Tag Archives: Romance


This morning my husband left me.  Thank God.  We are in the Malvern hills.  He expected a holiday but I must write.  (Coincidentally, about couples screwing up leisure.)  The sun is in, mist yields myopic views, and two loved-up newlyweds are building a house ten yards away.  Deafened by the cement mixer, they shout – right now, about a boil on the man’s arse.  Meanwhile my husband is hiking in Wales.  His parting shot: ‘Work hard.’  Mine: ‘Shove off.’  


Our break isn’t going to plan, but may yet be salvaged.  Romance is a matter of taste, and while the newlyweds happily bray their sweet nothings, that isn’t how we do love.  Forget Dirty Dancing: give us Cary Grant cussing Katie Hepburn!   Our defining romantic story was a disastrous honeymoon, with the punchline that he forgot my birthday.  (‘What do you mean, present?  I just gave you a helleymoon!’)  Still, this holiday may beat it.  Provided he comes back.


Romance is always a story.  The word reeks of Mills and Boon, but the original romances were epics of knights, monsters, and unattainable married princesses (then, marriage was about anything but love).  Nowadays there is a set romantic script by which to tell love.  Or so vendors of satin hearts and teddy bears hope we believe.  Such tokens are the bastard spawn of ritual gifts traditionally exchanged between courting couples (their value conveyed the gravity of intentions).  But conventionality may undermine romance.

Rituals are far from empty gestures.  They have the power to imbue experience with not only greater significance but also pleasure.  Psychologists find that if you make tea in a certain way, then drink from your favourite cup, it truly tastes better.  Only to you, of course, but then you are the one who matters.  It tastes better because our brains form neural circuits, and anticipation increases the release of dopamine, the joy chemical.  


It is a mistake to accept the pro-forma romance script and expect your relationship to fill in the gaps.  Instead, form personal rituals.  Have a song that is yours; routinely set aside fifteen minutes a day to chat and do nothing; make the effort to tell each other tales about your off-beat bliss.  Do this and your love should resonate deeper and last longer.  You may become smug bastards, braying sweet nothings.  But happy smug bastards.  


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Did greedy doctors invent sex addiction to grab a piece of the divorce lawyers’ action?  I only ask because commitment anxiety is rising, and not just adultery is being diagnosed as a disease.   Fidelity, too, is suspect.  Are you married, cohabiting, eyes for no other?  Might you be – whisper it – co-dependent?


I am married and I am independent.  Or so I thought.  However, my spouse and I depend on each other.  So the increasingly common term ‘co-dependence’ worried me. It sounds vague.  But my dictionary says that a co-dependent couple features one who is an addict, and another who is addicted to their relationship with the addict.  So me and my husband are okay.  But then it struck me the definition is slippery.  What if the addict is addicted to the relationship?  And what if a co-dependency therapist had advised Victorian poet Robert Browning? Would he have eloped with ageing, invalid opium addict Elizabeth Barrett?  Would we have their great love story?


‘In a codependent society,’ warns therapist Robert Burney, ‘everyone has to have someone to look down on, in order to feel good about themselves.’  Sounds like human nature.  By this measure, love between any two imperfect or unequal individuals is unhealthy, and caring is suspect (caring could be ‘looking down’ in disguise).  Is there such a thing as a relationship without any power imbalance?  Isn’t one of the benefits of a relationship that you don’t have to be best at everything?


Burney is not the first to view love with a surgeon’s suspicion.  ‘My love is as a fever, longing still/For that which longer nurseth the disease.’  In this sonnet Shakespeare described a disorder called romance, which traditionally occurred outside dull marriage (which was for babies, money, and dynasties).  Only in the seventeenth century did married love come to be regarded the summit of human fulfilment.  In our crowded world, such a belief is less tenable.  


Twenty-first century romantics must commit to their job, friends, home, kids.  Even had we the time, it is harder to be confident about prioritising one relationship.  Fear of monotony, worry about monogamy, have increased our faith in other people’s right to talk us through our lives, and tell us how to live them.  But if we over-diagnose our emotions, our love stories may end before they’ve begun.



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