Are You Romantic?

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I still have the bill from the Crock & Block Restaurant where my boyfriend took me to celebrate our six-month anniversary. Surf & Turf. After dinner, he surprised me with tickets to see Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein in 3-D. Ahhh, true romance.

“Romance? What’s that?” a friend balked when I told him I planned to tackle the “R word” in this week’s column.

Yes, romance. What can I say, I’m a sap. The cornier the better. I dry every flower I’m given, and I still have the note Butch (a rockabilly band guy) left on my bedside table telling me how flattered he was to have slept with me. I know – groan! – but I was completely charmed. I love roses, velvet, satin and silk, canopied beds, down comforters and pillows, breakfast in bed, bubble baths… it’s quite embarrassing, really.

Of course, romance has become a commodity these days – prepackaged in a heart-shaped box or as the thoughtful prose of a greeting-card employee. Thus my friend’s cynicism, I suppose.

But I still hang onto notions of the old-fashioned, homemade variety. Like the time the love of my life showed up unannounced on a Sunday morning with croissants and fresh juice. Okay, so I killed it by not being home because I happened to be sleeping with the other love of my life at the time – hey, it was a confusing period in my life. Of course, since croissant-bearing boy probably felt more foolish than romantic, standing on my front porch that morning, he never did anything like that again. I think that’s partly why that brand of romance is so rare these days. No one wants to feel like a fool.

I know I have to accept that some people just don’t get off on this stuff like I do. Like that time I ran around shopping all day, made a fabulous dinner candles, wine, the whole bit – even washed my sheets. He comes over, claiming he’s not hungry. “I had a late lunch,” he said and plopped down on the couch to see what was on TV. Be still my heart!

I’m not expecting anyone to slay dragons or suck back poison or anything, but I wouldn’t be adverse to a scribbled stanza or two once in awhile – a hand-written note in a card, hell – a creatively composed grocery list would get me worked up. My friend still gets letters from an affair she had in Ireland last summer. They spent, like, two days together and he still hasn’t run out of material. And this guy’s no flaky artist or anything; he works in a steel mill. His letters give me goose bumps, and I wasn’t even there (yes, she reads them to me – you take what you can get) -  minute details about remembering what he was thinking as he looked at her face on the train and other nauseatingly sweet things like that. I’m tellin’ ya, I know it’s a sweeping generalization but guys over here just don’t think of shit like that. And if they think about it, no way are they gonna tell you about it. Sigh.

Not to say that all women are romantics. Another sweeping generalization is that it’s a boy/girl thing. One woman I spoke to this week said she’d puke if some guy started writing her bad poetry and leaving little notes around for her. Some folks believe it’s a right brain/left brain thing. In fact, I’ve been reading this pop-psychology book by Rebecca Cutter and I have to admit I’m getting sucked in. (I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’ve just left a relationship where I felt there was a serious romance deficiency and am looking for an explanation so I don’t feel like it was due to some deficiency on my part.)

In her book, When Opposites Attract: Right Brain/Left Brain Relationships and How to Make Them Work (Plum/Penguin), she talks about how right-brain folks (like me, I guess) can’t understand why their partner can’t be more romantic. Meanwhile, their partners are scratching their left brain and going, “What’s the big deal?”

For example, Cutter writes, when RB says “Let’s go for a walk and talk,” LB responds with a practical “Where do you want to go?” RB: “Anywhere.” LB: What do you want to talk about? RB: “Anything.” LB: “Just tell me what you want.” RB: “To be together.” LB: “To do what?” RB: “Forget it.”

And when RB wonders why LB can never do anything special to tell RB what the relationship means to LB, LB is like, “It’s pretty obvious – I’m here aren’t I?” Don’t put yourself out, buddy.

Maybe I need to find myself a nice RB-boy and we could sit around drying flowers with shriveled fingers from the endless bubble baths we’d enjoy together. Or not. Maybe I should just drop this whole romance thing too.

