I’ve never understood the term “hopeless romantic.”
I always thought it sounded like a bit of an oxymoron. Romance was exciting. It was intimate. It was creative and at times, it was deeply challenging. Romance was a lot of things. But it was not hopeless.
I remember late last year I was sitting around with a group of friends listening to my buddy Will tell us stories about times when he had gone out on a limb to impress a girl, only to be rejected. As he came to the end of a particularly heart-wrenching tale, where it had turned out that the woman of his dreams had been involved in a love triangle (or some other, equally polygamous, shape), one of those listening turned to him and said, “O Will, you’re such a hopeless romantic.” After pausing for a second Will replied, “Actually, I’ve always liked to think of myself as a more of a hopeFUL romantic.”
Something about that clicked with me.
On top of all the other words I’ve already listed: exciting, intimate, creative and so on, romance is something else. It’s hopeful.
The note scribbled by a 7th grader with the words “do you like me?” is passed in the hope that it will come back with the “yes” box ticked. A couple celebrates their first anniversary in the hope that it will become one of many.When a man kneels before a woman with a ring in his hand it is in the hope that she will say yes to spending the rest of her life with him. Romance is hopeful.
One of the most challenging aspects of writing this post was finding an apt definition of “romance.” I was tempted to draw upon some ancient classic featuring star-crossed lovers or put together some kind of acrostic poem. Instead, I ended up going with Urban Dictionary (I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of their definition, to say the least):
True romance is doing something special or unexpected for someone you love, even though you don’t have to. Romance isn’t a greeting card, it isn’t Valentine’s Day, it isn’t a box of chocolates, and it certainly isn’t a dozen roses (unless you like that sort of thing). Real romance is not what modern society has been taught to think it is. Real romance isn’t manufactured. It is completely individual. Romance is for showing the person you love that you’re thinking about them. It shouldn’t feel forced. There are no limits to romance; it can be shown by a handwritten note, by going for a walk, or even by making someone a sandwich. Romance is something simple and sweet that reminds your partner why they fell in love with you in the first place.
Now if I’m being honest I don’t think this definition completely covers it, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. When I scrolled down the page (and on Urban Dictionary I would very rarely recommend doing so) I also found this:
Romance: What guys give to girls so they don’t feel like they are giving it away for free.
Obviously there is a pretty stark contrast between these two definitions. The difference is this: one definition is based on love, the other on lust. The first description of romance focuses on giving to the beloved. The second is ultimately just a form of selfish seduction.
The actual origin of the term “romance” can be traced back to the medieval period, where it was closely associated with tales of heroism and chivalry. That’s not to say that no love story is complete without a fair maiden who has been locked in a tower at some stage. Instead, I think it shows that courageous selflessness has always had a special place in what we would deem to be romantic.
True romance always has love as its foundation. More than this, romance is the intersection of love and creativity. A person’s actions may appear romantic because they are imaginative or because the roses they used grow only on the remote island of Socotra; however, they might only be making the effort for the sake of seducing someone. Far from being romantic, such individuals are really just being self-centred. Passion and creativity are definitely present, but love is not.
From experience, I can say that this kind of “romance” can start off fun, but it usually ends up becoming manipulative, repetitive and dull. “Romance” becomes more about getting than giving. It ends up becoming a kind of currency for physical intimacy. The whole thing starts sounding rather… err… hopeless.
So in a world filling up with hopeless romantics, I think it’s time we brought back some hope.
To give an example of the kind of romance I’m talking about, allow me to share a story about what one of my friends recently did for his girlfriend. Let’s call the couple Mike and Amy. So Mike and Amy were invited to a friend’s wedding and they decided that in preparation they wanted to get dancing lessons. However, as the weeks wore on, they got caught up in study, work and all the other little things that make you collapse on your bed at night, wondering where your day went. Eventually it came to the day before the wedding and any hope of getting dancing lessons was gone. That night, just as the sun was starting to set, Mike showed up on Amy’s doorstep, completely unexpected. When she started to ask what he was doing Mike held up a blindfold and replied, “I need you to put this on and come with me right now.” A little bit unsure, but trusting him nonetheless, Amy put on the blindfold and let Mike lead her to his car. Once Mike was sure that Amy couldn’t see anything he pulled out and drove to a nearby park. When they arrived he pulled out a picnic basket, grabbed Amy’s hand and starting leading her into the park. Once they had reached a certain spot, he told her to stop. He reached into the picnic basket and took out a massive blanket, laying it on the ground. Next, he pulled out some flowers and placed then round the edge of the blanket. Finally, he pulled out a little stereo, hit play and told Amy to take off the blindfold. The first thing she saw when she opened her eyes was Mike smiling in front of her, soft music playing in the background. Never taking his eyes off her, he stretched out his hand and asked, “May I have this dance?”
That’s the type of romance I’m talking about! Romance that is creative, uniquely personal and inspired by love. The type of romance that fills an early relationship with excitement for what it might become. The type of romance that never stops challenging a steady couple to find new ways to love one another. The type of romance that makes two lovers fist-bump on their wedding day.
I think society on the whole has forgotten how much joy there is to be found in relationships and romance. Somewhere between Sister Mary Eunice’s sermons on abstinence and the modern fixation on “performing” in every aspect of our sexuality (almost to the point where I’m terrified Simon Cowell is somehow going to get involved) this joy got lost. Love is not only beautiful, sacrificial and mysterious – it’s also really, really funny.
The Catholic belief that one should save sex and everything that comes with it for marriage is regarded by many as being far from romantic. Some would argue that such a lifestyle kills the spontaneity and excitement of romance. In response, I would have to argue the exact opposite. Choosing to set such physical and emotional boundaries in a relationship, far from killing romance, actually helps to draw it out and reveal it. When such boundaries are present it becomes clear pretty fast whether a gesture is truly romantic or whether it is merely an attempt at selfish seduction. This doesn’t mean that couples should maintain a 3-metre distance from one another at all times, but romantic moments don’t always require physical intimacy. The most romantic couples realise this.
We deserve more than the lust-based definition of romance which can be found wedged between the chiseled abs of the models on the cover of grocery store romance novels. We deserve more than romance that ends up selfish, joyless or hopeless. We deserve to be hopeful romantics.