Romance, Love and Intimacy

I wonder…if you took a survey of love poems, how would the demographics of the authors shake out? I’m going to guess young males. Consumers of love poems? I’m going to guess young men and women. Consumers of fairy tales? Probably mostly young ladies. Consumers of porn? Definitely young gentlemen. What do love poetry, fairy tales and pornography all have in common? They are all fantasies and they all require a suspension of reality to not laugh at their ridiculousness, yet they all inform our vision of what “romance” is.

Generalizing terribly, it seems to me that women who think of romance probably want their “prince charming” to ride into their lives on his horse and “sweep them off their feet” (maybe I shouldn’t use Pretty Woman as my source for what women want?). For men, it’s probably easier to generalize – they want to be sexually desired. When a new romance starts, rose-colored glasses come on and we see what we want to see and ignore what we don’t want to see. Our new romantic interest is “perfect.” Of course, this only lasts so long before the bridge supports crack and reality comes crashing back. Frogs do not become princes; it usually works the other way around.

In this way, romance is superficial. Hollywood spoon-feeds us this view of romantic relationships because that’s what we demand, and that’s actually the point of entertainment – to temporarily distract us from real life and to sweep us away into a fantasy. But entertainment is not art, and while true art (including movies) can also be used to show us beauty, to teach and inform our values, entertainment is wholly another thing. Unfortunately, many people are starved for true art and beauty and instead embrace the poor simulacrum churned out by Hollywood, with the result being that people begin to feel “that they are shallower than they need to be.” David Brooks, Social Animal, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011.

Real life has more to do with love and intimacy than romance. Think “Family Man” rather than “Sleepless in Seattle”. Movies and romance are both brief spells and we must always leave them to return to real life. Real life is not entertaining, so it is not the subject of media entertainment.

Real life requires boring work to earn money to buy necessities to ensure our daily survival. Daily survival is great, but it is not romantic. And thus it ever was, is and ever will be with relationships also.

While we may all think that we want the superficial excitement that romance brings with it 100% of the time, it’s just not realistic, and I don’t think we actually want never-ending superficial romance. I think what we want for the long term is deeper than that, but we won’t find it until we start looking for it.

Love and intimacy require time…lots of time…and pain…lots of pain. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote the following over twenty years after her child was abducted, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” Gift of the Sea.

Part of the excitement that romance brings is the unknown, but that excitement must inevitably wane as the unknown becomes known. Excitement in the face of the unknown can be replaced by “understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable” in the face of being known. Knowing someone includes knowing the good and the bad. It may sometimes feel like the comforting puffery of rose-colored glasses is replaced by the brutal examination of the magnifying glass. Flaws and weaknesses are exposed, but it is only in such exposure that love and intimacy can sprout.

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