So, apparently I don’t quite meet the Shakespeare standard of romantic. Or the Bronte. Or, well, the Disney. Heck, in the ranking of epic romantic tales and persons, I may even fall a hair below Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” When it comes to romance and passion, the most apt literary or media comparison for me just might be… Wikipedia.
You might not expect it of, you know, a romance writer, right? I mean, I didn’t even know I was romantically impaired until the other night, when my fiancé, a mutual friend of ours, and I sat digesting both our delicious dinner and our spicy dinnertime conversation.
Our friend, B: “So, Elle’s fiancé, what do you think of soul mates?”
Elle’s fiancé, J: “I feel as though Elle is mine.”
J: “If by ‘soul mate’ you mean divine providence put her in my life as a way to help mine make sense, then yes, I believe in soul mates. Elle is my life.”
B: “What about you, Elle?”
Me: “I think it’s a lovely notion. Not supported by science, but lovely, nonetheless.”
B: “What do you mean?”
Me: “Well, I mean, I’ve read studies©, and they say one of the greatest predictors of romantic feelings is physical proximity. As you might expect, people tend to fall in love with people to whom they have a lot of access. And it often requires an interesting dance of attraction based on arbitrary, media-defined beauty ideals and our adherence to them; successfully performing culturally defined romantic rituals; and exchanging feelings and relationship risks in order to equalize relationship dynamics.
“The idea that there’s just one person out there for us? Well, okay, but what if we never meet them? There are seven billion people on the planet. What’s the likelihood we’d meet our other half? And what if you do and that person dies and you meet someone else? Are they destined to be not as good or healthy for you? Besides, what’s wrong with marrying or being in a relationship for the sake of mutual companionship and pleasure? Who says it needs to be your grand passion, your other half? And doesn’t the notion of soul mates imply there’s something wrong with remaining single? And that we’re only half a person without a romantic partner? Not everyone needs another person to feel whole.
“Most of all, the notion of romantic love as something celebration-worthy is pretty modern and Western. Before industrialization, most marriages were based on economic or familial benefit. Romantic love was considered the cherry on top but not necessary or even very useful. In the U.S., the idea of marrying for love is less than two hundred years old. Obviously, the idea of soul mates as we use it today is a culturally and historically situated idea used to bind relationships in the absence of economic need.”
Elle’s fiancé, J: “So says the romance writer.”
Actually, so says the sociologist. Apparently, when it comes to discussing aloud the components of l’amour, I slide right into teacher mode. Who knew?
And oh, the conversation didn’t end there. As you can imagine, I was in trouble. Hot water. In fact, I’m pretty certain someone in that room immediately nominated me for the 2015 Romantic Jackass Award. After a few looks, I had to explain rather hastily to my fiancé that my academic outpouring didn’t mean I don’t feel blazing passion and tummy butterflies and other sugary stuff when we’re together.
“I would choose you every single day,” I said, sincerely (if maybe a bit desperately). “Not because of destiny but because we’re best friends and perfect partners. I couldn’t design someone better suited to me.”
I’m a squishy person, peeps. I cry over TV shows. All of them. Even comedies. I can’t even watch the Olympics because I get misty when Olympians earn less than 9.5 and subsequently have to adopt Brave Face. Sniff. I’m one of the most emotional people I know. And yet, when it comes to explaining romance, Cushiony Elle gets stomped into a frothy goo under the sensible, academic heel of Sociologist Elle.
I don’t know, though. I don’t think that makes me such an awful person. (Except for maybe last Sunday night. Ahem.) I’m sentiment mixed with realism. In my romances, there is no instant lust, no magical connection, no love at first sight. (Nope, not a believer in that, either.) My sheroes and heroes meet, get to know another, and fall in like. Then, as their relationship grows, they realize they’ve grown with this other person into someone new and kind of beautiful. Like, love, and companionship coexist in something that transcends the idea of destiny.
As I told my fiancé, “I love everyone. I love all my students. I love my acquaintances. I love my coworkers. But I don’t always like them, and I don’t want to spend all my time with them. You, I more than love. I like you. I like you as a full person, a person on your own, not as a reflection of who I am or who I’d like to be. You don’t complete me, nor I you. We help make one another better people.”
Maybe that makes up for the other night? At least a little bit? Anyone?