Written by Numa
“There are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard there was such a thing.” 1
The transition out of young adulthood is when aphorisms become humorous from hindsight and, to confide, I think become our greatest anchors throughout life, rather than pursuits of degrees and careers. The stinging quip above leads me directly to the subject of this article: how most of what we perceive love to be is born entirely out of observation, rarely deduction.
At the ripe age of 24, I’ve yet to enter a fulfilling relationship due to a certain movement that began in the late 18th century: Romanticism. A majority of Western civilization operates under its ideas due to its abundance in the books we read and movies we watch, in most all media we consume. Let’s explore:
We must realize life prior to this movement. For centuries, marriages were arranged based solely on family status or material ownership. To marry based on one’s feeling of their partner didn’t exist, until the Romantic movement, “…a reaction against the order and restraint of classicism…a rejection of rationalism.”2. Romantics were to Classicists in the 1700’s what Elvis fans were to the suburban order of the 1950’s, both prompting culture to evolve, the former perhaps to an extreme degree.
Growing up an avid reader, from day one I’ve been spoon fed the ideas of Romanticism without knowing it. The Romantics teach that my ideal partner should know intuitively what I’m thinking. Marriage means happily ever after. My partner’s flaws are quirky and will make me love him even more! He should never become irritated by my shortcomings and will guide me through life’s difficulties with patience and care. I feel ecstatic every time he says my name. We kiss marvelously and sex is always fantastic…these ideas and more are the illogical teachings of Romanticism.
As a gay man growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, there was little to no guidance on how to date, how to discuss my feelings about other men, how to have safe sex, etc. It’s no wonder my happiness, starting around my sophomore year of high-school, depended upon being accepted and understood by another man. I’ve since learned it was my expectations that led to many failed relationships, no matter if I broke up with him or vice versa.
It takes decades of education to become an expert in the field of, say, medicine or engineering, but zero hours of lecture to choose rationally with whom we’re to spend, if we’re lucky, 50+ years of our lives with. Not that it’s wrong to think one’s soulmate exists, but it’s useful to understand that this way of thinking is new in the history of human matchmaking, a fact that, for me, eases the stress of being single. We’re lucky to live in an era where the expression of love is as free as it’s ever been, but it’s crucial to have one’s mind firmly planted in a pot with rich soil, so not to wither from atop pedestals of unrealistic expectations. It’s the job of artists from now on to shift us away from the “rules” of the Romantics and into an era where the nuances of the mind and the realities of our instabilities are spotlighted and dealt with publicly, so that we can with clarity work to achieve meaningful, lasting partnerships with people as openly unbalanced as us.
How can we be less Romantic? Don’t lower expectation, simply work to be more communicative with your partner. Open communication isn’t sexy or mysterious, it doesn’t rely heavily on intuition. It’s anti-Romantic, yet it encourages realistic expectations. Don’t wait for your partner to discover your flaws and hope they accept them. Tell them at an opportune moment early on, such as when alone on a balcony or at a table for two. If the relationship fails you’ve at least saved yourself from months, perhaps years of your life with the wrong person.
My first book, If it Hadn’t Rained, operates under the influences of Romanticism, written and completed before I realized it, although a solution is unwittingly brought forth: Reign is a social wimp with a suppressed heart. Joe is an athletic dream who’s conquered high-school. When gossip spreads of Joe’s sexuality, an unlikely friendship is formed between them. Wading in the shallow end of the gay pool, the expectations of promiscuous peers forces a question several summers in the making…Are we right for each other? The book follows our characters as they’re continually disappointed by love until their expectations are, at last, set aside. It’s with this work that I leave what Romanticism has taught me behind and begin again as an outsider looking in on this peculiar world. I’m optimistic that from this I will find love in its purest form: “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”3
1. Francois de La Rouchefoucauld, French author, 17th century
2. Oxford Dictionary
3. Winnie the Pooh