The Art of Romance

Some people are romantic by nature. Some aren’t. This is for those people.

Romance is about longing and beauty and mystery. It’s impractical. In some ways, the more impractical the better. It’s generally not about efficiency or function, which are often the strengths of the romantically challenged. It’s about form and setting and symbolism and sensuality. Notably, although some people may think of romance as a synonym for sex, it’s not. Sex can be romantic, and romance can enhance the mood for sex, but romance is much more than that. So let’s get down to it.

Some key ingredients of romance:

  • Initiation
  • Surprise and Mystery
  • Attunement
  • Sacrifice
  • Beauty and Impermanence

Initiation

Romance is active, as opposed to passive. It’s making something happen, taking charge, but in the interest of your partner. It’s letting your partner know that you love them, you’re thinking about them, and you’re showing it.

Surprise and Mystery

The unexpected adds an element of energy, of electricity. A bit of charge. It has to be a good surprise of course, and you have to know what kinds of surprise your partner likes. Not necessarily the startling kind of surprise (unless he, she or they likes that!) but more a nice thing that was not anticipated or routine. We become numb to routine and novelty is enlivening.

Surprise involves creativity, but if you don’t consider yourself creative you can learn from examples (in movies, shows, books, from other people — also see links below). A touch of mystery similarly creates anticipation, excitement, and longing. For example, take your partner somewhere you know they’ll like, but without telling them what it is. Caveat: like surprise, some people are uncomfortable with mystery, so know your partner and plan accordingly!

Attunement

So important. And you may not get it right every time, but hopefully you’ll improve with practice. You need to know what your partner likes and doesn’t like. As mentioned with the surprise aspect. Pay attention. Take notes if you have to. This is where your partner finds out if you really know them or not, if you really see them or not. A romantic gesture that’s a mis-fit for your partner can backfire badly. But even if so, pick yourself up, learn from it, and try again another time. Let them know you love them and want to make them happy.

Sacrifice

This is where the impracticality comes in. Some sacrifice makes it special. It means you’re going out of your way to show your person how much you love them. It’s the opposite of convenient, and while spontaneity has its joys, in this department planning counts. This is what I meant by the more impractical the better. Picture formal clothes and champagne in the middle of the woods. However, romantic gestures don’t have to be super-grand. They can be as small as agreeing to watch a romantic movie together that your partner likes, or a surprise lunch date at a local joint, or even a love note on the nightstand. Big gestures for big events or markers, small gestures sprinkled among the day-to-day.

Beauty and Impermanence

Why are red roses so linked to romance? They embody natural beauty. They stimulate multiple senses, including smell which is a sense that ties directly to emotion. They take time and effort to grow or acquire (sacrifice). Though now they are easily available to most people commercially, in past times they were harder to obtain, making them special by their scarcity. And their specialness is also enhanced by their transience, through the principle of scarcity. If we value something and it is only around for a limited time we appreciate it all the more. Think of rainbows, bubbles, sunsets, eclipses, special foods, candles. (Of course, rare super-permanence has it’s value too, as in diamonds and gold.)


If you need some examples to prime your creative juices here are some sites to try. You’ll have to scroll through a bit to find the more original and interesting tidbits, but at least these are a little better than many that have only the most trite ideas (though even trite is better than nothing, if not overused).

Use these as a model for your own ideas, and the more you exercise your romantic inclinations, the more natural it will become.

Oh, and about the sex part. There was an old piece of advice for men in hetero relationships that for women everything is foreplay. We could broaden “women” to something like “people with feminine energy” or “relational people,” or something like that. The idea is that for these people (and you know who you are!), how they are feeling about the relationship has a big effect on their sexual mood, desire, availability, etc. For these people, just being kind, thoughtful, aware of the state of the relationship and one’s impact on that partner go a long way. But a little romance woven through doesn’t hurt.


(I’m a psychologist with a private practice in Noe Valley, San Francisco)

Image Credits: Rose