The Great Romance




Falling in love consists merely in uncorking the imagination and bottling the common-sense.

--Helen Rowland  (1906)





Falling in love with love, always wanted to.  What’s a Babe to do? Can’t help it.  So this week why don’t we just riff on romance?  You see, I’m an incurable but hopeful romantic and personally I believe that in order to be happy, romance should be in between the lines of our daily round, whether we are attached and especially if we are not.

Did you know that making love is only endeavor to simultaneously engage and excite all seven of a woman’s senses:  sight, sound, scent, taste, touch, knowing and wonder?  That’s because love makes all things new.

When we are in the throes of a great romance, our sensory perceptions soar.  “The flesh of a peach, the luminosity of early morning, the sound of distant church bells—the pleasure the lovers take in all the small experiences is heightened by love, suffused with special meaning,” Ethel S. Person tells us in her fascinating exploration of romantic passion, Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters.  “We become magnets drawn ineluctably into the meaning of Life because love initiates us “into the divine mysteries.”

Like many women, I was raised to believe that the good things in life—the peach, the sunrise, the church bells—are meant to be shared.  However, into the span of every woman’s life comes solitary seasons through choice, change, or circumstance.  But in July the peach grows heady in its sweetness and hypnotic in its fragrance whether or not we walk through the orchard with a partner, lover, or husband.  If a long-standing relationship or marriage has ended, we often discover ourselves “too busy” to continue the tradition of visiting a local farm to collect peaches.  If there isn’t someone to share this pleasure with, why bother?  If no one is going to praise your pie, why bake it?  Without realizing it, we transform the arbor into another ark, to be entered into two by two, or not at all.  And when we do this, we wound ourselves terribly, much more than any former paramour could.

 Women often confuse love and romance.  God knows I did.  While both are frequently in each other’s company, they’re not the same.  Think of love as emotion.  Romance is its evocative expression.

Romance reveals the depth and breadth of a lover’s feelings in a particular way.  Love can be conveyed in an e-mail, but when a woman receives a handwritten letter, she being romanced.  The time it took, the glimpse of her name in his handwriting—these are the things that makes her heart beat faster.  

Dudovich, vintage postcard

Dudovich, vintage postcard

If love is a dessert, romance is a pear tart with raspberry sauce and Muscat-raisin ice cream.  If love is a dance, romance is a tango.  If love is a trip, romance is a journey on the Orient Express, a ride through the park on a bicycle built for two, or a long distance call from your lover who is half way around the world on a business trip in an exotic setting saying that he misses you and won’t you come join him; he’ll use his travel miles to buy you a ticket.  How does he love thee?  140,000 air miles manage to convey much more romance than Christian Grey’s private plane ever could.

A woman can be loved truly, madly, deeply, but if the only way your suitor can express it is to mumble “Ditto” after you reveal your feelings, you might have love doll, but you definitely don’t have romance.  

Now here is something I want to share with you because once upon a time, a wise woman who loved me shared it and it was revelatory but of course to my regret, I didn’t listen to her then and now I do. Better late, ma Cherie. There is someone precious out there who needs to read this.  A man does not have to be a drug king, gangster, pimp, slumlord, philanderer, rapist or murderer to earn the adjective bad.  A bad man is any man who repeatedly (as in more than twice) behaves badly toward you or makes you feel bad, either while you’re in his company or without him.  Especially without him.  You’ll recognize the scoundrel because the odor of something sweetly rotten lingers in his wake.

A bad man can be a sage or a saint.  A bad man can be a priest, poet, philanthropist, or a politician.  A bad man can win the Nobel prize for economics or the Oscar for best director.  A bad man can feed the hungry or save the whales. A bad man can be someone else’s perfect husband; he just shouldn't be yours.  Of course, learning to recognize a bad man is a compulsory course in becoming a woman who eventually learns how to take care of herself and those she loves.  Or as the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings so succinctly put it: “A woman has got to love a bad man once or twice in her life, to be thankful for a good one.” 

Women want and need love but our constant craving is for romance.  So what are we supposed to do?  Take care of it ourselves.  We stop wishing that one of these days he’ll do it better. He won’t.  And if we’re alone, stop waiting for him to come along.  He might, but then again, he might not.  The most delicious midlife secret for a woman is that while the tango requires two, living a deeply rewarding romantic life requires only one.  You.  Surround yourself with the things that you love. Indulge in beautiful lingerie. Escape into armchair adventures—unusual sleuths, film noir.  Reconsider red—lips, nails, shoes, walls.  Slip on bangles and treat yourself to brioche.  Curl your hair, cinch your waist.  Remember that chocolate becomes you, so show off your curves.  Find your perfect scent, don’t start or end the day without it. Or find one for the daylight hours and one for your nights.  Above all, become your own courtesan.

The history of courtesans reveal that the most successful in history were highly accomplished women of not only great beauty, but wit and intelligence.  Highly sought companions of royalty, prime ministers, and wealthy gentlemen, they were expertly skilled in the elegant arts, which included conversing (debate, tête-à-tête, riposte), flirtation, entertaining, music, poetry, art, sports, politics and intrigue. 

As with other specialty trades—Spanish bullfighting or Venetian gondoliering—learning the subtle nuances of courtesanship was mostly a family affair.  In the delightful 1958 film Gigi, based on a short story by the French writer Colette, a young girl is being groomed as a courtesan by her grandmother, and her training includes everything from table manners (“Bad table manners, my dear Gigi, have broken up more households than infidelity”) to the art of entering a room.  Allure is attainable, my darlings. There’s much to be said for the revival of courtesan grooming for women of all ages.  Not to woo the world, mind you, but to seduce yourself with the Great Romance.

 Here’s how to start.  Say aloud, I am the most fascinating woman in the world because I can…Now fill in the blanks.  I can prepare perfect lobster risotto.  I can speak Italian fluently.  I can play billiards or bridge or chess.  What have you always wanted to do or understand?  How to remember that The Iliad is about war and The Odyssey about love?  Make a list.

What social situations do you avoid because you feel awkward?  From learning how to hold a fish fork or hold up your end of a conversation at a Downton Abbey dinner party (speak to the person on your right during the first course, then to the person on your left the next) ,make up your mind that you’re going to dismantle your fear with information.  We can all use a little finishing school polish—whether it’s through lessons, lectures, books, exhibitions or the internet.  So if you want more romance in your life become a secret know it all.  Do you have any idea how thrilling it is to actually enjoy your own company?  It’s like having a numbered account in Switzerland. Something you can always bank on.  Begin to think of this year as a cosmic charm course.  Become your own courtesan and watch the world begin to court you.  “What if,” the novelist Willa Cather wondered, surely for all of us, “what if Life’s the sweetheart?”.

Now there’s a thought worth holding while choosing the perfect chocolate truffle.

Be well this week, darling Babes in arms. Love yourself and lavish affection on each other and try to flirt with a complete stranger this week.

Dearest love and always blessings on our courage.