What does romance mean to you? That’s the question our counselor asked me and my wife last week.
We’ve been seeing Crystal for close to a year now, trying to work out the communication issues that can develop over 22 years of marriage.
We’ve long known we’re very different about things. I’ve always been the romantic, sappy one in the relationship. Huge surprise for a writer, right? My wife is…not. She’s the immensely practical one.
That’s occasionally created some tension in the relationship.
And so last week Crystal asked us both what romance meant to us. She’s trying to help us find that spark, that attraction, that inexpressible thing that brought us together so long ago.
I’ve been struggling to unearth that definition for two weeks now. It’s much easier to define romantic than it is romance.
Examples of romantic gestures abound: Giving flowers. Cooking a favorite meal. Unexpected gifts.
But romance itself? What is it?
Merriam-Webster’s simple definition isn’t much help.
- to have or try to have a romantic relationship with (someone)
- to give special attention to (someone) in order to get something that you want from that person
- to talk about something in a way that makes it seem better than it really is
That middle definition doesn’t really sound very loving, either. It sounds much more manipulative than I picture romance to be. But I could accept it as a purely objective definition. You’re trying to attract that person’s attention, aren’t you? Trying to get them to like you?
What’s the difference between romance and love? Google tells me there are over 5.3 million responses to that question. The more I read some of those results, the more I wonder if we ever really had a romantic time in our relationship. That’s not a pleasant thought.
A 2003 piece at Oprah.com by Joan Konner got my attention. I tried to pick out a few lines that really nailed it for me, but I would have ended up quoting the entire article. Go read it and come back.
Stirring that article in with some of the things I’ve heard in counseling led me to contemplate how long our romantic period lasted. Konner referenced an article that said psychologists claim that period typically lasts no more than three years.
My first marriage didn’t quite last three years, although my first wife and I had known each other for the better part of five years when we divorced.
When my second wife and I married, we had been together just about 18 months. Even that wasn’t a typical dating relationship. We went on a dozen or so dates in the first four or so months. Then I got an apartment and we basically moved in together. Neither one of us can remember any kind of a major proposal event. We just started talking about getting married.
So much for romance.
So what do we really want in a relationship with our significant other? Do we want romance, or love? It’s been said that romance is the blaze that flares when the lighter fluid of attraction is lit. Similarly, love is sometimes called the bed of coals that remains. Those coals tend to last longer, and they’re more useful for cooking. Both the blaze and the coals provide heat. But both consume their fuel, requiring a steady supply of wood, or coal, or whatever it is that you’re burning.
Without that steady supply of fuel though, any fire eventually burns out. You can stoke a fire with more wood, and there will be flames from that wood. But to keep a fire going, or even a steady supply of heat, there’s got to be a steady supply of fuel.
What is that fuel in a relationship? What is it that you keep adding, so that the fire continues to generate warmth? Is it acts of kindness or service? Or is it romantic gestures like surprise gifts “just because?” Is it learning to speak your spouse’s “love language?”
What happens if those actions are completely foreign to one of the partners? What if one partner really needs romantic gestures, and the other can’t even begin to speak that language?
If we accept that there are love languages, we should also accept that there are dialects of those languages. But the dialects of some languages are distinct enough that speakers from one region can’t understand speakers from the other side of the country.
How does that bode for love languages?
Lots of questions this week, and not many answers from me.
What does romance mean to you?