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I believe in Romance

By Maralise Petersen

“Oh boy–they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And that thought had a brother: ‘There are right people to lynch.’ Who? People not well connected. So it goes.”

–Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

I survived and even enjoyed my time in Public Humiliation, I mean Public Education. Somehow, I figured out how to successfully navigate the pettiness and repeated embarrassments that come with the often harmful combination of puberty and immaturity. But that was a very long time ago. I’m a little more cynical now, a bit more judgmental, and sometimes a tad unstable. But, I digress.

When I’m faced with a high-school-like situation (like being the parent of an elementary school child or being the wife of a man who works in a VERY small community; where we live next door to his boss and where social activities could double as conference calls, where image is a lot and who-you-know is everything) I’ve forgotten the tools that it takes to deal with that segment of society that I like to describe as “humankind in competition with one another” or “stupid people fighting over who has the best death rattle.”

So when I read this line in Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ I almost started to laugh. Its cynicism reflected my own jaded desire to navigate a world that leaves me confused, a little hopeless, and inevitably thinking about the ‘right’ people to impress, to not-impress, to ignore, to befriend.

In Wallace Stegner’s “Angle of Repose,” the artist and author, Susan Ward follows her husband into the wilds of the West. They live in the mine-filled mountains of California, the heat of Mexico, and the desolate canyons of Idaho in search of work, of revolution, of settlement, of home. And in that search, their dreams are fulfilled and dashed, their hopes are created and destroyed, their love is weakened and solidified. And they continue to move. Forward.

In a letter to her Eastern friend Augusta, Susan describes the dangerous journey they took to their home in Leadville. Susan’s husband would not let her ride the stage, but instead he took her up the mountain with his own team, at one point almost being pushed off the road by another wagon.

She says in describing that event, “…and how much more the trip cost him…I never knew. But that is the price of Romance. To have allowed his wife to come in by stage in company with drunkenness and vice would have been realism.”

Sometimes, I pay a high price for Romance as well. And I’m not talking about the lovey-dovey romance of teenagers or the recently besotted. I’m talking about the kind of romance that blurs reality, ignores obstacles and changes futures. When I think about faith and belief, I can’t help but think of them as romantic concepts, definitely more tied to the ethereal than the world that I live in everyday. I think it’s advantageous to lose touch with reality at times. And sometimes, I remember my trick from High School, the one thing that got me through that dim time. It was kindness, a unique form of romance without kissing and games but with lots of restraint and patience and goodness. It’s so easy to talk about kindness, so easy to fall for its allure and so difficult to actually be kind.

But today, I think I’ll hire my own team and ascend the mountain that I face. Just because I can. And because I believe in a reality that smells better than the one I’m in.

What Romantic concepts to do you espouse? Are you a Romantic or a Realist? Why?

About Maralise Petersen

(Emerita)

9 thoughts on “I believe in Romance”

  1. "It’s so easy to talk about kindness, so easy to fall for its allure and so difficult to actually be kind."

    i love that, mara.

    and romantic or realist? i think i'm both, at different times.

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  2. I am far too much of a realist. I tend even toward cynic. I'm trying to let the romantic in, but he's having a hard time finding a comfy chair to make himself at home in.

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  3. Once there was one of those psychological quizzes in a woman's magazine. Its goal was to asses sensuality. The question I remember was if you walked into a room where the floor was carpeted in mink would you a. kick off our shoes and walk bare foot b. get down on your hands and knees and feel it between your gingers or c. the response I gave before I knew it was even on the list, take your clothes off and lay down in it. I got a very high sensuality score.

    But, in reality, by today's definition I am not a particularly sensual person. The truth is I would only lay naked on a mink carpet if no one else were around.

    The person I want to be is ultra romantic. The person I am is practical to the core. The person I want to be always. sees the glass half full. But the me who deals with life sees the glass just the way it is neither half full nor half empty but holding a given amount. The person I want to be spends money on lovely romantic kinds of things. The real me just can't stand to waste a penny. The person I want to be is always kind. The real me is often thoughtless and unwittingly cruel.

    Having said all that studies show people who are realistic are more accurate in their assessment of the world. But, people who see the glass half full are happier. I'll sit on the fence for now.

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  4. I am by nature a romantic. In everything. On a meirs-briggs inventory, I am off the charts intuitive. For a long time I didn't even notice the stuff that other people responded to in a sensory way (Oh, the floor is covered in mink? I hadn't noticed. I was busy thinking about Emily Dickinson). Somehow in the course of mothering 5 children, figuring out how to survive on one income, and being married to a realist, I have swung much more in the other direction. I now struggle alot with how to parent the child who is the most like me. She is brilliant, in a non-linear short of way, but doesn't function all that well in a practical sense, and I wonder how much to encourage her natural bent and how much to help her think like everyone else. I like the idea of just letting her be, but I don't want her to be lost when it comes to real life either.

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  5. I too love your comment about kindness.

    As for me? Realist. Definitely. With cynic overtones. But there must be a Romantic in me somewhere or I likely wouldn't have been so touched watching my grandparents enter their "Golden Years" with a growing tenderness towards each other. The last words my grandfather said to me before he died (and this was after a deeply painful episode of dealing with his dementia) were, "Take care of her. Make sure she's OK."

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  6. I too too love your comment about kindness. I was planning on being cool and quoting you to yourself, but then I noticed that Brooke beat me to the punch right out of the gate.

    There's a part of me that believes the kind of "romance" you are describing is, actually, the ability to live without fear. To do what you want to do, because you want to do it, and trusting yourself . . . that your own desires are good, and given to you by God. And that if you fail, you will be okay, and that if you succeed, you will be okay, too. But the idea that there is a future ahead of you that you're excited to explore instead of being afraid to face is a romantic idea, to be sure. But I also like to think that kind of romance has a lot to do with faith and hope and even charity. Faith in yourself (and God) and hope in the future combine to free you up to live with charity toward the people around you.

    Does that paragraph even make sense? Probably not. But it does to me, and romantic that I am, I'll still press "submit" and hope you like the comment anyway :-).

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  7. Here's the thing: I think we're all Romantics. I think that someone of faith must be a romantic because we believe in something whose proof lies ONLY in feelings and thoughts. Think of the pioneers, arguably realistic and practical people—-who crossed a barren landscape to an unknown location because a man had a dream about it. Who believed in a religion that seemed even more of a farce than it does today. Sometimes I wonder if this dichotomy (Romantic/Realist) is not so much of a dichotomy at all. But if it's a circle where the extremes meet in the middle, co-mingling and existing inexplicably together. If Mormonism isn't a powerful example of that co-mingling, I'm not sure what is.

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