Not That You Asked, But... | Romance
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By all accounts, Joe Biden has won the election.
I could start a rant here about how that's not an improvement - and I will, continually, rest assured - but for now I feel like it's better to address one central aspect of why people think it's an improvement, which happens to be something that causes problems in more than just politics, something that screws up our romantic partnerships, our eating habits, our family relationships, literally everything we do: I'm talking about Romance.
You might think I'm talking about things like opening doors for your date or buying flowers and chocolates on Valentine's Day and picnics with charcuterie - and to a certain extent I am, we'll get to that - but I'm talking more about the overall romantic mindset that affects how we view the world, and by extension, how we believe the world should be and how we interact with it.
So let's back up and define what I'm talking about, as always:
The first definition is the more common usage, but it's really just one facet of the second, more accurate definition. When we talk about romance, usually we're talking about love, but that's because as a society we think love should be mysterious and exciting and picture-perfect. That's not because that's what romance is, it's because love has been tainted by romantic ideals.
Romance as a concept is rooted in Romanticism, the European artistic movement that began in the late 1700s - more specifically, chivalric romance, fiction that focused on larger-than-life heroes, clear-cut villains, quests, marvelous events, etc. While most experts place the peak of Romanticism between 1800-1850, and draw clear distinctions between Romanticism and modern romantic fiction, I suggest that its influence is still clear not only in modern fiction - Star Wars, Disney movies, and The Hunger Games, with their clear-cut Good Guy heroes versus clear-cut Bad Guy villains, their traditional ideals of good and evil, their Triumph Of Good endings, and their One True Love subplots, are all clearly rooted in classic Romanticism - but also in the way we look at everyday life.
(You might suggest that those ideals are present in our minds because of the popularity of those franchises, but I would suggest the opposite - that those franchises are so popular because they appeal to our romantic sensibilities.)
ROMANCE IN LOVE
Let's start with love, because there are at least 67 people I know personally who need to be thinking very hard about this concept right now.
Romance as we traditionally understand it is heavily rooted in medieval chivalry: open the door for your date, buy her flowers, treat her like a princess (also, the fact that "princess" is still an ideal to be pushed on young girls), fight for her "honor," all the way up to obsessive and often toxic monogamy - there is someone out there for you, meant for you, made for you, perfect for you; any time spent with someone who turns out to not be your One And Only was wasted time, it doesn't count, it was a mistake, you didn't really love them, because nothing could possibly compare to the love you have for this one. And when you have that mentality, you tend to put a lot more importance on romantic relationships than you should: Always looking for a person, willing to put up with things you shouldn't when you have one, ultimately leading to things like this:
This is funny to most people, because most people agree with the basic premise that boys are immature idiots. Which is, to a horrifying extent, true; but the understanding is "Boys are immature and stupid, so we just have to put up with their immaturity because that's just how they are" instead of "we refuse to be with any boy unless they're mature and can operate independently," because who wants to be single, right?
On top of that, all the things marriage counselors tell people to do for healthy relationships are completely unromantic by traditional understanding:
- Clear communication is essential to a happy and healthy relationship with anyone, but it's not romantic - we want sweet, clever, subtle conversations and actions that imply what we want without having to say it explicitly, because when we hint at what we want and the other person does pick up on it, we can tell ourselves that's proof of our deep spiritual connection. It leads every time to disappointment, because when you aren't clear with your intentions or your expectations you can never be happy, but it's romantic.
- Personal boundaries are vital to surviving as a person, but self-sacrifice is romantic - to quote The Offspring, "The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care...right?" Romance - backed up by Christianity - tells us that the biggest way you can show you care about someone is to suffer for them. It leads every time to resentment - it's always unmentioned until it's time to fight, when you hear "I GAVE UP EVERYTHING FOR YOU," but it's romantic.
- Robust support networks are a major thing therapists say we need, but the idea of getting everything you need from your partner is romantic - we put pressure on ourselves to be our partner's everything, and pressure on our partners to be our everything; if our partner gets validation from someone else or wants to spend time alone or with another friend, we're told to be jealous. Even to the point of denying the physical reality of mental illness - everyone who's suffered from chronic depression has had at least one partner early on break up with them because "if you really loved me, you'd be happy with me." The idea that "one and only" also means that you don't need anyone else for anything - it leads every time to isolation and dysfunction, because all your needs can never be met by just one person, but it's romantic.
