Subsistence Romance

I used to think that romance was contrived: one had to generate it because it really was only a fleeting state of mind born of desires to rise above the mundane and exist in a world where love conquers all. But after over 20 25 years with the same guy, I’m wondering: are we doing something existential ourselves, or is romance real?

The other day, a friend of mine used the word “mundane”, as in “Our lives have become so mundane.” I wasn’t sure how to understand that — it required some processing. Since I’m a literal person, my understanding starts with (if I know a word) the dictionary definition. In this case, it would mean something like: everyday, common, found in the ordinary course of events or concerns. But the context of using the word this way provided the interpretive key: “Mundane” was meant to characterize a relationship that had been once perceived as more alive, romantic, and extra-ordinary [hyphen purposeful] only a few months ago when there was more free time and the exigencies of surviving to live another day were obscured by frivolity. It was uttered pejoratively, saturated in remorse and melancholy. The relationship had changed — now the practicalities of everyday life were being noticed as though they hadn’t existed before.

In this case, I’m thinking that, maybe, the mundane actually hadn’t existed as part of the new relationship. I believe that, when people meet, it is typically in a setting that represents only a miniscule fraction of the content of a person’s life. If I meet you at a party and we hit it off famously, laughing, joking, and planning our next non-mundane encounter, this is how I first know you. We’re playing a type of game that involves pure imagination. If we resolve to pursue each other, then we have conceived a new, potential form of life, or lifeform. But this conception also bears expectations.

We move onto dating, which still is only “common” in the sense that it is a typical and expected step in the course of evolving a relationship. And it is “everyday” relative only to the effort. The things done for dating may or may not involve a lot more of each other’s life. In this state, we’re more like fraternal twins. Conscious & deliberate melding has not yet occurred — special efforts to touch the other person physically and emotionally are still part of the brand promise. However, the mundane does begin to intrude on this embryonic relationship still enclosed within the membrane of newness: schedules, finances, distances to travel, the diversity of individual interests, health, and the weather become noticed because of their gnat-like impact on efforts to feed the fetus. The sustenance is a liquid diet of romance and exploration with reality being merely antioxidants as more topics from the mundane, especially work, elbow their way into the romantic cocoon. The lifeform is still fragile and apt to easy spontaneous abortion.

There may be another step here, but let’s assume that we finally move in together, a deliberate step toward melding our physical lives to create a communal operation: share expenses, closet space, bathrooms, and events that affect the other. Even while this step is done still under the influence of romantic euphoria, the mundane has just moved to the surface of the relationship. The lifeform has emerged into the conscious world. Now the atmosphere changes and the details that didn’t matter so much in the womb suddenly become real and relevant. Our expectations are exposed to the reality of the atmospheric pressures and the savagery of nature. Liquid diet becomes solid food, and we suddenly learn that the fraternal “we” in romance is composed of two, separate entities. Now “melding” takes on a whole new aspect: individual lives have a significant intersection proportionate to how closely gesticular expectations match post-natal reality. How we were playing and the “game” itself have changed. Where did the imagination go?

In the case of my friend, melancholy sets in as she laments the competition for his attention. The postnatal euphoria has been diluted with another type of “life,” not the “life” she was expecting. He appears to filter “their life” through a mesh of concerns whose presence was not initially apparent. Where it was a concentrated capsule of a relationship, now it is part of a larger being among beings. The space they once occupied in a vacuum, because there are other things now that compete for it, now seems diminished by the enormity of the rest of what life needs in order to operate.

She wonders how to isolate the innocence and concentration of the romantic that characterized their new relationship such that romance becomes an element unto itself and can be seen and easily grasped, uninhibited by the mundane. She yearns to sanctify certain activities, objects, songs, foods, etc. to be dedicated to honoring and evoking romance that, when conjured, elicit the protective circle wherein their secret garden exists protected from the mundane and where the sanctified things thrive as flowers and warming sunshine. Where “their life” actually exists.

What is it that she really wants?

