On Saturday morning, I had a brief airport conversation, with a handsome not-quite stranger I know next to nothing about, on the subject of romance. And then he disappeared onto a jet bridge. The similarities between the scene and the topic were not lost on me. We sat side by side for a moment, in the airport, surrounded mostly by travelers. People we now knew so well they seemed like family, and people we said hi to in the hallways and people whose faces kind of maybe looked familiar. Which is what happens when 250ish people leave the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference on the same day, and a sizable number of them descend on the tiny Burlington International Airport, which inexplicably claims itself as gateway to far flung destinations.
It was only an unlikely airport conversation topic if those doing the talking weren’t two overly cerebral writers. Don’t think that I’m conveying superiority here. I mean to say that we both agreed that, potentially to our own detriment, we often think too much. Or maybe we don’t, maybe it’s all the thinking that makes things interesting. The ticket agent made an unintelligible announcement on the loudspeaker, and saying goodbye, the handsome not-quite-stranger took his leave.
“See you sometime,” I said, and then waited. For the next 8 or so hours. Not for him, that would not be romantic, that would be a little weird. I waited for the plane I had started to think might never come. At two I bought another sandwich. At six, I began to hoard my candy rations when the two kiosks closed, and then prayed for deliverance. At least to D.C. where the airport would have restaurants inside security. I had lost all hope of making a connecting flight. The short of a very long story is that I got home Sunday, instead of Saturday, which I think is the reason I keep thinking today is Monday. So when I sat down to write an essay many Monday’s overdue, realized it was Tuesday, and admitted that I was well and truly fried from ten days of intensity and proximity, to both my feelings and to people, I started writing from the first thought that popped into my head.
Wikipedia says the notion of romance is about love that emphasizes emotion over libido. “I sat on the steps and watched the hookups as they happened,” he said, or something like that, just a bit before they announced boarding for his flight. He was referring to the writers making the most of a final evening of drinking and communal living. The ones eagerly reliving their college years. Or last week. Sometimes Bread Loaf is known as “Bed Loaf.” Not without good reason, though it seems to me it takes some creativity to pull off a tryst with so many people in such close proximity. Or maybe some latent exhibitionist tendencies. I wouldn’t know.
“I’m not sure I really get it,” he said. “I’m not sure I ever got that notion, truly. I suppose maybe I’m more like a girl in that respect.” But is that like a girl, really? Or is it that romance is owned by those of us who spend as much time thinking about the world as we do living in it? I don’t believe a propensity for romance is as much an indication of femininity as it is of thoughtfulness. And as much as it seems like it’s a good thing, being a romantic can certainly be a detriment in a world where people most definitely do not “think” the same way. Sitting at the airport, we both wondered whether or not it might be a good thing to be able to turn off the brain, just let go and let it happen.
A guy I dated recently told me that he didn’t believe in romance. He blamed the notion on Disney, said decades of princesses and happily ever after’s had ruined things for modern relationships. Ever the romantic, there’s a limited edition vintage poster from Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs on my wall, I thought I might convince him otherwise. But there’s that old adage about changing someone, and convincing is just a fancy word for the same thing. Now I realize that he just didn’t think about love in the same way I do. For him it wasn’t something to be explored in sprawling thoughts or ideas. The physicality of it was enough of an expression for him. And that’s not wrong, it’s just not my way. For me it has to be cerebral – love, sex, a kiss in a dark corner – they all tell a story. It’s never just a moment in time, there’s always a before and an after. A why. A why not. Something leads up to those moments and something lingers after them – a compliment, a sidelong glance, a promise, a memory. All of which have meaning, all of which convey emotion.
Being a romantic isn’t easy. We’re emotional, obviously. Prone to big ideas and gestures. We daydream a lot. Which is maybe why I’m klutzy. But it’s not about being masculine or feminine and I don’t think you can switch it on and off at will, though sometimes, I think it might be nice to try. Given the option, however, to be one or the other, I think I’ll keep my head in the game of hearts. It’s only painful to be a romantic if you can’t find another one. But there are always other ones. Besides, I’m okay with a little Disney in my life – far flung romance, grand gestures, long lost loves, mysterious encounters, soul mates and all.