I celebrated a birthday recently. Not a major one. Turning this new age didn’t afford me any new privileges and the number it self doesn’t signify any major milestones. Nevertheless, it’s time to speculate wildly as to what the next 365 days will bring.
Inevitably, some one always asks what I wish for in the new year. Somehow, I’m never prepared to answer it. Sure, I could say something generic like “world peace” or “good health for all.” But as a person with a penchant for the fantastical, I take these wishes seriously. (I may or may not still make a wish every day at 11:11.)
For the record, world peace and health are important and I want them. But this is my birthday wish. I don’t take this request to the birthday fairies or whatever wish granting creature you believe in lightly.
Whimsy aside, the birthday wish, for me, is a challenging concept because it forces me to ask myself one brutal question: Was there anything missing in my latest year of life? The answer is not always easy to admit.
Before I divulge my birthday “wish,” I think I should operationalize the term. A “wish” is different from a “goal.” A goal is something I’m actively going to try to achieve. A wish is something magic, something I want but something I hope stumbles into my lap unexpectedly. Most importantly, a wish is a thing I can’t seem to obtain despite my best efforts.
The last time I posted, I took a firm “Who needs a boyfriend” stance which I proudly confess I’m still holding to. In the weeks since posting, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of single life without ever once thinking about the missing Future Husband in my life or getting fervent about any one boy. Freeing myself from that tyranny has lead me to a personal renaissance.
BUT… in the objective interest in stating my wish for the Gods of Birthdays and Cake, I submit the following: Romance.
Now before you roll your eyes and click over to the another tab, hear me out. I think it’s time we all sit and have a conversation about Romance because I’m not entirely sure everyone is on the same page.
When we start thinking about Romance, there are certain images that come to mind: nice dinners over candle light, champagne, roses, jewelry etc. But that is a list of tangible and purchasable things. It’s more complicated than that. Romance itself cannot be simply acquired with a Groupon. It’s an elaborate sensitive experience.
You see, Romance is not simply a gift. It can be a gift. Sure, you can hide a rare piece of jewelry (think heart of the ocean) in a chocolate cake at the most expensive restaurant in town. But for some one like me, I’m more likely to devour that sweet treat without ever noticing Billy Zane’s lost treasure until many hours later (which sort of kills the vibe.) So it’s not about showering some one with gifts on gifts. When we behave romantically, we create moments that are surprising, thoughtful and personal.
Sometimes a simple act that shows some one you’re paying attention can create a moment that will imprint on their heart forever. (Note to self: Sell that line to Hallmark.)
I first developed my concept of Romance when I was in elementary school watching an episode of The Cosby Show. I can never stress enough the impact this show has had on the type of relationship and family I one day hope to have. (Future Husband, please be prepared to stage lip sync numbers with our children for every major event.)
In this particular episode, Cliff challenges the two men courting his daughters, Denise and Vanessa, to a “Romance-off.” (Note to self: pitch “Romance-Off” to every major network. John Legend hosts from his piano.) At the end of the episode, the three couples sit down to dinner and the men demonstrate their Casanovic ways. Alvin (I think) and Denise’s guy do something for their ladies that obviously made no impact on me since I can’t remember it or their names.
Then it’s Cliff’s turn. He tells a charming story about one of his first dates with Claire. During this date, teenage Claire pointed out a wooden barrette she adored while they passed by a drug store. Cliff, being the penniless young man he was, could not afford it. That memory stuck with him for many decades. And so to commemorate this special occasion, Cliff tracked down and purchased that barrette at last.
The other couples sighed being moved by this gesture. Claire, oh wise Claire, smiles coyly, seemingly touched that he remembered this relic of their history.
But this coy smile was a TRAP. Because she never wanted that barrette. Eunice Chantily wanted that tacky barrette. Claire wanted a green plastic bracelet. The other couples gasp and laugh in a mixture of delight and embarrassment.
Claire, fuming, admonishes Cliff for his most unfortunate careless mistake. She opens the box intending to pull out the barrette to prove how horrible it was only to extract the exact green bracelet she had just described. They embrace, the studio audience cheers, and a young man’s understanding of romance is forged in the fires of an NBC sitcom. Witness this moment here.
Even as a child, I was enchanted by that most perfect reveal. I still have to fan myself off before I catch the vapors every time I watch that clip (I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic.) Cliff Huxtable, MD of Love, did not rely on extravagancies to continuously sweep Claire off of her feet. Instead, he created a lifetime of precious moments that were tailor made for her. He presented his affections with a boldness that made Claire fall in love over and over again.
So I come back to my point about Romance. I worry that we’re not doing it right. These days it feels like we date without consequence. When we can open an app or go to a website to find a database of other dudes instantly to replace the one “that we’re just not into” it’s easy not to appreciate the beauty of starting a new relationship. Our investment in each other diminishes.
With most guys (that I’ve dated any way) I get the sense they are waiting to see if they are really interested before showing up with their A-Game. Like why waste all their romantic charm until we’ve reached some arbitrarily designated milestone (like the third date or first official Facebook photo or some other silly third thing.)
For some one who’s former Scruff tagline read “Modern Day Meg Ryan” this can be very disheartening. (Which might point to the very reason why I quit all of those apps.) I’m a chronic romantic and I have reason to believe that makes me very passé.
It’s not uncommon for me to surprise my gentleman callers with subtle but romantic gestures. Something to appropriately express that I enjoyed the first date and look forward to exploring a future. I can’t say that it’s ever been met with the overwhelming response I had anticipated. More often than not, those sweet nothings yield cold dismissive nothing. With each passing disappointment, I get more and more jaded.
Not everyone is good at Romance. And maybe not all of us have been brainwashed by a lifetime of exposure to romantic comedies to value it. I get it. Starting out a courtship with a big romantic gesture requires a lot of balls. Because behaving romantically communicates unequivocal interest. Which is not the MO of any one these days.
However, part of developing meaningful relationships requires a certain level of vulnerability and risk. As romantic interactions become more sterile, the signals get murky. Dating, then, which can be a giggle inspiring affair, becomes like an awkward bro-session that may or may not result in dry humping where I’m not sure if he’s actually “feeling it” or just feeling me up. And honey, you can save your ambivalence for some other girl. Swipe left.
So 26 was awesome. But if you want to know what I wish for in this next year, which is to say what this year lacked, then the answer is romance. And, yes, I am absolutely nervous that having told you this my wish might not come true. But I’m here to prove a point #altruism.
***I have a feeling this may be received with mixed reactions. We all know “traditional” romantic narratives tend to enforce certain limiting gender norms. But I’d encourage us to keep breaking out of that mold. Because no matter who you are or what gender(s) you prefer, EVERYONE likes getting a thoughtful surprise from the apple of their eye. And I firmly believe we can do it without any sexual commerce attached. Like, be sweet simply because you want to see your honey smile, not just because it’s a guaranteed ticket to the bone zone. But I digress…