Friends and I were discussing ‘Romance’ and what it means to us. Whether we see it as being over-rated or undernourished. This led to a lively and interesting discussion.
We all agreed that the notion of romance is purely individual. A personal ideal. What one finds romantic another may consider a cliché or even an overtly contrite expression.
Is what some consider to be romance or romantic not some capitalist ploy dreamt up by our wonderful marketing division to separate us from our cash?
We’re constantly bombarded by advertisements telling us that flowers, music, chocolates are a romantic gift and yet are they? We’re assailed by images of couples strolling languidly hand in hand across sandy shorelines, obviously in love (because they are very well-trained actors paid to be in love for that particular 90 second commercial), and told that the only way we can express our inner love is by travelling to exotic climes, involving vast expenditure.
In a day and age where such gifts are commonplace, can they truly be said to contain any more romantic notion within them than the plastic wrapper or glossy brochure they are delivered in? Maybe, once, such overtures could be considered to be a heartwarming gift. When the notion of obtaining such was, in itself, a task to be reckoned with. But these days? Maybe when the notion of courting or wooing a lady or even a man (gasp – the scandal that would cause) such things as sonnets and fancies were appropriate and heartfelt. But now, one can wander into any Hallmark cards shop and pick up a standard piece of tat knocked out by some oike in an office on his personal computer with a software package. Can that be considered a show of romance, when the most difficult thing is deciding which crap verse you find more pleasing than the rest? Also, gone are the days of long-term courting and relationship. The chase. The verbal fencing with your heart’s desire, as you grow to know each other. These days the pursuit of the apple of your eye (or at least of that moment) seems to consist of no more than “grab your coat you’ve pulled”. Maybe this is a result of the instantaneous gratification culture that appears to be ever-increasing…..and thus is reflected in our need of high-speed “microwave romance”. 2 minutes and it’s done. And of course, when most relationships are over as quickly as they began, who can afford to spend time being truly romantic?
Surely what we should be concentrating on is the notion. What moves the individual at the time to express themselves. Maybe not even that. Maybe we should look at that which is carried out without any ulterior motive or attempts to curry favour. The commonplace, everyday occurrence that says “I care for this person” and that their very existence motivates and colours all that I do or care to do.
I am sure some people will still feel there is a place for the extravagant overt and often vulgar gushing shows of “romance”. But is that because they have now linked romance to expenditure? Could we now be looking at a generation who subscribe to the notion of pecuniary romance?
Ok, what if you’re not embroiled in a microwave romance and are in for the long haul, does that change the notion and nature of romance? Do you substitute long-stemmed roses for doing the ironing or allowing your partner certain liberties in a quid pro quo sort of arrangement (and I leave you to decide what kind of liberties)? Or is it the absence of romance that is to blame for the short-term nature of many relationships? In other words, are we so sold on the notion of romance as an idealistic (and arguably unrealistic) dream that consigns so many ‘real’ relationships to the scrap heap?
The question though “Is the art of romance dead?” is also an interesting thought. Just what is the art of romance? Is it in the physical or mental? Is it in what we offer or what we do? Or in all of these things?
The actual word “art” would imply something that is learned and practised to achieve a certain level or degree of aptitude. Can you learn romance? Surely if you learn it then it becomes a lesson in the ability to manipulate emotions and that, to my mind, is a rather malicious thought. To manipulate another to achieve your own goals by “playing with their emotions”, and whilst there are an awful lot of people of this nature in life – does that make them Romantic? Would you honestly want to date or have a relationship with someone who has practised to be romantic? Wouldn’t practising said skills actually make you a Lothario (or female equivalent)? Maybe it would seem to be ideal, that there should almost be a lack of art thus rendering what is carried out as romance is indeed genuine and sincere.
Once, in times gone by, man used to woo his chattel. To ensnare her with words and poems of love and devotion. To cry from the very rooftops that his love was purest and mightiest of all that should grace or walk this planet. Who could not be enthralled by such moving oratory? It certainly seems the ladies were, and interestingly enough up-sprang a new market for all those out of work poets and writers. It is well documented that for a small fee a love poem or letter could be penned by a professional for your lady love (is this the earliest documentation of the “hallmark” cards franchise I wonder) Even Shakespeare himself did this. Who could blame them? Out of work and starving, you take whatever you can get and damn the morality of it. Let the others figure it out for themselves. It would be very evident when the young lady hoped to hear words of love drip from her betrothed’s lips only to receive “There once was a woman from Ealing”. So could it be that even our idealistic view that, when compared with the past, “romance is dying out” could be a false one?
