For as long as I can remember, there has been a notion “out there” suggesting the amount of happiness and fulfillment in a woman’s relationship is directly related to the amount of goo-goo eyed, hearts-and-flowers, Tiffany — not Overstock — diamond-jewelry romance she experiences.
This idea seems to permeate everything — TV, social media, videos, bodice-rippers, woman’s magazines, movies, not to mention any number of advertisements from teeth whitener to nail fungus removal.
If we can accept everything we see and read, this “romance quotient” is measured in certain quantifiable, demonstrative displays — such as how many times our boyfriend/husband/significant other wines and dines us (with candles and minimum $35.99 bottle of Merlot); and how much and how often he compliments us, and professes his undying love.
Romance is also, if we can believe the ads, measured in the amount of consistently bought (impromptu or under pressure) gifts the lover showers upon the woman, high among which are special-order salted caramel chocolates from Godiva (a Whitman Sampler in a pinch); expensive fragrances with names like “Longing,” “Seductive,” and “Jump Me,” lots of gold trinkets; anything from Victoria’s Secret; dozens of long-stemmed yellow (red is out this year) roses, and at least one impulse romantic getaway trip to a Caribbean island, or if money is tight, a weekend in the Amish Country, or if it’s really tight, a visit to the Bronx Zoo (with peanuts).
If any of this is missing, we are led to believe the romance is finis, because the man is either taking the woman for granted, bored to tears, or just plain doesn’t love her anymore. (Naturally, it’s the woman’s fault. She walked around too often in her fleece cat p.j. bottoms, University sweats and Uggs.)
In any event, since romance is reportedly the glue which keeps relationships from falling apart, then it is only a matter of time before the man will take off in search of this illusive — but must have — key to happiness and look for it in the arms of another woman, a woman of mystery and sultry eyelids, who’ll wait in a steamy Casablanca-like bar, e-cigarette in one hand, organic wine in the other, ready to kiss and snuggle for hours after which the two will steal away to the South of France to live adrift in an I-can’t-live-without-you, lovely-dovey romantic stupor.
This is a dangerous notion. It’s what, I believe, is responsible for a great deal of unhappiness and an even greater number of divorces.
It’s also what I believe keeps a lot of women (and men, too) unsatisfied, searching for that amorous nirvana — a fantasy bubble of perfect bliss which the world popularizes as totally achievable — under the right circumstances.
The purveyors of gibberish like this really do women a great disservice. They want us to believe that romance is the same thing as love, that there is no love if you don’t have romance, and that the romance a woman does have should be equal to or more than her neighbor’s, and as electric as the day she and her partner first nibbled each other’s earlobes.
As most of us know or (hopefully) come to learn, this is pure rubbish. Though romance is nifty, it’s not the be all and end all of a relationship. And if, as the song bemoans, your man doesn’t “bring flowers” anymore, so what? He pays the mortgage or does nice things like empty the dishwasher, or offers to take the kids to the mall, or the cats to the vet, so you’ll have time to write your blog or soak in a hot bath, actions which — while they may not categorically be considered romantic — are just as meaningful a sign of love as any diamond and ruby drop earrings.
Now, I don’t have a daughter, unless you count the furry one with four legs on the back of my chair. But if I did, I’d teach her to separate love and romance as soon as she stopped crawling. To help her clear up the difference, I’d give her my own definitions of each:
Love, I’d tell her, is a permanent, real-life, enduring, reality-based bond. It doesn’t need Tiffany bracelets or oyster and champagne dinners to survive. Love allows partners to cherish each other — warts and all — while they face good and not-so-good times, as well as challenges like house alterations, kids, cats, unemployment, falls, operations, death, the effects of gravity on the body, depletion of funds, hormones, Presidential races, cesspool backups, hair transplants, aging and the like.
On the other hand, romance, I’d say — though thoroughly delightful and enchanting — is ever-so-fleeting, thrives on rose-colored glasses, and calls to mind the stuff of fairytales. In fact, I’d tell her, romance is a lot like expensive perfume — it’s intense at first, but it evaporates much too soon.
— Allia Zobel Nolan
Allia Zobel Nolan has written more than 150 adult and children’s books. Her latest is Laugh Out Loud: 40 Women Humorists Celebrate Then and Now…Before We Forget, a collaboration with the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. This essay appears in that collection.