Wednesday, February 1, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Why you need Romance

Men, today's article is mainly aimed at you. I feel the need to let you know that Valentine's Day is fast approaching. You have a little less than two weeks to get it together and act like you had it figured out all along. There's still time to get her (or him) something special and make it a memorable day. Don't say I never look out for you.

Now, I can hear some of you responding already. "It's just a made-up holiday" is probably the main crux of your argument. And I concede that Valentines Day as it is now is pretty made up, no doubt influenced by the dastardly union of Hollywood and Hallmark. This knowledge, you argue, gets you out of having to made a big to-do over Valentine's Day. For that, I have this answer:

No it doesn't. Celebrate it anyway.

That's right, just because it's a made-up holiday is no excuse not to make an effort. (Although I will allow you to not get flowers because florists jack up their prices like 400%.) This isn't about the holiday, not really. This is about your significant other. This is about letting the love of your life know that you care, that your love is willing to go above and beyond your usual routine to make her (or him) feel special.

Your relationship needs romance. It seems an odd thing for me to say, especially since I often rail against things like weddings and the notion of soulmates. My thesis still stands because I'm not arguing that romance is the foundation of a good relationship. Rather, it's used to not only maintain the relationship but also remind you why you work so hard to keep it healthy.

A normal, healthy relationship has its ups and downs. It also has a lot of time devoted to menial, yet important chores. Things need to be cleaned, emptied, trimmed, watered, walked, and fed. You'll spend a lot if time running the same errands week after week, and even the best couples can find themselves worn out. They look at each other and wonder why they put so much effort to maintain a life that's just a lot of hard work.

Romance is the answer to that question. It's the break from reality that you deserve, it's a time when the two of you get to escape from the drudgery, from the ordinary. It's a chance to relax, have fun, and share great moments with someone you love. It's the grease and lubrication that keeps the engine of your relationship running. It's the emotional intimacy that eventually culminates in the physical, making sex more meaningful.

More than that, though, romance is the most fun you can have with this person. It's the best time, and it's shared with your partner. If you two can't share these times, if your great memories don't have each other in them, if you don't look forward to those times when you can escape it all and just be together, then that's a problem. Romance reminds you of your priorities.

That's why romance is important, Valentine's Day especially. Yes, it's cheesy and overdone and incredibly annoying. However, it's also the perfect excuse to let it all go and spend an evening, if not the entire day, with your partner.  Your relationship will be the stronger for it.

This leads to the second part of my article. You may have great intentions for romance, but the trick is in the execution. How do you craft this romantic moment? What's going to be the pleasant memory the both of you cherish for years, the story that impresses your coworkers and makes your single friends hate you? Sadly, I can't answer that for you. No one can, except for two people:

You and your significant other.

Romance is subjective, and what's romantic for one couple is an utter bore for another. You can't just use the standard romantic plays and expect instant success. You've got to figure out what works for both of you. This will require some communication, and probably trial and error as well. The good news is that with the right approach, you can have just as much fun doing it wrong as you will doing it right.

Many will argue that it's the thought that counts, but I lean to it's the effort that counts. I can think about taking my wife out somewhere nice, I'm thinking about it right now, but if I don't make any effort to make that happen, I don't get credit. Instead, I've got to find a place and either make a reservation or, at the very least, figure out when they're open. I make getting her somewhere she'll love a priority. So what happens if she hates it?

Assuming I made a good faith effort, and that we thought it would be a fine place before we sat down, it becomes a cute memory. It's a shared experience that we can look back on and laugh, or cringe, or lob curses at. But it's our moment, one out of the ordinary. In the end, my wife is more appreciative that I cared about her enough to make an effort, to go out of my way, than in the final result.

Though it's not like having things go well is so terrible. The reason you make an effort is not just to get couple credit, it's to figure out what works and what doesn't. That one restaurant didn't work, but another might. Perhaps we look for a different style place. Perhaps we order in, or it might be better if I cook dinner instead. The more we try, the more we learn about each other.

Don't think you can't knock it out of the park the first time, either. Few things are sweeter than when you take a risk and your romantic gesture renders her (or him) speechless. Not only did you show your partner that you care, it's a great feeling knowing that your gambit paid off.

Because it is a risk. That's the wonderful and terrifying truth of romance, how easily it can go wrong. In many ways it is a test of the relationship, putting yourself out there and seeing if your significant other accepts your gesture, your gift. It's similar to an artist premiering a painting. Will the art world love it? Will they consider it tacky, cliche, and an insult to everything they stand for? It's a scary moment, and that's the point.

You're willing to put yourself out there, to risk it all to make this person very, very happy. That kind of devotion makes you prime long-term relationship material, as it shows your willingness to commit to your partner, to make an effort in every part of your lives, to be vulnerable and open because your relationship is the most important thing in your life.

That's why romance is important.

And you're sold on that notion. However, there's a big difference between idea and execution. You want to bring the romance, but you don't know how. You are stumped for ideas, and I'm here to help. Remember that only you know your significant other well enough to know what he/she wants. I'm going to try to help you figure that out.

The first thing you do is pay attention. What makes her heart flutter? What does she consider romantic. What makes him feel special? Romance isn't about you, it's about this other person. You need to answer these questions, and there's several ways to do so.

You could simply ask directly, and sometimes that's a great strategy. It shows that you are willing to listen and ensure that she gets what she wants. When you listen and follow through, he knows you value his opinion. It will also allow you to fine tune your romantic gesture so that it goes well, and just because your partner knows what's coming doesn't mean it's any less special.

You can also be more roundabout. If you want to buy flowers, mention a friend of yours getting a bouquet and see what the response is. Trying to scope out a romantic restaurant? Casually mention hearing about this place, drop the name, and see what happens. Whatever your plan, you can run trial balloons and gauge the reaction.

Sometimes your partner will flat out tell you what he/she doesn't like. I don't buy flowers for my wife on Valentine's Day because she considers that a waste of money. Years ago she spent a few months working for a florist, and she saw firsthand how much flowers get marked up for Valentine's, and she didn't like what she saw. Instead, she'd rather I use the money to take her out somewhere nice so we can share a great meal and have a good time. Because I follow her wishes, we have a great time and I'm confident my efforts are going to be well-received.

But don't think that romance is just giant gestures on holidays. It can be tiny actions as well, and sometimes those are more important. Leave a cute note for her to find. When you're out, bring home a nice dessert or her favorite bottle of wine for you to share. Offer a foot rub after a rough day. These gestures are not only good for getting through the day, and turning a mediocre day into something nice, but they are low risk romance tests to help figure out what works and what doesn't. You're not only doing a good thing for your relationship, you're planning ahead, and there's nothing wrong with a little multitasking.

When properly balanced with a solid, healthy relationship, romance turns good into great. Next week, I'll talk about what happens when you don't have that firm foundation, because romance without substance will kill your relationship, and that's the last thing you want.

As I said before, you'll need to figure out the right amount of romance your relationship needs, and if you just pay attention and realize why it's so important, you'll have a very good February 14th.

 What are relationships like in a fantasy universe? Find out in the book I wrote.

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