In this chapter, a light-hearted look at romance. Well partly light-hearted, as there are some elements of this universally sought after state of bliss that can be from the dark side.
Have you ever wondered why the classic fairy stories that involve a beautiful farmer’s daughter, scullery maid or even a princess, who are swept off their feet by a handsome and rich stranger on a white horse; end with the words ‘And they lived happily ever after’?
It was not just because most were written by men, at a time when a woman was a chattel who cooked, cleaned and bore children. Women believed that was their role and yearned for it! The male writers of the fairy stories of the time were definitely headed off to happy ever after!
That may sound a bit cynical, but I can remember as a child being fed the propaganda. Most commonly via bedtime stories and the ‘Happy Ever After’ films that we were allowed to watch in our teen years. Disney had the whole thing down to a fine art. By the time I was sixteen and listening to the crooners of the day, I was convinced that at some point, a rich and handsome stranger was going to gallop into my life and sweep me off into a love filled paradise just made for two.
By the time I was 19 years old I had kissed a few frogs. I also thought that Prince Charming had ridden in a few times, then discovered that in reality they just as quickly rode off into the sunset. Still that is all part of growing up, but because of the indoctrination of childhood, I mistook one particular prince for the real thing.
Oh the joy in the royal family, that the princess had been chosen by a prince of such standing in the neighbouring country. A large wedding was planned and executed by the two queens with the kings simply opened the doors to the treasure houses. The invitation lists in both palaces grew by the hour as dignitaries were invited from far and wide. Many of whom the princess and prince had never met. The reception was a masterpiece of just the right location and the food suitably divine. A vaulted arch of the prince’s entourage lined the drive from the grand cathedral; carriages awaited to take the jubilant bridal party to the festivities.
A few glasses of champagne, elegant speeches and a thrown bouquet that was caught by the next lucky bride. Then the prince swept the princess off on his luxurious charger into the sunset to the awaiting bridal chamber.
They call it a day to remember, and certainly as I thought about the celebrations in the weeks and months following, I knew it would be etched on my mind forever; not necessarily for the right reasons. Suddenly the prince was not quite so charming, but still my belief that in the end the magic would prevail, maintained the veil of delusion over my star struck eyes.
However, pretty quickly, what I had believed to be the essence of true romance had vanished, and during the next few years I had some pretty good lessons about the reality of maintaining a one-sided relationship. I was trapped by the web that had been spun around me and I felt it would be impossible to break free without angering so many; particularly at two royal courts.
But one day, for some reason, the spell lost its power and despite the threat of banishment to a far off land where my shame would not be witnessed by family and friends; I packed up a small bundle of clothes and hit the road. I spent the next three years wandering and keeping well away from anyone who knew me, ending up in the depths of the Welsh mountains where I flirted and flitted through a number of meaningless relationships. I was not going to be caught up in the fairy tale again. I was very happy to be the wicked witch and to spend my life making spells of my own and being loved by cats.
Then, would you believe it… a prince arrived in disguise. Quiet and bespectacled and riding an ancient nag that had seen better days. There were no grand or extravagant gestures, just a gentle wearing down of my defences. But there was magic involved of that I am certain. I felt myself being drawn in despite the walls that I had built around me. A spell was being woven that ensnared me and despite all my best intentions, after only one dinner date, I found myself saying yes to spending a lifetime together with this softly spoken suitor.
The Queen and King back at the castle were I was born were aghast on hearing that I was betrothed again. And to a foreign prince from afar with as yet unknown credentials, who had the audacity to propose on our first date; the Queen announced that she was about to faint.
My prince was not about to let the grass grow under his steed however and he approached the King and asked for his daughter’s hand. Rather hopefully, the king offered him £5 and a step ladder, and an enquiry as to if there might be an elopement. Which there was, and within six weeks, very quietly and without undue ceremony, we were married. This time just both sets of Kings and Queens and one lady in waiting attended! Drenching rain blessed the union in a small office in Wales. After a celebratory lunch we set off on the prince’s ancient steed to a rather dark castle in the mountains, where the bridal suite, decked in red flock wallpaper, vibrated to the noise emanating from the public bar beneath.
Then it was off to the damp and musty rooms, that we managed to find and afford, whilst we worked hard together to build up enough savings to buy our first modest home. That has set the pattern for the last 36 years, where we have both worked together as a team to keep our relationship strong and to achieve a reasonable expectation of ‘Happy Ever After’.