I think she wants a species of what Patrick and I have, but she has not arrived at the formula that we, ourselves, have semi-consciously stirred up. As I reflect on the formulation, certain words pop into mind: compartmentalization, dedication, and play. I’m pretty sure that there is no one formula, but I think she may be onto something if she doesn’t over-extend the metaphors (as I do). The main key to any formula is: How can we accentuate the parts of the embryonic state, which are still there, but whose appearance is now being obscured by the mundane.

In our case, romance has matured to love, which we demonstrate by ritual and souvenir. By ritual, we have both reserved times and reserved activities within times that we cherish (whether we feel like it or not). We have picked out of the unformed mass that is romance practical things that both represent and generate the feelings we want to surround ourselves with, producing the affect of patches of secret garden that we wander into as we march through the day and settle for the night. When we’re apart or isolated (even in a restaurant when we’re sitting next to each other), we have secret signals and souvenirs. A coded tap on the knee that no one sees. Emoticons and expressions of affection, just enough to say I’m thinking about you because I love the fact that you’re in my life. And we have abiding and inviolable rules.

One rule is, no matter how mad we are during a spat, before I turn to leave for my 15 minutes of decompression time (which is part of another rule of engagement), we must kiss no matter how much we don’t want to do it. It is not negotiable.

When I worked at the bank as a Pension Payment Coordinator, I would run into problems about which I would frequently have to turn to my boss. Turning to my boss, however, always appeared to be an interruption of her flow…until she came back from a seminar one time that taught her a truth: just as the physical follows the mental, so the mental follows from the physical. This, actually, has been proven through acting, acting to produce gestures and physical configurations to represent the emotional. If you deliberately posture the physical to represent something enough, pretty soon the mental/emotional follows. In her case, when I would enter her cubicle, she’d physically remove her hands from the keyboard or 10-key, meshing her fingers in a locked fold in front of her newly directed-toward-me body. And she’d give me what appeared to be her undivided attention. It was awesome, and I learned from that.

Along those same lines, I read a book loooonnnngggg time ago called “The One-Minute Manager.” The premise was pretty much the same: For one minute at a time, pretend like you are the world’s most perfect manager and simply do something that a perfect manager would do at that time. With repetition comes mastery. Pretty soon, those minutes pattern within you a characteristic that you can call your own. Pretense is gone, having been incorporated, literally. You can “One-Minute” anything just about. (Probably not piloting a plane, though.)

So when we ritualistically kiss before my self-recollection, that one little peck cools off the lava of my anger remarkably and in spite of myself. The physical gesture is part of our formula for romance from a different angle than alimentation. It protects and guards against potential corruptors that, if left unmitigated, can fester and poison the relationship to death.

Another practical tool is: if you think it, do it. It sounds overly general, but it has a specific application. When a thought passes my mind, something that I think that makes me smile about Patrick, instead of keeping it inside me and enjoying it internally, I let it transfer to the external: act on it with a touch, a peck on the cheek, a sweet nothing. That way, the energy of romance is conducted to my partner in life, allowing the ecosystem of romance to thrive, rather than being unproductively spent and pushed aside by dogmatic dreams of what romance “should be.”

My friend can have her cocoon or magic garden or whatever metaphor she uses to imagine romance within the mundane, but she has to realize that romance dies from not recognizing it where it exists now and from dwelling on the absence of the cocoon. It’s a part of the mundane. She also has to realize that their relationship has moved up to a level where different approaches are required to generate and sustain romance. She realizes this only to the point where she wants the reserved things. That is a massive realization. But now the playing that typified romantic childhood has to become play typical and complementary within a larger sphere with more people and more things beyond just imagination-induced euphoria. Adult life occupies itself with subsistence living — living to survive in the near-term and long-term. Love occupies itself the same way by infusing the magic of imagination into the concrete.

Happy Valentine’s Day honey bunny!

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3 Responses

  1. […] writing the post on Subsistence Romance, the number of opportunities I’ve had to talk about recognizing romance in the mundane has been […]

  2. It really helps that we are constantly conscious of the relationship and maintaining it. So Valentine’s Day is really more like Thanks Giving.

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