Romance. There was a time when the word caused me to roll my eyes and exhale a sigh of mild disgust. And well, in a way, it still kind of does.
I promise you, I am not a pessimistic hipster or killjoy by nature, especially not in any other area of opinion. But romance? If you want to win me over, please, give me something, anything, other than our society’s current representations of romance.
When I think of romance, I think of disingenuous, over-the-top, phoney displays of affection performed mainly to receive recognition.
And I suppose to a certain degree, I’ve always felt this way.
In the fifth grade, I was given a single rose in a clear glass vase for Valentine’s Day by a boy who had a crush on me. He was older than me. In the sixth grade. The feeling was mutual… or at least as mutually possible when you’re a preteen. After all, elementary school is the only time in your life when holding hands on the playground is the main indicator as to whether or not you’re dating.
Despite my prepubescent interest in this boy, his thoughtful botanic gesture proved all too much for me. I was so unimpressed - and overwhelmed - by this bold gesture. I tossed the rose, vase and all, into a three foot snow bank on my walk home from school that day.
I suppose I’m a little bit of a killjoy.
At fifteen, I had a boyfriend that professed his love for me through song. I had found young love and common ground with him through music. He was an aspiring teenage guitarist. We’d listen to Dashboard Confessional and perform Jimmy Eat World’s “May Angels Lead You In” over and over with each other.
So when the evening came that he told me he’d written me a song, I was a little flattered. Before we met up with friends, he pulled his guitar out of the trunk of his modern day jalopy and hopped into the backseat. I was sitting in the passenger seat when he started serenading me - this adorable teenage heartthrob and amateur lyricist. I awkwardly watched the whole performance through a re-adjusted rearview mirror. I remember feeling a little shellshocked, while he, quite literally, sang his heart out.
Was this love?
Was this romance?
Surely it had to have been both, right?
Ah, fifteen. A tumultuous time in life when a relationship that lasts three months, can feel as though a lifetime of love has been lost when it all comes to a close.
When the time we had spent together had reached it’s inevitable dismal end, my former flame wrote another song about me. This one was less pleasant; a twinge resentful, but every bit as sincere.
Any positive shift toward the idea of romance had officially been extinguished.
Like most people, I had a particular idea of how I thought romance was supposed to look.
Take Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, for example. I watched Belle and her friends countless times as a young girl. Every time I watched the Beast reveal his spectacular library to Belle - a bookworm through and through - I couldn’t help but scoff: he was holding her captive! This wasn’t a story about romance - it was a story about a romanticized version of Stockholm syndrome.
Perhaps it was because I wasn’t exposed to many depictions of a real life love and romantic relationship when I was growing up. Or perhaps it was just that I had read A Series of Unfortunate Events at too tender of an age. Either way, I had written off the notion of romance entirely before I was fully mature.
It wasn’t until I met my husband, Josh, that the expectations and hesitations that I felt towards my views of romance started to dissolve.
I quickly discovered that romance in and of itself wasn’t synonymous with grand gestures and potentially humiliating public displays of affection. It simply referred to “the feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love”.
Like, literally. That is the literal definition of the word romance. Google it.
When Josh and I were first dating, he took a detour on our way home after one of our dates. He pulled onto a gravel road, clad with thick corn fields on either side. For a moment, I was positive that I was about to be murdered.
It turns out, he simply wanted to climb onto the roof of his car and look up at the stars together. We did, and it was one of the clearest, calmest, most beautiful nights. That was it. It was the moment that I, for the very first time in my life, felt the magic that can be ignited by such a genuine and understated gesture.
Romance didn’t need to be loud.
It wasn’t the kind of love that is always depicted in the movies. No grand gestures. No staged proclamations of devotion. Just an organic love that ultimately took my heart by storm. It snuck up on me, and I decided it was worth fighting for.
Like me, my husband isn’t much of a romantic. Ten years into our relationship, we’re still madly in love and we continue to uphold Google’s definition of romance. We eased ourselves into getting to know one another until we unexpectedly found ourselves in love.
Don’t get me wrong: we’re still very much turned off by extravagant demonstrations of romance. But for me, excitement is sparked when my husband places his hand on the small of my back. I feel the pangs of love and romance when he makes our toddler giggle uncontrollably. And I feel my heart swell when he surprises me by bringing home a bag of potting soil and a new plant.
I don’t need song lyrics or an extravagant library. I don’t think Belle really needed that either, but I guess if I’ve learned anything about romance, it’s to each their own. And hopefully you find someone whose love jives with yours.
Nicole Ryan is an indigenous woman, wife and mother who owns small creative business, Cree Ryan. She enjoys curling up in bed with a good book, cooking plant-based meals and visiting greenhouses. When she's not chasing after her toddler, Van, she can be found watering her plants, rearranging her furniture or sneaking out on dates with her husband, Josh.