It was also the beginning of learning the true meaning of romance. In my opinion it is a bond that is ever present in a good relationship, but it is rarely showy or flashy, and whilst there may be the occasional extravagant gesture when a special event warrants it, mostly it is the small things that keep romance alive and flourishing.
Red roses are wonderful and we all love to receive a bouquet on Valentine’s Day. But it is the odd flower brought in from the garden and laid on a breakfast tray, a small tree planted in the garden that blossoms every spring, or the paper flower, misshapen and oddly coloured that appears by a bedside, that really help to keep romance alive.
Romance is waking up on every birthday or anniversary (remembering them is a very good start) to find cards made from images of sea, sunflowers, cats and dogs, golden sunsets with handwritten verses inside that come from the heart. It is also those few minutes on your 35th wedding anniversary when you sit silently, holding hands and remembering that special day and the people who are no longer there to share the memories with you.
True romance flourishes when you are unwell and scared, and a strong hand holds yours as a voice close to your ear, tells you that it will be alright. It is when you suffer a loss and cry together and heal together. And when it gets tough, and it will for every couple, it is that buffer of small but very important gestures that act as the all important glue that keeps you together.
Part of the spell that we are complicit in maintaining about romance, is that everything has to be big and brash and magnificent to prove how much you love someone. The modern fairy tales are spun by the celebrities who litter the glossy magazines and headlines. They are on our screens in their fairy princess wedding dresses that cost thousands of pounds, wearing engagement rings that would buy a small house, and surrounded by their courtiers in all their finery. They create the desire in many young girl’s heart and mind that this is the dream, the ultimate vision of happiness; they too want all that glitter.
The reality is that celebrity might provide the means to fund a fairly tale wedding, but it comes at a heavy price. Celebrity marriages are under scrutiny the whole time, those in the acting profession seem to be particularly prone to temptation and money does not seem to bring happiness. In fact it would seem that many princesses are in it for the ‘Pay off’ rather than the ‘Happy Ever After’.
Overuse of the ‘L’ word
I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to overusing words that are supposed to be used to express ones devotion to another. I love, sugar, salt, dogs, writing, reading, movies, music, next door’s cat, Tom Selleck, chocolate, red wine, ice-cream, strictly come dancing, buying clothes, shoes and handbags.
So how special does that make my husband feel when I tell him I love him?
Words are very easy to use and they spill from our mouths with increasing thoughtlessness to their actual meaning. Telling someone you love them all the time and expecting them to do likewise, especially when you also use the same expression for all the other ‘things’ in your life, can dilute its meaning. It is lovely to hear from time to time, especially when accompanied by an act of love that reinforces it.
It is actions that speaker louder than words and you can show how much you love someone every day without having to vocalise the emotion.
Romance and love go hand in hand and as I watch very old people together, you can tell the ones who still adore and respect each other. It is easy to still see that spark and twinkle in the eyes, the small touches of a hand or brush of lint from a shoulder. That unity has been welded from years of life, laughter, sadness, joy, disappointment, excitement and love. Thousands of cups of tea, breakfasts in bed, dances in the kitchen, date nights, holding hands in the movies and vigils by a sickbed, have gone into the rich tapestry that is romance. There might be a faded red rose pressed between the pages of a diary, or a diamond ring that comes out on special occasions, but it is these small daily gestures that will have kept the romance alive and will continue to do so long after one or both of them dies.
Romance is also about the things we don’t do in a relationship. We don’t belittle someone we love in public and then say ‘But you know I love you’. We don’t bully them and then say we are doing it ‘Because you know I love you.’ We don’t marry who we believe is Prince Charming or the fairy princess and then set about changing them by saying ‘You know it is because I love you.’
We don’t take the actions of those we love for granted. Saying ‘thank you’ for a meal, a wardrobe full of clean clothes or for being a great mum or dad, goes a long way to keep romance alive.
Romance is not about making someone happy or expecting them to make you happy. Your happiness is your responsibility and choice. Putting the onus for your happiness on someone else is a very quick way to lose them. You seldom find that romance thrives in a relationship where there is one who gives and one who takes the whole time.
In Britain 42% of marriages end in divorce and in the United States it is around 50%. Whatever else is present at the point of no return in those relationships, you can bet on the fact that there was no romance left.