But going back to my earlier point if an art is to be learnt, then it needs to be taught. If we are to assume that the “art” is dying then are we to also to assume that the teachers, who were eager to impart their knowledge, are not in such abundance anymore. Are the masters of the “art” dying out? Could it be that as a society and cultural demands have evolved we now have a new endangered species? Ladies and gentleman I present to you the “Beast of Romance”, soon to be extinct!
Or is it? Are we, even now, not seeing a return to letter writing? With the advent of email, we have never seemed to communicate as much. Putting the abhorrence of text speak aside, it seems we are slowly returning to flirting by mail. This in itself is an aged tradition. But there is a lot to be said for being able to write a message to someone. You can be inventive, you can consider, you can be loquacious to a degree never before seen. In short, a message can be so much more a representation of you and your inner thoughts than can be instilled into a stammering tongue-tied conversation.
In my opinion, women are as much to blame as men for the death of romance but then given that society wants most women to look like undernourished 12-year-old Japanese boys, is it any surprise that we are acting more and more mannish? Honestly, some women diet to the point where there are probably more hormones in an 8-ounce steak than in their entire bodies.
Having said that, the ladette culture is a relatively recent phenomenon and romance was fatally wounded long before its inception. If I am honest, I blame the women’s lib or, to be more precise, the world’s knee jerk reaction to it. Many women reject romance as some sort of ‘honey trap’ in which if you accept a bunch of flowers you will be instantly chained to the kitchen sink, loosed only to pop out the odd sprog now and then. Many men are either scared to be romantic for fear of this extreme reaction OR think ‘well if women want to be equal then we don’t have to give them romance and they can do all the running’.
The most damning nail in the coffin of romance is for me cult of individualism whereby people think that the world revolves entirely around themselves and will do nothing unless it has immediate and real benefits for them – an approach which is not conducive to thoughtfulness and loving gestures. This, of course, ignores the fact that a relationship, ANY relationship, is hard work and requires effort from both parties if it is to thrive and survive.
Of course – I could be wrong…
Let’s look at it slightly differently; surely, romance should not be used to control emotions but to please the other, to make them happy if you will. It is not some form of rudimentary mind control and if the object of the art was not fond of romanticism then they could, of course, reject it. In many ways then, the art of romance is the art of pleasing someone, not the art of manipulating them.
And it is an art in much the same way that lovemaking is an art. No one suggests that you attend your local college and get a Btec in shagging, however!! The skills of lovemaking are learned when one is attentive to their lover. Taking note of what pleases and displeases and then using that information to good effect in the next encounter. Romance then is much the same. Some people may find flowers or chocolates or mucking in with the chores romantic whilst for others, it might be something as simple as cooking them a favourite meal or remembering an anniversary. The trick then is in identifying what pleases and then elaborating on this in the future. And like lovemaking, variety is an essential element. You might like a bunch of flowers but a duty posy every birthday and anniversary is NOT a romantic gesture!
In this sense then Romance cannot be taught as it is a matter of individualism, both for the object and subject. Whenever someone steps outside of their comfort zone to please the other, that is romantic. Taking the effort to act out of character is romantic. Listening and understanding and responding to what has been said are also romantic. But these things have to be contextualised. Otherwise, they are diminished or rendered irrelevant.
Finally, whether the gesture stems from the heart or from hard work, both will be equally appreciated I suggest. If you cannot write prose but have the sense to go out and pay someone who can, then so long as it is personalised (and not your stamped out Hallmark tat) then you will have put the thought and effort in to make it special. Having said that, there are no doubt hordes of love-starved individuals out there that would happily welcome the hallmark stuff but this says more about the abject lack of romance in their life than it does about the quality of the gesture. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king…
Contributors: Myself and A & D Waldram.