A Fine Romance

In SympathyAfter so many years of meeting the deadlines, dictates and expectations of others it is pure luxury to spend my time any way I please, which turns out to be mainly wandering from one idea to another. I realize now that this has always been my nature; I just didn’t have the freedom and time to follow it. As J. R. Tolkien said “Not all who wander are lost.” This week I have wandered into the meaning of romance. I am writing this for all of you who are without a partner and feel like less of a person because of it – I have felt that way in the past and I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so. You are whole and perfect as you are.

I have started doing some life coaching and, during a recent session, someone described themselves as romantic. It started me thinking – I’ve heard many people describe themselves as romantic but, what does that really mean in today’s world? I researched it and found that there are several words with the root “Roman”, among them romance and Romanesque and by the middle of the 18th century romantic was in common use as an adjective describing appreciation of the wonders of nature such as, sunsets and spectacular views. Gradually it was also used to describe a style of literature, music and visual arts. In fact, the period from the mid 18th century to the late 19th century came to be known as the “Romantic Era”. I gather that it was not an easy movement to define but, simply stated, it seems that it embodied the elevation of nature and validation of passionate, unfettered human emotion and creativity. It was actually a revolt against the scientific rationalization of nature. There was also a renewed appreciation of the high-minded medieval ideals of chivalry, heroism, and pure chaste love.

From a serious intellectual movement based on passionate feelings about the beauty of untamed nature, artistic creativity, individualism, and the idealization of chivalrous codes of conduct we have evolved (or perhaps devolved) to a very different definition of romantic. Today it is strictly used within the context of a love relationship between two people. It is the cliché of the single ad – “I love a romantic candlelit dinner and a long walk on the beach with that special someone”. (Did you ever wonder why the beaches aren’t crowded with droves of couples walking up and down?) Romantic means flowers, chocolate and a card on Valentine’s Day. It means a sappy love story. It means “our song”. The Romantic Era was a complicated philosophical and intellectual movement that affected not only the arts but also education and politics and we have boiled it down to a Match.com adjective!

Jane Austen, who was one of the important authors of the Romantic Era, wrote an interesting book called “Sense and Sensibility” about two sisters who have very different viewpoints regarding romantic love. It’s interesting because, now that I know a little bit about the philosophy of her era, I see that she was using her story to pit romanticism and rationalism against each other. The word sensibility was used at that time to describe a person who was ultra-sensitive and, therefore, more aware of beauty, moral truth, and the emotions of others. Supposedly, this type of person felt things more deeply and was, therefore, superior in some way. In the book Marianne “falls in love” with a man who affects her sensibilities with his handsome appearance, charming personality, and romantic gestures but he turns out to be all show and little substance. Today we might refer to him as a “player”. She is so swept away by her romantic feelings that she loses her sense; her objectivity. She mocks her sister, Eleanor, for not showing her feelings, implying that they couldn’t possibly be as deep as hers if she could keep them under control all the time. Eleanor had developed deep feelings for a man who is not quite as handsome, confident and charming but who is a person of honest character whose feelings are equally as deep as hers, although he is awkward and hesitant about expressing them. Jane Austen uses the characters to show us that all is not as it appears to be and, in fact, we can have very deep feelings for someone without losing our sense. She makes the case that romanticism and rationalism are not mutually exclusive. In other words, you don’t have to be irrational to appreciate romance. I have been the sensibility sister in past relationships and, although I enjoy romance as much as anyone else, if the situation ever presents itself again I want to be the sense sister next time. As always, when I think of a good relationship my parents come to mind – two people with lots of sense and enough romance thrown in the mix to still be holding hands and slow dancing alone in the garage in their 70’s. No drama, no flash, no histrionics – just deep love, respect, and lots of laughs. Until the day he died my father always introduced my mother as his bride. Now, that’s what I call romantic.    

Even though the word romantic has become linked with relationships, the Romantic Era was not about relationships; the movement focused on artistic imagination and the individual, and it prized intuition and emotion. It promoted a strong belief in the importance of nature, particularly its effect on the artist when alone and surrounded by it. Those feelings of awe and wonder and the connection to your spirituality that you feel when you observe the sunset or a beautiful natural scene are romantic – and you can enjoy them even when you are totally alone! The emotions that stir in my chest when I look at a great work of art or the Grand Canyon are romantic. My teary-eyed, lump-in-the-throat response to the “Star Spangled Banner” and the sight of our flag billowing in the wind is romantic. No doubt there is great enjoyment in sharing these things with someone you love but don’t fall into the trap of thinking romantic feelings are limited solely to a relationship. What if you never have another love relationship? Does that mean you will never feel passionately romantic about anything again? Life is full of deep, passionate, romantic emotions so don’t dilute them or suppress them just because you’re a “singleton”. Enjoy!

 Romantic: marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of the heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious or idealized; appreciation of external nature

Stella chillin' in the great outdoors

Stella chillin’ in the great outdoors

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