This wasn’t your average funeral. No. It’s not something I can write a proper eulogy for or even understand. It’s not like burying a lover or a child or a childhood pet. It’s less painful and more painful all at once.
Burying an ideal is one of the most excruciating things I’ve ever done.
Perhaps it’s more painful because it comes back from the dead. It haunts corners of my bedroom at night when I can’t sleep. It taps me on the eyelids and wakes me up at 3am just when I think it’s gone.
Perhaps it’s less painful because it’s not something I’ve held in my hands or made love to. I didn’t fly across the globe just to feel it in my arms. Didn’t sit across from it in a low-lit restaurant and do “the stare thing,” where my emotions can’t catch up with my mind and I can only look, stare, melt.
Let me take back what I said.
It was there all along. In his eyes, in his body when we closed the space between us, in the stare thing and the poetry and the sleepless nights alone.
It was there when I stared up at Orion from my childhood window, wondering if anyone could rewire the parts of my brain that believed love was conditional — deserved only when I was perfect enough.
The ideal was there. Underscoring all of my life.
And every time I bury it — it comes back.
The Ideal I Keep Trying to Bury
Nowadays I call myself a Romantic who doesn’t believe in romantic love, but the truth is I’m a Romantic who buried my ideal of romantic love because the rational part of my brain knows it’ll destroy me.
It was destroying me.
I’ve never believed in Disney fairy tales. Never wanted some valiant prince to wake me from the drudgery of life and ride me off into the horizon. Never wanted a love story so wrapped up in its own grandness that it loses the very light that ignited it.
What I wanted — with more clarity than I’ve ever been able to express until now — was this:
An impermanent partnership with another human that defies logic. A connection not defined by words like “conditional” or “unconditional,” because it’s not built on irrational or rational human definitions. It’s not based on need. Not based on how much value it brings to my life or reciprocity. Words like “always” and “forever” are meaningless. It’s something that just is and in that transient just is this love inspires, awakens, challenges, and moves me. It moves me. And as fleeting as it is — as all things in life are— it endures.
What I wanted was my ever-fixed mark, as Shakespeare describes in Sonnet 116.
My ever-fixed mark in the form of romantic love.
Why I Buried This Ideal
Sounds simple enough, right? I mean, someone somewhere surely has something resembling what I’ve described. Maybe it’s you. But I’ve never met anyone with the kind of romantic love I’ve wanted since I was a seventh grader under Orion’s glow. Sometimes I wonder if my dream is built on childhood wounds and not an example of “true love” anyway.
It started to ruin my life with the sort of hopelessness that makes life too painful to live.
Any unmet ideal placed too far from reach is a great source of disillusionment. Some ideals can turn into goals, because they’re within our means to reach. Writing, for example. My dream of being an author, screenwriter, writer, can be a tangible goal with actual steps to get there. It’s an attainable dream. Might feel out of reach sometimes, but it’s within my power to change how far out of reach I keep it.
You can’t do that with love.
And once your heart is broken so many times—once you hold something you believe to be everything you’ve wanted and watch it slip from your fingers so much quicker than it came—you can’t help but die a little.
And in that little death, I wanted to die a big death. Retreat from the world. Stop writing. Give up poetry. I even packed up all of my novels and poetry— anything fantastical or beautiful or transcendent — and shoved them in the trunk of my car.
Yes, I really packed up my library of Fitzgerald, Tennyson, Tolkien, and first edition Thomas Wolfe’s, piled them in my trunk, and cried as I drove them to a used bookstore that … wasn’t open.
I drove away and didn’t return.
They sat in my trunk for a few weeks until I resurrected my ideal, only to bury it again. Why? Because it’s too painful to spend my life wanting something that is completely out of my control. And because of my nature, it consumed my life.
Trading Romantic Love for Romantic Life
After burying this ideal, I found it impossible and, well, pretty stupid to try to eradicate Romanticism from my life. It’s who I am, part of the phenomenological way I experience daily life. Sensually, magically, and with an air of childlike wonder. This is who I am and who I want to be.
So instead of trying to alter my brain (actually tried to), I embraced Romanticism outside of romantic love.
Buried that ideal, grieved the loss in pure agony, and embraced romantic life.
Then something happened.
I Fell in Love in the Most Honest Way
With a book. It wasn’t even one of my favorite writers. I was standing in the used bookstore I frequent when I spotted Posthumous Keats by Stanley Plumly. It was during my recovery from this epic ideal funeral.
The book caught my eye in the same way you spot love across a crowded room. A slight glimmer and time ceases to exist. People cease to exist. It’s just you and the object of your affection.
I pulled the book from the shelf, fanned the pages and inhaled the scent, and felt the rush of young love.
Excitement, infatuation, curiosity, a desperate desire to spend every waking moment together until all parts are undressed.
So I did. I fell in love with this book and realized that by obsessing over romantic love — fixating on the ideal of one person being everything I ever imagined — I lost romantic life.
I prevented myself from falling in love with the world because I wanted to give all of that love to one single human.
When it Haunts from Dark Corners
Oh, it’s still there. Sometimes. Lurking in the dark corners of my bedroom before I fall asleep, waking me in the middle of the night to remind me what it felt like to be held until sunrise, and glistening on my windowsill in the early morning hours when I check my phone to see if someone cares.
But it doesn’t consume me.
It’s a ghost.
Like scars that form after wounds heal, it may always be there.
But the beautiful thing about all of this is that I haven’t lost love. In fact, I’ve gained love. In so many more forms.
Even with the ghost haunting me sometimes, I appreciate my close friendships more. I see them as shades of romance impossible to replicate. And I appreciate the feeling of sun on my face or a nostalgic Nirvana song in a way I’ve never been able to before. Life is peeled back and beautiful, and I’m proud of myself for walking away from the gravestone to embrace romance in a new way.
Something I never thought I’d do.
Deep down the ghost still longs for existence, for me to walk over to the dark corner and breathe life back into it. To breathe and breathe and breathe until it has a voice, a voice that whispers as it holds me at night, “It wasn’t in vain, my love. I am real. I am real. I am real.”
Until then, if ever, it’s just a ghost — a childhood dream I buried so I could embrace life more profoundly than ever before.
And now I should stop typing (and you should look away from your screen), because the adventure awaits.
Our grand romance with life is waiting.
And it doesn’t wait for long.