So, tonight, I was conned into going to see the new, live-action Beauty and the Beast with a couple girlfriends of mine, and I was reminded (for about the fifteen billionth time) about how much I hate romance in fiction. Hate it. I will avoid it at all costs. I will make up excuses not to go over when people are watching these movies. I turn the channel when they are on T.V. A friend lends me a book that clearly features a love story as a major plot (or sub plot), I’ll let it sit on my table for a month, then read a synopsis and give it back. The rom-coms I own sit in a drawer, unwatched for I-don’t-know how many years. I have a love-hate relationship with my darling Jane Austen. So, let me state that again, emphatically: I HATE ROMANCE.
I hate it so passionately, because at my core, I am a hopeless romantic. I read somewhere once that “Within the chest of every jaded cynic beats the heart of a hopeless romantic,” and I reckon that’s pretty much dead on. I hate romance in books and films because it’s like a drug to my spirit–I get high on the idea that somewhere out there, there are men who are well-read and can quote Shakespeare (who are not my college English professors). I get completely bombed on the reckless abandon with which love happens in fiction–the idea that someone sees the funny, quirky things about you and sees them not only as gems but encourages them. (I will cite that moment when Belle gets that exquisite library, in the cartoon, in the stage show, in the new movie. It doesn’t matter. It is such a part of her character, that to me that moment is magical. I confess I brushed away a literal tear of jealousy in the movie theatre tonight.)
Unfortunately, I am now too old and smart for this. My little girl, princess days are long behind me. I know what reality is–I pay bills and clean my bathroom and use a CrockPot and spend more hours than I could ever count dedicated to raising the children of other people. I have learned that (let us be real) things that make heroines really awesome in books and film does not necessarily translate to great success to real life.
I recently celebrated my thirty-third birthday. I know, those of you among my elders are thinking things like, “Oh, you’re such a baby,” and cognitively, I agree with you. But for some reason, this birthday hit me hard. I don’t know why. It’s not a round age. Thirty slipped into my life with zero doom-and-gloom. This year, though, I started looking at my life, and began to panic. I think it’s because I feel like I’m such a static person. All around me, friends, family, have gotten married and started families, while I remain good ol’ reliable me, ready to help–the good friend, the good sister. Though I’ve always wanted those things, I didn’t worry. I guess it’s because I subscribe strongly to the idea that you should live the life God gives you, not mope around wishing for something different. So I’ve done lots of cool things with my time. I guess I (stupidly?) just figured that when it was right it would happen.
But, then tonight, I found myself sitting in the movie theatre, with my two friends who live in the suburbs and have their husbands and houses and three kids, and I felt lost. I’m not a starry-eyed idealist all the time–I know that life is just hard. You give up the right to sleep for about six years when you have a child. Marriages are tough and your spouse will annoy you. I have been a steady shoulder for each of them in some of those tough times. I have walked with these two women, my friends, through illnesses and cancer scares and miscarriages and layoffs and broken furnaces. But I have also walked with them through the new homes and babies and good report cards and anniversaries. And through their list of important life events, I just…am. Good ol’ me. Always there to lend a hand.
I find myself under the pressure of time, and the reality that, no only am I in a profession where a girl just doesn’t meet single men, but no one I know knows any single men. (The whole online dating nightmare is a post filled with enough drama and mad comedy to fit in with your average middle school dance…that is for another day.) I feel the rising fear of complications that accompany “geriatric pregnancies” (the phrase “geriatric” alone fills me with unabashed terror.) It’s horrifying. I panic about what will happen to me if I get seriously sick–who will go with me to the doctor? Who will help me make hard decisions? Of course, I know people do these things all the time. I know that I’m not totally alone, that I have God on my side, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re tired and frustrated and lonely.
The only way I know to avoid the irrational desire to get weepy and call my mom is to just…put my nose to the grindstone and get on with the business of my life. If I don’t think about it, I’m pretty okay. I do my job, have my social life, have my little stresses and little victories. Life keeps on keepin’ on.
But movies and books (I mean, it was Beauty and the Beast tonight, for crying out loud. It’s a ruddy fairy tale!) knock me off my rhythm. They feed me that narcotic of people finding each other, and ordinary, lonely people who do not have to be alone anymore. It’s intoxicating. And as long as the high lasts, I imagine that maybe one day things will change for me. But then the lights come back on, I get into my car, and the crash comes, because I am smart enough to know that it doesn’t work like that–not for me, anyway.
But (and someone else very smart said this) “Hope springs eternal.” The most frustrating thing about being a romantic is that you can’t kill hope. You can’t kill that stubborn little flame of “just maybe.” I guess it’s a good thing. It keeps life interesting. It keeps you guessing. I suppose it’s why God gave it to us–to keep us from giving up. But, wow, is it tough. Tough, but unbreakable–it’s the reason Jane Austen sits in a place of honor on my shelf, and why I can’t just give away those DVDs. I guess it’s also why I love writing fiction–it may not happen for me, but in my fictional world, I can make it happen for someone else. And that is a high in and of itself.