A very good reason for that loss of the bond that keeps a relationship strong is our expectations. However realistic we may think we are, we still believe that life is going to be eternally happy when we have found our prince or princess. In truth once the courting days, when we are on our best behaviour and make an effort to look great are over, we find out that perhaps we are not as suited as we thought. And, it is not only those who marry who find that living together is not the heaven they anticipated, as three times as many of those who cohabit will split up than those who are married.
Prince charming does snore, have smelly socks and breaks wind and so does his princess. Football or basketball might be more of a priority than previously thought and nights out with the girls once a week and clubbing might be tough to give up.
One of the assumptions that we make is that when we get married we will be joined at the hip and do everything together. This might be fine if you get married at 75 or 80 years old, but if you are in your twenties, you are still growing and developing. Being married should not mean losing your individuality and there should be activities that you continue to pursue, as long as it takes your partner into consideration.. In fact over the years you will find that you begin to share more and more and that you grow more alike. When we first married David was into mountaineering and skiing and continued to do those on his own until only a few years ago.. I was happy to tag along for mountain trails but to be honest I was more enamoured with the Apres Ski!
We have different tastes in music. David likes audio books whilst I prefer to read them. He likes raw food and l enjoy mine more with less bite! But we have the same sense of humour, like great wine, good company and movies. We have worked together in a corporate environment and continue to do so with our self-publishing company. But David enjoys the graphics, formatting and technical elements and I prefer to write. We each have our own strengths and we have also developed new ones that combine the best of both of us.
There are plenty of activities that you will share as a couple, including when children arrive; which is a wonderful but labour intensive part of a relationship. Sleepless nights and eighteen years of car-pooling and soccer practice begin to eat into time that might be set aside for romantic gestures. Certainly cash flow is usually also restricted with mortgages and college funds. Life is going to keep pushing your boundaries and if you do not have a strong bond, then it will succeed in prising you apart.
That is why it is so important to focus on the small things that bring pleasure. Say to hell with it occasionally and throw clothes into drawers without being ironed, order in Pizza or takeaway once a week, get a babysitter and set aside time to remember just how important the two of you are.
I was one of the 42% whose marriage fails, and I know exactly when the relationship floundered. It was the moment when I realised I was in a relationship of one. Romance went right out of the window.
I also recognise times in the last 36 years of my second marriage, when we have been apart for long periods of time, under stressful work conditions or have family issues; when romance has taken a back seat. Sometimes it can be difficult to notice those warning signs if you are wrapped up in working on keeping life and family running smoothly. It is one of the most important lifetime commitments we make to another and it needs to have a ‘check up’ regularly.
One of the most often used excuses by men for their infidelity is ‘My wife does not understand me.’ Which usually means that a wife and mother is spending all her time keeping food on the table, taking care of the children as well as hold down a job and not paying him enough attention.
The most used excuse for women for infidelity, is that the love and romance has gone out of their marriage, and they just wanted to feel beautiful and desired. Which usually means that a man is out working in a stressful job all day, comes home and just wants to eat his meal in peace, watch the television have a beer and get some sleep.
It takes a huge amount of work to keep the various relationship elements alive and well. A lot more work than some people are willing to put in.
There is nothing wrong with ‘Contentment’
Happiness is this all encompassing emotion that is a high we all expect to achieve; and of course there are moments in your life of sheer joy. However, it is impossible to sustain that for 60 or 70 years. You would be worn out. To be honest your friends and family will be pretty weary of seeing your perpetual smiling face and delusionment. It will simply be too tough for them to compete with the perfection.
It is much healthier to achieve a state of contentment, where you still make the effort to keep love and romance alive, and are able to sustain it. Back to those small gestures again such as those cups of tea, holding hands in the movies, cooking a favourite meal or a date night. You can always raise the game from time to time with dinner out, a bouquet of roses, tickets to a game; but in essence it is important to remember that it is not a competition.
It puts enormous pressure on one partner or another if they are constantly bombarded with gifts and grand gestures and feel they need to reciprocate. A romantic partnership is a marathon not a sprint and whilst you might welcome an injection of glucose along the route, you are looking for a running mate who helps you get to the finish line.
At the end of the day this is just my views on romance and certainly every couple needs to find the formula that works for them. Hopefully I have given you something to think about and if you feel that the romance in your partnership could use some TLC then now is the time to give the matter some serious thought.
©sallycronin The R’s of Life
Thank your for joining me as I write this book here on the blog.. It is not finally edited but I look forward to your feedback and very happy for your to share if your wish.. thanks Sally