an aimless discussion of romance

parks cover

“Romance is a word that if I tried to define concretely wouldn’t mean as much.”

… that’s according to the protagonist of “Parks,” the short film I did for my capstone project last Spring semester. I’m not sure that I agree with him.

As today is Valentine’s Day (or Singles Awareness Day or National Hate Day depending on who you talk to) I thought I’d use the occasion and my film to ramble aimlessly about the subject of romance. I find it a fascinating subject for many reasons.

The whole point of the film was to discuss romance – what it is and how people view it. It’s the story of a guy and girl who fall for each other whilst discussing the topic.

He’s got all sorts of preconceived notions about romance. Who knows where he got them. Movies, music, books, family. Whatever. In his view certain things are just intrinsically romantic. As indicated by the quote above, he’s not particularly interested in defining romance but he does think he can construct a romantic ideal from components he’s deemed “romantic.”

She’s not so sure that romance is definable at all. She finds his romantic notions and fascination with them amusing. This amusement leads to a growing curiosity. Eventually, she comes to buy his sincerity and even his romantic notions and they end up together.

The thing is this relationship is based on almost nothing real. There’s no realistic evidence given in the film that the relationship will last. That’s the impression that I wanted to leave people with but I couldn’t figure out a way to pull it off in time so I left it out altogether. Against my personality and my life circumstances when I made this film, I left it with an optimistic ending. Maybe that’s exactly why – I wanted to believe in something like it. I didn’t want the short film equipment of a sad song. I have enough of those.

Now that the turbulence of my life has settled, I’m looking at things more realistically again… or so I think. I donno. You be the judge of that.

Many, many people have noted the massive gulf between the way romance is portrayed in our media and popular culture and how it plays out in real life.

You know what? I don’t think actually think that’s the case. Romance often comes off as authentic in fiction. I’m not talking about the stories where the couple gets together barely knowing each others names – I’m talking about the ones that take more time; that actually build their relationship on some kind of foundation more than sex appeal.

No, I think the disconnect is how easy the romantic genre makes things look and the expectations it gives people consciously or (more generally) unconsciously.

Our romantic media, including all the stuff sold to us for Valentine’s Day, is a representation of something we very much want even if it is seemingly unachievable in the “real world.”

Perhaps I am merely being pessimistic, but from my vantage point it seems most couples exist in a state of unhappiness for pretty much of the time. Maybe they’re mad at each other, maybe they’re just unsatisfied in the relationship. One thing they aren’t is madly in love.

It is remarkable how many couples go from longing to loathing over the course of years. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. People stop trying to be their best for one another and the romance dies.

In contrast are the few exemplary couples who seem to actually have a romance-movie relationship. Their lives aren’t perfect or conflict-free, but they appear to be, more often than not, better and happier with each other. They make marriage look palatable despite the many mundane and negative examples which are the vast majority.

So what’s the difference? Did the happy couples find their soulmate while everyone else settled for less?

No. The concept of a soulmate as your perfect match is like the Fountain of Youth. It’s a lie we invented because we want it so badly. While some people are more “compatible” with one another naturally, the fact remains that all people are fallen. None of us sinners should expect to have an easy time living with one another.

I find it incredibly sad when I see hollow marriages and dying relationships around me. That’s because I’m a single still in the “longing” stage of life (or “pre-longing,” I suppose, since I’m not longing after anyone in particular.) But I’ve been in relationships enough to see the decaying trajectory of a neglected relationship.

Like my short film character I’m not really interested in nailing down a definition of romance. But I will say this: it’s important. Many well-intentioned people have tried to downplay romance as being shallow or unnecessary.

Certainly there are many other aspects to a relationship that are just as important but to neglect romance is unhealthy. Romance is about feelings and feelings are significant because God created them as part of the human experience. Unquestionably they are part of human relationships.

The critical mistake made by the protagonist of “Parks” was coming up with a list romantic things apart from someone else. Love letters are not love and wedding rings are not marriage. While we might have things we each individually consider “romantic,” true romance is only created in concert with another person.

Romance looks different (on the surface) from couple to couple; culture to culture. But there are universals. The things that are romantic to all times, places, and peoples are acts of selflessness. Is this not the core of romance, of friendship, of love?


Strangely on this Valentine’s Day I am not bitter as I once suspected I might be. I am content where I am and with the potential before me. Whether you are single like me, married, or dating I hope you are similarly contented in the blessings of God.

And if you’re part of a couple then for goodness sake be romantic today, alright?

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