I think the notion of romance is interesting. We each have our own definition of it, yet there are certain acts that are deemed romantic on a more universal level. Lately I've been thinking about why that is.
I can't define romance for myself, but I can pinpoint some very romantic moments in my life. I've been proposed to, and while wonderful, exciting, and absolutely breath-taking, I can't actually say it was the single most romantic thing I've ever experienced. Don't worry, though, Prince Charming would actually agree with me on this point, so this won't come as news to him.
I'm not sure I even know what my most romantic moment to date is. There are several that stick out in my mind. I was going to write that romance often had to do with planning but, upon further consideration, I don't believe that's the end all be all, either. Often, spontaneous remarks or acts are incredibly romantic. So, is universally recognized romance the result of a declaration? Passion? Thoughtfulness? Maybe it's all of those things, but the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that one of the key ingredients to romance is the element of surprise. It's catching someone off guard by doing something that's completely unexpected, and maybe even just a little out of character. Roses on Valentine's Day? Cliche, no thank you. Roses on September 3rd "just because"? Much bigger bang for your buck, though, frankly, this princess doesn't like receiving things that die. I'd rather have something pretty and full of lycra and spandex... and I believe that knowing someone intimately enough to know a fact like that plays into romance, too.
When I was in college, I met a boy who I believe was fairly confident in the "women want me" category. He definitely didn't seem particularly commitment-minded and, while there were many girls he hung out with, I didn't know him to have a girlfriend. In his defense, he was very attractive and had a knack for making girls giggle. However, many of my laughs, at least initially, came at those girls' expense as I watched them throw themselves at him in the hopes that he'd glance in their direction from time to time.
As time went by, he and I spent more time together. The truth is, though I never anticipated our shenanigans would lead to anything more, I ultimately enjoyed his company very much. He was a really good guy, and I saw through all of the typical college dude bravado. He was smart and had a depth to him that was incredibly hard to come by among the men I knew at school. I appreciated the fact that on Thursday nights out at the bars, no matter what cute-but-sloppy-drunk girl was hanging on him at the end of the night, he still made sure that I had a safe way home with our friends, the shuttle or, sometimes, his car.
One night, I said my good-byes and headed out a little earlier than the rest of my crew. I walked across the street to the campus shuttle stop and waited by a huge light pole that sat atop a waist-high concrete block. Shortly after, the boy in question appeared. He said nothing but picked me up so that I was standing above him on the concrete because, in his words, I deserved to be "placed on a pedestal". He proceeded to explain that he wanted to go out on a date with me, a real date, not the usual talk to me over the music and buzz of the campus bars... and then go on more dates. He wanted to meet my mother. He wanted tuxedos and black cocktail dresses, fancy dinners as well as quiet nights with pizza and wine, trips to the zoo because he knew I loved animals, he wanted to see me ice skate, to go on a road trip together, to hang out at Great Falls... and so much more.
Needless to say my first thought was "what in the hell have you been drinking?" (I confess, it is possible that, through the grace of connections with bouncers and incredibly awful fake IDs, we had indulged in a cocktail. Or two. Or thirty.), but I refrained from saying it out loud. However, as his words started to sink in, and I determined there was a level of sincerity there, that there was a shred of truth to it all, I realized how unbelievably romantic the whole scene was. It was totally unexpected, completely out of character for him, as far as I knew, though he would ultimately prove me wrong on that, and every single thing he said showed me how much about me he actually knew and understood. He had listened.
Hook. Line. Sinker.
He became a fixture in my life for quite awhile after that night; our time together ebbed and flowed, but there was a connection there, even when we went through periods of little contact. Eventually, he graduated and moved to New York, while I was still in school. Once there, he continued with occasional romantic gestures, including "just because" notes, cards, phone calls and even flowers. Once, he drove to Maryland from NYC, arriving at 1 a.m. to surprise me so we could hang out for a little while. Literally... a little while... like a couple of hours. I was outside playing lacrosse on fraternity row when he arrived (what else would I be doing in the middle of the night on a Friday in college?!). I heard him calling my name from across the green. In my head, that moment plays out in slow motion as I dropped my stick and ran to hug him.
Eventually, he settled into his life in NY and I mine in DC, and, as it does, the universe dealt each of us the hand it was supposed to. Fortunately, I've experienced many amazingly romantic things in the years since that night on a lamp post in front of the 7-11, but this one still stands out as my earliest recollection of something so unexpectedly touching.
And so it seems that I have not yet solved the mystery of defining romance, but I do know how to recognize and appreciate it in the moment.