Romance Hangover – When the things you thought would get you in the mood actually left you feeling sluggish, irritable, and generally disappointed. Oh, and mildly ashamed. Welcome to the day after Valentine’s Day!
Seriously, why is it so hard to create satisfying romantic moments on demand?
Consider how we developed our early ideas of romance–the influences that shaped us from pre -adolescence before we had a clue about the real feelings of romantic love. To this day, if I ask my mind to call up a romantic image, John Cusack standing in the rain with a boombox over his head flashes in. No shame: that clearly worked for a lot of people in my generation. But what made this so romantic?
Wait, what?! Think about it; this is not a happy moment in the film. If you list out romantic moments in films that have shaped you, you will find that most of them are moments of deep humility in the face of a broken heart or risks taken after a broken heart. High intensity moments that include real suffering.
Being willing to suffer for love has been the base of romantic depictions for centuries. In fact most of what has come to define romantic love – yearning, poetry, unreasonable devotion in the face of obstacles, gift giving – can be traced back to the Medieval literary conception of courtly love. These stories depicted a knight who devoted himself to proving his love to a Lady who was unattainable to him, usually because she was already married. The knight would continually face tasks and ordeals to prove his love and how much he is willing to suffer for love.
This makes for dramatic emotional stories, but most of us don’t really want to engage in ongoing ordeals to show our love. But we also have some unconscious connection to this version of romance. I call this the “feats of strength” variety of love. How much you love me? Show me! Oh and make it photogenic so I can post…
And before you get really bummed out, let me be clear – there is nothing wrong with looking forward to acts of love. Enjoy excessive bouquets of flowers and flash mob declarations and clumsy, vulnerable poems and all that good stuff. Just don’t expect that to be the stuff that will nourish your feelings of romance long term. Those are moments. Romance on any given day in February after a hectic 10 hours of work and a depressing news feed? That is made of different stuff.
I think what we are really searching for in our yearning for romance is risk. We want someone to risk for us and we want to feel the excitement of risking ourselves. Risk is a turn on. Several psychological studies have shown that feeling mild danger makes us feel more attracted and connected. It’s in our nature. We want to be caught up in a moment so compelling that it requires us to really show up and that makes us find the person we are with compelling as well.
Without examining our concepts of romance, we often end up unconsciously creating moments of stilted gestures with little connection to actual feelings. We may find ourselves going through “romantic” motions, making sacrifices to mimic risk (like spending too much money). Or an unfortunate way to up the intensity and risk in the moment is by co-creating a fight (a de-moralizing version of an ordeal of love with the unspoken question “what will you put up with to be with me?” at play).
I believe we can create true romance in ways that do not require suffering or forced feats of strength. We can craft romantic moments that are relaxed and not hard work. It doesn’t have to involve suffering! Here is one risk you take together tonight – Spend time together without distractions. No screens, no entertainment, no audience, no gift exchange. Just shut out the world for an hour or two. Talk, touch, slow dance, eat something simple. Candlelight is certainly encouraged, but not necessary.
In our highly plugged in world this type of time together is a risk. You may find yourself expressing something you didn’t know you felt or collaborating on a fantasy you didn’t realize you both shared or simply finding how charged it can be to meet each other’s eyes and release the breath you had been holding all day. Meet each other without distractions and accoutrements of love. You may find it is the remedy you need for the romance hangover.