Let us begin with the understatement that I am a romantic.
I have this borderline obsession with ideals–anything short of unique I declare as banal, and everything not forever lasting I consider pointless. I used to spend most of my hours daydreaming about true love, and the rest sneering at oh-so-lame couples that fail at that ideal. In that perfect world, a date would start not with calculated flirtation but random rendezvous at a river bank. It would sweeten not in a noisy night club but over a glass of wine amidst Chopin and candles. And its climax would mean not (heaven forbids) an orgasm, but parting lips and lingering eyes at the doorsteps underneath overflowing street light.
I like things as they are in (old) movies, so to speak. Hand-crafted presents, romantic scenery, public stunts–I relish them all.
So perhaps I am qualified to explain why romanticism is a mistake. A very grave one, indeed, but not in the way pragmatists often half pity, half ridicule us. Yes, like they say, life is just not rosy. But idealists know perfectly well how life is–we just do not let such pettiness weighs down how life should be. Yes, our idolization of ballades and roses is constructed. And perhaps gallantry or platonic love is not “real” in the biological and physical sense like sexual urge or self-interested instinct. But doesn’t that mean we need such illusions even more to cover our own shivering nakedness?
Indeed, if all love and life can ever be is like that–low, bare, and instinctual–then thank you, I would like to pass. After all, thà chết đói chứ không ăn mì gói is as much my bachelor’s credence as it is my gastronomical motto. There is no need to warn us that life would fail our high taste, for we know that already, and we are not scared.
And yet it is fair to say that we romantics tend to be unhappy. It is not so much because we fear the realist questioning, but because we are afraid of our own inconsistency. We reject their worldview so publicly, only to still find ourselves languishing in a sort of private anxiety. Is it possible–apprehensively, we ask–that in a relentless pursuit of the true love ideal, of selflessness and sacrifice, of the forever and the unique, is it possible, um, that we end up being the most selfish and the least loving?
Sadly, yes, for there is the risk that we would fall in love with our own romantic ideals and not with our own beloved. We think so much about how our lovers should have been that we underappreciate how they are. We plan so much for how things could have been that we get upset often. In the name of true love we unlove our spouses for falling short of that ideal–we cannot forgive them for being unforgiving–we criticize them for being critical–and, at the slightest doubt that this thing may not last forever, we want to immediately abandon it.
This plague of romanticism inflicts variously, and I make it seem so grave only because I have been to the extreme of it. In real life, it is more subtle but no less common. Think about the last time you get upset with your girlfriend, the last time you are disappointed with your relationship, the last time you feel this isn’t worth it–aren’t they all because you held your conception of true love more dearly than love itself?
May I propose then, that we should fantasize a little less? Perhaps we should close that novel, switch off that drama, and turn to the ones we care to ask how their day was, even if they are most likely to wearily answer “nothing much,” even if they are most likely to look tired and annoyed, even if the relationship is most likely staying its mundane course and not taking a romantic turn.
Even if all of that can seem, um, so un-movie-like.