We were sitting in this high-rise apartment, this stranger and I, J, talking about my novel. Sipping on some mixture of pale Moscato and red wine he’d poured, not realizing I wasn’t really into wine.
I like juice and whiskey, I said. Oh, then you might like this, J assured me.
He kept pouring. Turned out the drink was alright.
J was a writer, too. He understood. However, when he asked the question, “Does your book have any romance?” I fell quiet for a moment then gave him this kind of wry, bitter laugh.
That he didn’t understand. He furrowed his brow, so I had to explain.
“The men in the novel aren’t exactly romantic. One tries to be, but it doesn’t come across that way because he’s too forceful; the other’s profession involves manipulating the protagonist to do something she normally wouldn’t do. I can’t really call that romance.”
J didn’t have much to say about that. The night carried on regardless.
Why There Isn’t Any ‘Real’ Romance in My Novel
I never saw J again (he had problems with scheduling and committing to dates), though his question got me thinking: why isn’t there any romance—I mean real romance—in my novel?
Well, looking back on the state of my love life, the reason for this happens to be very simple: in my world, romance just doesn’t exist. If it does, it comes at the expense of the suitor’s self-serving, often fleeting needs.
Having experienced episode after episode of disappointment, false promises, and flaky would-be suitors over the past four or five years, I think I can officially call myself a cynic when it comes to things like dating and love and romance.
Silence is Dead; Entertainment is King.
For one, the way I see it, very few people know how to just sit face to face and enjoy each other’s company. Most people in our culture have this gnawing need to be entertained by the company they keep in their lives. As for me, I have this thing called “strategic silence.” Use it as an indicator of a person’s ability to be okay not just in their own skin but also in the presence of someone like myself who values those quiet moments where you can just observe a person as they actually are—the way they look back at you, the faces they make while they think you’re not watching…just really taking them in without feeling all weird about it.
Most people just find this, well, awkward. (The ones who don’t I’ve had the longest relationships with.)
Funny thing about J: when I first met him, I could tell he was the person portrayed in his pictures online (that’s how I found him) and yet something was still…different. Wasn’t sure what it was at first, but I probably spent the entire night trying to figure it out.
I guess I was looking at him in an odd way while I was sorting this out in my mind because he said something to me like, “What are you thinking about?” A lot of things, I said. I’m not sure I can explain it just yet. (Actually, he had put on some weight. Not exactly something you want to point out on a first date…)
Clearly, this bothered him.
“You’re very hard to read,” he told me.
My rote response: yeah…I get that a lot. Still, we went on talking about other things.
I like negative space, I told J at one point that night. Also an artist (he painted and sculpted), I thought he might appreciate this. However, as I spent more time with him, it became clear to me that J was really not a person who was okay with “negative space.” Whereas the clock ticking on the wall found no purchase on my awareness, the ceaseless sound vexed J and he said so. He also liked to point out that I seemed rather quiet—that is after he’d already spent over five minutes straight talking about himself, no questions or breaks thrown in for me to engage with.
You’re a talker, I explained, and I’m a listener. You were talking; I was listening.
No arguments there.
So why did this bother J so much? Honestly, I think it’s because he needs the noise. He sleeps to the sound of running water on his cell phone, he told me, pretty much every night.
Also, unlike me, he doesn’t like to be alone.
There was an intellectual chemistry between us and some kissing, but I don’t think a second date would have allowed us to overcome our very different perceptions about silence and what that means when you’re getting to know someone.
Talk is Cheap; Everybody Wants Something.
Most guys will say anything to make a girl feel good up front, to ensure the guy’s even got a chance—even if it’s just to fluff their ego so they can completely drop you later. They say they’ll call though most don’t, and sometimes, the ones that do will flake out afterwards. Some will even date you for over a year saying they believe in marriage like you do, only to change their tune when you refuse to uproot your entire life based on the whims of promises they’ve yet to deliver on.
I’ve even met a guy who lied about who he was, only to disappear without a trace.
It’s not that there aren’t any “good guys” out there; it’s just there aren’t any for me. At least, not for the time being. Mostly, dating for me has been either a headache or a drawn-out sham. Naturally, this colors the way I look at romance.
(And if you think my views on romance are cynical, you should hear how I feel about big companies and organizations; that’s another post entirely.)
But back to the novel—because it’s all related.
My protagonist lives in a world where her entire life has been the result of a government conspiracy designed to restrict her on a path that benefits said government, and what few experiences she’s had with romance ended in devastation. “Wait, mental illness runs in your family? You have what condition? Oh no, I can’t be seen with you anymore. Heck, why didn’t you tell me about this before? Hell yeah, I would have left you! Now I’m pissed! You know what? I think I’m gonna sabotage your airplane…” (A bit outrageous? Sure, but this was by design. What’s a story without drama?)
Did I realize this when I started writing this book? Probably not, but apparently, it’s not so easy to hide one’s opinions about life after all.
And they say I’m hard to read…