A healthy relationship would be two people who are into each other having a frank conversation about what they're like, where they are in their emotional development, what they feel like they're ready for as far as commitment goes, what their plans are in life - and listening to and respecting each other's answers, then deciding together whether a relationship is in the cards for them and what that relationship might look like.
What we generally get instead, in fiction and in reality, is two people who meet and hit it off conversationally and/or sexually, and maybe one of them thinks they should be in a relationship - but it's not very romantic to say, "Hey, we should talk about a relationship;" it's romantic to just play it cool, and see where it goes, and pretend you're cool with whatever the other person seems like they're wanting, and slowly having feelings and resentment for those feelings not being returned at the same time - I mean you guys know this story, it's pretty much every romcom ever.
Romance in love tells us we're incomplete unless we have a partner, and that even if we have to put up with someone terrible, that's better than being single - but more than that, it turns the suffering into a badge of honor (which is a concept we will be coming back to repeatedly today). "Marriage is hard work! Sometimes I want to strangle my partner but that's what love is!"
No it absolutely isn't. Loving someone means loving them through tough times, sure; but more tough times does not mean the love is stronger, and at a certain point you have to accept that your "love" is all tough times and no joy, and that's not love; that's fear of being single. What we need is a mentality completely opposite of romance, of independence and realism. What we need is the mentality that we need to have a clear and mutually understood idea of what our relationship is, and when our needs aren't met or our boundaries are crossed, we leave. No "stay together for the kids" (which therapists say is worse than divorce), no "we've been through so much together," no "what if I can't find someone better" - just throw the whole person out and stay the hell single until you find someone who fits you. But that isn't very romantic.
ROMANCE IN POLITICS
Beyond love, though, romance has toxic effects on other important parts of everyday life. For brevity's sake, we'll just focus on one: Politics.
So when I say that we have a romantic view about politics, what I mean is that we have an understanding of politics that involves there being a Good Guy group and a Bad Guy group (Democrats and Republicans, each thinking they're the Good Guys and the other is the Bad Guys), clear-cut ideas of Good vs. Evil, heroes that represent (in our minds, not in reality) the ideals we favor, villains that represent what we hate, quests for righteousness and reward, an emphasis on chivalry, epic battles, etc.
This past election, much like each one before it, has been represented as a battle between Ultimate Good (Democrats) and Ultimate Evil (Republicans), with a main hero (Biden) who represents (again, in our heads, not in reality) the ideals we value, a main villain (Trump) who represents the things we despise, a spattering of supporting heroes (Pelosi, AOC, "The Squad") and villains (McConnell, etc), as the culmination of a Quest to defeat Ultimate Evil. The good guys are Absolute Definite Good Guys, the bad guys are Absolute Definite Bad Guys, it's a very simple black-and-white situation. None of it is accurate, none of it is real, but it's all very romantic.
And that's the problem: we have this romantic mode of thinking that affects how we see the world, and how we interact with it. We want things to be simple, but they're not - Good Guys are usually not all good, bad guys (excepting Trump and McConnell) are rarely all bad, and heroes are almost always just douchebags who like attention.
In our political situation, our "good guys" want the same things as our "bad guys," and even our best heroes don't want to rock the boat as much as it needs rocked. The groups that both sides regard as "bad guys" (anarchists, communists) are the closest we have to good guys. Ultimately we have no real heroes, just villains, and defeating them involves a lot of people who don't fit the Hero archetype all getting involved and being messy and probably messing up a whole lot; the path to victory involves a lot of zig-zagging and losing ground after gaining it, it's all very complicated and messy and deeply unromantic - but that's how it is.
One major, gigantic, important early step in fixing this country properly is to take romance out of politics and see things for the very complicated mess that they are. We can't fix anything until we look at it clearly. And, side benefit, if we stop prioritizing romance in relationships, maybe my beloved friends will be happier and I can stop yelling at them to throw the whole man out. Because trust me, guys: when it comes to both concepts, I'm as tired of saying this crap as y'all are of hearing it.