Romance: the Quicksand of Adulthood

“I always thought that quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be. Because if you watch cartoons, quicksand is like the third biggest thing you have to worry about in adult life…” is part of John Mulaney’s intro in his comedy special New in Town.

For me, romance is what my childhood and adolescence billed as one of the most essential aspects of an adult life. According to all the media I consumed, romance was a crucial, critical, life-changing, recurring phenomenon. Since as a hormonal teen you’re already obsessing about your dating life or non-dating life, the external reinforcement of this fixation doesn’t help.

I voraciously read the entirety of the church’s library, which as any other church-going woman knows, is dedicated to Christian couples finding love. Sure, they find God along the way, but the plot ends with romantic culmination. God’s part of the journey, sure, but romantic fulfillment is the happily ever after God promises, or whatever.

Maybe it would have been different if outside my fictional favorites this concept hadn’t been reinforced by friends and adults throughout these years. It’s a concept we (as a culture) start enforcing at a very young age. Pairing toddlers up as “boyfriend and girlfriend”, teasing girls about cooties, asking pre-teens who their boyfriends or girlfriends are, obsessing over when you’ll get your first kiss, the fear of looking like a loser if you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

When you’re a teenager questions about your love life are as ubiquitous as questions about the weather, and almost as interchangeable in terms of how they affect you: either ruining your day or transforming it miraculously.

I spent hours of my life, in class, creating wedding dresses with my immature artistic talent. Hours planning weddings with doves flying and the appropriate number of bridesmaids. I spent probably decades of life doodling new signatures with different boys’ last names. I wrote notes to friends, we made hasty stupid calls to boys we liked, and came up with every excuse under the sun to get cute boys to talk to us. My friends even organized dances in our small Dutch town (gasp!) to get some decent flirting opportunities in.

It’s hard not to be boy crazy when your entire environment supports this perspective. The scholastic calendar year resolves around three things: the Tolo dance in fall, the Junior and Senior Banquet in spring, and then summer vacation where you are free to obsess about how to get boys to notice you next year. Maybe by tanning, or if you’re lucky, growing bigger boobs over those months.

And yet, I find that as an adult, 99% of my life has nothing to do with romance. The 1% that does have something to do with romance is probably dedicated to watching Pride and Prejudice and When Harry Met Sally once every year. I actually spend most of my time trying to be a functioning human being, holding down a paying job, and being a decent friend and family member.

It’s weird to me now that I expected something from life that turned out to be utterly absent from my life. It’s like discovering quicksand probably won’t be a real life concern I have to deal with. It’s almost shocking how much of life I’ve handled and experienced without romantic love to cloud the scenery. It’s remarkable how much life I’ve managed to enjoy without romance guiding the way.

Every so often it dawns on me that I’m short a romantic sub-plot, and it catches me off guard because how can I be missing something that “great”? Where’s the obvious gap in my life where romance is supposed to go? Even in a TV show like ER romance was a prominent subplot. If it’s not inescapable for busy medical professionals, how is it possible I’ve got such a dearth of it?

The way I figure it is like this: I realized at some point that marriage wasn’t a guarantee for me. I don’t know what the odds are on my successful romancing, but since I knew it wasn’t going to be a sure thing I decided pretty early that I was going to put my energy to the things that mattered for me.

Hell, maybe that’s even the arthritis talking. I have a finite amount of energy anyway, I can’t afford to waste any of it on “I hope something magical happens.”

It’s surprising the sides of yourself you can discover when you’re not worried about landing a male lead in your life. Although the female Indiana Jones of archaeology dream has died, I’ve had the chance to supplant others in its place.

The pursuit of marriage isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It’s the pursuit of romance I’ve had to wean myself from. You know in the 31 years I’ve been alive, almost all of the people I haven’t been romantically interested in have been the best people I’ve ever met.

Or put another way, I’ve met more great friends than I have romantic futures.

I know a lot of people desire romance, desire a romance that leads to marriage, and I’m not trying to knock romantic literature (that’s for another blog post) or romance movies (again, another post), but I am trying to say that it’s good to every once in awhile remove ourselves from environments that saturate our minds with romantic fantasies.  It’s important to remember that the bulk of your life is lived outside of romance,

Don’t let pining for romance take away the value of the life you’ve got.  Because in this case, romance is like adult quicksand. Don’t get sucked into the void that fiction can promise.

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4 thoughts on “Romance: the Quicksand of Adulthood

  1. There’s no way to say this and not chance coming off weird in a number of different ways but I’ll continue anyway…
    Been happily married for 5 yrs to an amazing albeit wholly unromantic man. My subconscious is still waiting for the romance like in the books and movies… having to let that go on a semi-regular basis and not have it be an expectation but rather enjoy the beautiful stuff already in my life.
    I think I’m just trying to say that it was an encouragement to read someone other than my own self, put into words that the idea of romance as portrayed in etc etc is just not accurate. And that many of us, married and unmarried, find ourselves decades into adulthood still learning that lesson. Thanks.
    And I guess as a ps I’d want all unmarried women everywhere to know (and wish married ladies talked about it more) that while I do highly recommend and love and enjoy marriage, the romantic part is not a guarantee. Totally depends on the personality of the guy.

    Like

    1. Thank you, Nicole! I’d like to do a more in depth look at how much romance in fiction really sets us up for false standards, and gives men zero faith they can pull off a romantic gesture without Herculean strength and effort! Unfair for both parties.
      I appreciate your words, and I wish you and your husband all the best (and some maybe some accidental romance ;)).

      Like

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