and when I knew that I was about to drop a bombshell on the two main characters, I cried, and couldn’t bring myself to write that bit, for several days. And I realised that that was because they genuinely LIKED each another. They didn’t just fancy one another, they delighted in discovering things, such as Stevie’s love of 70’s and 80’s rock, and that she collected old vinyls, which she played on her record player. And the fact that Nick used to be the lead singer in a rock band, something he still does occasionally. He told his mate that being with his ex was akin to being alternately burned and stung, whilst being with Stevie was like being immersed in warm honey. I was impressed. Coming from a 34 year old biker, that was a pretty romantic notion. Of course, her didn’t say that to Stevie… but to me, the fact that he was willing to share this little nugget with his mate, showed that he was ‘feeling it’, and was willing to risk being laughed at by a fellow biker dude. Now, THAT’S romantic!
Yesterday, I was in my office at my partner’s house, working through my list of email consultations. He quietly tapped on the door with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle, in case my feet were cold. The little dog next door, who is hyper – sensitive and hates being left alone, was howling and barking, and the noise became so difficult to ignore, I decided to go into the bedroom to work, and thought I was might as well get under the quilt (the perks of working from home!)… and he appeared again with a second hot water bottle, in case the first one was getting cold. And it struck me that these kinds of acts are MY version of romance. My daughter disagreed; she said that she thought that that was love, rather than romance, which brings me back to my earlier point of romance representing different things to different people, at different times in their lives. I do a lot for my partner, too. Practical and financial stuff, as well as emotional. We have worked incredibly hard on this relationship, over a period of 12 years, and there are still occasions on which I could cheerfully smother him in his sleep with a pillow (and vice versa, I imagine). He has bought me flowers in the past, which I appreciated, but that didn’t touch me anywhere near as much as him going out to warm the car up and clean the windscreen for me. Or him insisting on doing the jobs I hate, like cleaning the car. Or tidying out a bedroom, and organising it into an office for me. Or cooking my lunch, and supplying me with mugs of tea, whilst I am working. I was with my first ex husband for 11 years, and he gave me the one and only bunch of flowers he ever thought about buying, on the day after I left him. The flowers didn’t matter. The fact that he bought my Christmas present from the local shop, ON Christmas day (a few bags of sweets), and the fact that I did everything from the housework and cooking, and decorating our home, to turfing the garden, to clearing out the cellar and then dragging everything to the tip, ALONE, whilst he sat on his backside or went to the pub, negated the flowers. I wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, AND I became the mother in the relationship, and he became the child, which isn’t sexy (or as I like to say, isn’t rock and roll). A whole field full of flowers wouldn’t have had the power to fix what was a completely broken situation, never mind a single bunch.
So, you can see, the question ‘romance – what is it really about?’ doesn’t have a one – size – fits – all answer. It can mean anything to anyone. I remember, many years ago, on a Valentine’s day, watching a woman walk up my garden path with an enormous bunch of flowers in her arms, and my heart lifted. At the time I was married, with two small children, and we were more than skint… we were two steps away from destitution. I remember wondering how this was possible… WHERE did he get the money from, for such a beautiful bouquet. And I also remember thinking how out of character it was for him, too. I opened the door with a huge smile, and the woman said “I have tried to deliver these next door, but no – one is home. Can I leave them with you, until she gets back?” I said “absolutely, no problem”, when in reality I wanted to beat her over the head with the darned things, and then shove them where the sun don’t shine. I was soon to discover that the ‘lucky’ gal next door’s knight in shining armour was a married man, and that she spent many evenings in miserable loneliness. So much for romantic gestures.
Finally, I have to say that, like everything on this planet, romance can be used for the good or for the not – so – good. Romance can be a destructive force, in the wrong hands. The desire for it can come loaded with self – entitlement, idealistic thinking, and unreasonable expectation. It can be used to lure someone in, for our own selfish reasons…. oozing flattery and attention, in order to either get something we want from another person, or to feed our own ego until we get bored, moving swiftly on to the next target. I actually think that my daughter was right. What I described as romantic gestures, she called love. But isn’t THAT what romance is actually supposed to be about? And my answer to the question ‘why is romance important?’ would be “because it comes from a place of emotional intimacy… the very glue that binds two partners together – through the good times, the indifferent times, and the times when we look at each other and think ‘sleep with one eye open tonight – DARLING!”. Long live romance, I say!