Wait, what’s this – The Cyrano Server. Romance is alive and kicking on the Internet! Just like in the movies, the web site promises, Cyrano will be the go-between for you and your love, turning your dull thoughts into a romantic serenade. Just fill in the blanks. Alas, yet another cheap imitation.
Remember those novelty fill-in-the-blank pre-written letters? Same concept. You punch in some adjectives to describe your relationship, your love’s favorite food etc., choose the tone of your letter – steamy, poetic, desperate – and voilà, one keystroke and Cyrano dumps it into his pre-programmed love letter. I went for the surreal tone: “My love, you are toast. Remember the time I saw a seagull fly out of your feet? You comforted me with your sour grapes until the arrogant sun dipped out of reach. I thought I spied your toque draped across the equator. But the asphalt still flickers with our impossible love. Yours reluctantly, Josey.”

Sheik and Ramses condoms just launched a Romance Web Page with promises to “up the romance factor in your life while practicing safer sex.” Very 90s, I thought. A suggested list of Valentine’s Day Gifts from A-Z included all the standards – roses, perfume, a marriage proposal, yoghurt. (soothing your date’s yeast infection could be romantic, I suppose). I scored 28 on their Romance quiz – out of what, I don’t know, but they suggested I return often “to improve my score.” Sure.

The rest of the romance sites were personal ads and stuff about romance novels. Proof, I suppose, that romance is still most explosive in our imagination. Which is probably a good thing. In The Natural History of Love by Morton Hunt (Anchor Books), Ellen Berscheid, a long-time researcher of love, suggests that “the state of being romantically ‘in love’ is intense and stressful, and like other alarm or emergency reactions, cannot be sustained for long without risk of physical harm or death.”

According to a survey on “nearly 40 percent of women report that their boyfriends or husbands are ‘not very often’ or ‘never’ romantic, yet 75 percent of men claim that they are romantic consistently.”

Something’s out of whack here. I suspect the problem has something to do with how men and women define romance.

Our culture perpetuates the idea that romance must involve candlelight dinners, roses, tight pants and a lute. But I’m not so sure many guys buy into these clichés. I’m not saying that all women do either but most women do tend to imaging romantic gestures to be, well, romantic, that is, something out of the ordinary, a surprise that makes her feel special, pampered and cherished.

Maybe because he feels self-conscious in tights, but for men, romance tends to be about more subtle daily gestures. Case in point: You may not feel like him getting the oil changed in your car for you is romantic, but in his mind it is. It’s something that’s important to him. Therefore, doing this for you is, in his mind, a romantic gesture.

Sure, he may not buy you flowers on Valentine’s Day, but he works hard every day so the two of you can have a good life together. In his mind, that says much more than a bunch of flowers that are “just gonna die anyway.”

I’m not trying to let him off the hook. It’s just that you’ll feel less resentful if you try and understand where he’s coming from instead of sulking that he didn’t remember the anniversary of the first time you held hands.

As far as I’m concerned romance is simply a flowery word for the things you go out of your way to do to make each other feel extra special. As such, your guy likes to be romanced too. He might not put it in quite the same words but trust me, he wants to feel pampered, cherished, appreciated and special, just like you do. He wants to feel like you notice him and are paying attention to his likes and dislikes. That you really “get” him and appreciate him for exactly who he is. He loves it when you do things that remind him of why the two of you are so fantastic for each other. This makes him feel close and connected and, bonus for you, more inclined to do lots more special things for you too. Just as when it comes to romancing you, the little personal gestures that take little time or money are the things that will have more romantic impact.

Here are some ideas to get you started. Feel free to tweak to suit your guy’s particular taste:

* If he’s working late, surprise him at the office with take out from his favourite restaurant.

* Make his favorite meal, the one he knows you don’t really enjoy all that much.

* Wash his car.

* Watch the game with him, even if you don’t like sports. Ask questions. He’ll feels like you’re taking an interest and you’ll enjoy the pride he displays in being able to share his knowledge of the game.

* Leave a note on the bathroom mirror describing one thing you love about him that you’ll be thinking about today, like how kind he is to your family, or how much you love his sexy lower back.

* Surprise him with a book he mentioned in passing or a t-shirt from his favorite band.

* If he comes home after a rough day, sit him down, make him a drink and rub his shoulders. Don’t ask him to talk about it unless he wants to. If he does, sympathize and let him vent.