Everyone, whether you admit it to yourself or not, has picked up something s/he considered "romantic" in his/her life. This could be anything from a picture to a poem to a song to a moment in time encased and locked away in one's memory. I'd like to propose the heinous idea that although that may have been romantic, none of it is love--at all.
Ok, let's go through the "what's not love", shall we?
Now, when it comes to romance, cliche is necessary, so let's start with Shakespeare. We all know him either because we really do like his writing or we were at least forced to read it at some point, so it is good common ground to go from. We all know his sonnets--we had to read them, maybe even memorize them for needless classroom public display, and perhaps compose papers on them, expounding on their meaning. It is useless to go through all of them for any purpose, let alone this one. However, there are a few important points to be made. First, he expounds on the usual, Renaissance lover-esque forms of passionate, possibly unrequited, love in most of his poems. I'd suggest numbers 58 and 148 as particularly good examples--with their laments about "slavery" to love and blindness to the faults in one's lover. Yeah, whatever. Well, wait a minute, there are some signs--maybe even many signs--that he got it right.
Take Sonnet 130 (which we all probably know, too):
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
So, why is that important? Because love isn't mythical. Romance is the myth, not love. We try to make love "mythical" by adding in the spice that is mystery, mystique, destiny, fleeting moments in time. However, we do that more often because that is what we think we're supposed to do. We think we are supposed to find the people we love faultless and beautiful in all ways. The truth of the matter is that love erases that mystery--it encourages you to get to know someone else so instead of hiding faults, they become realities, part of the completeness that is the other person. The first step in love is learning what those faults are and a willingness to be aware of them rather than dousing them in some high-flying, flowery language that is both transparent and useless.
This one is even better, Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Ok, now we have another piece in the puzzle that tends to elude us--the idea that love lasts a while, a long while. So, what exactly does this mean? It's not just about weathering the "tempests of life." We can do those on our own; we have friends and family that stand by us in those cases. Instead, the toughest trial a real relationship confronts has more to do with what happens when you start to learn more about the other person. Since love is about taking away rather then indulging in the mystery, you've got to weather that process. This means taking in things that you may not like--traits or past experiences--and learning to accept them as a part of the whole of the other person. This also means dealing with the "opening up" process that will inevitably reveal these things to you. No one likes to be vulnerable, and few of us are enamoured of the idea of someone else knowing about that part of ourselves we want to change. That means dealing with running into a lot of closed doors, but being determined to open them with as much understanding, patience, and care as is necessary. Oh, and that's a two way street, my friend--that's going to happen to you, too.
Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare.
Now, onto something else.
Let's choose another author we all know, either from personal interest or forced literary instruction: Jane Austen. The novel that gets the most booking is, of course, Pride and Prejudice, but although we all like the evenly-packaged, happy-ending inspired story, it is more than a little unrealistic. Pride and Prejudice is about the romance and love we all seem to want--the close moments, the tall, dark stranger that falls madly in love with us against his/her will, the secret ways that lover desperately subverts his/her values to save us. In the real world, that's crap.
Instead, I would like to propose Emma as more realistic.
Emma, as a character, is fairly complete--she is flawed, and that is made plain in what she does. She insults her friends, she thinks a little too highly of herself in general, but all along, only one person sees her for what she is: her friend, Mr. Knightley. Mr. Knightley has faults of his own, which he is aware of and mentions clearly. However, it is his self-awareness that allows him to be insightful into Emma's character. He knows more about her than she does about herself, and the novel is essentially her process of realizing who she is and what she needs. In the third Volume of the novel, after all manner of blunders and assumptions, Emma sees one thing clearly--that 'Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself.' In this moment, she sees her own flaws for the first time for what they are--she reassesses her behavior and assumes that because of these faults in person and action that Mr. Knightley could never love her.
But what does this guy do for Emma? I mean, he badgers her about her faults, corrects her constantly. Why?
It's because he does so not to subject her to constant criticism. It's because he has taken that awareness of her flaws to the next stage--he accepted them as they are, loved her for who she is, and then, tried to assist her to grow past them. This, of course, met with a lot of scorn, a lot of jokes, but in the end, the realization that was what she needed came through. She needed someone to help her grow. She needed someone to see her for what she was and help her be what she could become, regardless of the "tempests" that course of action would, and do present.
So, what's the big idea? Love is about seeing more clearly than in any other context, and yet, seeing one thing in your life probably more clearly than at first, you want to see. After that, it is about taking that vision, that reality, that vulnerability, and assisting in that growth process--that life process. It's not about seeing someone and falling in love with radiant beauty. It's about seeing someone gradually for who they are and helping them become more beautiful on their own terms, no matter how hard it is.
It isn't going to hit you like all those fireworks/Cupid's arrows analogies. It's going to start with you wanting to ask questions that reveal who that person is, maybe noticing once or twice how pretty/handsome s/he looks under that light. You aren't going to run valiantly off to war to avenge honor, you aren't going to shut yourself up in unproductive anguish at one negative word. Then, one day, you may ask yourself: "Is this love?" If, after a process of getting to know that person, if you know those flaws and you still want to know more, if you'd be there if that person needed you, and, most of all, if you wouldn't take advantage of that person's vulnerability, the answer is: "Yes."
For you, M. Because that is what you are, and you are the only one that has been that.
Romance is blind, not love.