Two days ago, the nation was swept into a pink fluffy cloud of romance. The Government encouraged this mass adoration of somebody else’s wedding by decreeing a Bank Holiday. The country was momentarily distracted from economic problems, Britain’s increasing involvement in foreign military actions, unemployment, the gradual axing of the NHS and the chipping away at Legal Aid. The British who, only a few weeks ago, marched in protest against the Government’s cuts and austerity measures, were blinded by a puff of romance to the detail that this wedding cost £7 billion in security alone, and that this bill is being settled by the Taxpayer. Not only did they not raise objections to this expense, they embraced it in a mass display of buntings, plastic Union Jacks, street parties, and the British trademark that is the wearing of monstrous ladies’ hats. Panem et circenses. At least, our Government does not throw people to the lions to entertain the crowds and, I must admit, the atmosphere in London on Friday was full of joy and goodwill.
What struck me was that it was not just the British who celebrated the wedding of the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (why Cambridge?) but hoards of foreigners. Not just US Americans and Australians in sleeping bags outside Westminster Abbey, but television viewers abroad. Yesterday’s edition of El Pais had no fewer than five pages dedicated to the Royal wedding. My first question is, what makes British Royalty so noteworthy? When a Scandinavian Royal gets married, there is nothing but a small picture in the Saturday glossy supplement. My second question is, why do people get so wrapped up in the wedding of a couple nobody actually knows personally, and has no chance of ever even meeting?
Is it a way of living one’s own unfulfilled romances through someone else’s? Is it safer to show excitement at someone else’s romance because we live in a society where it is not acceptable to be too thrilled at our own?
No, being truly romantic is not acceptable. Red roses on Valentine’s Day are institutional, but if an unknown man comes up to you in the street, tells you your eyes sparkle like stars, and hands you a flower, the helpful people around you will call it ‘cheesy’, ‘naff’, ‘silly’, ‘weird’ or ‘over the top’. They will laugh and ridicule. These same people will shriek with pleasure when a couple they have never met kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
What is romantic about red roses? They are ordinary. Everyone gives them on Valentine’s Day. Dinner date in a candlelit restaurant? Mundane. Text message? Positively vulgar. Being romantic is being and doing the extraordinary, and that is what people shy away from. They also shrink from taking that leap forward which exposes them, and from which there is no turning back. Hiding behind a pre-printed card or a tradition followed by millions does not put you at risk. You can always blame it on social conventions. Once again, it comes down to the courage to be different, to expose your heart in all its vulnerability without stopping to think – even for a second – of the consequences. Without any precautions against the possibility of someone kicking you or, worse, ignoring you. A totally uncalculated gamble that puts everything on the line. A sacrifice. A unique gesture to acknowledge and honour the uniqueness of the other person.
We go all gooey over the kitsch of Hollywood manufactured romance because it is coated in comedy. We read and marvel at Shakespeare’s sonnets as emotions from another era. We watch Gene Kelly tap on rollerskates as something unrealistic. We read about Courtly Love as legend. It does not have to be so. Truly romantic gestures are like explosions of sunlight, like fireworks. They can be blinding and overwhelming… So not for the faint hearted. Only like can appreciate like.
Taking a job just so as to be near someone; not thinking about whether the job pays enough. Learning a new language just so you can communicate with someone; not stopping to think about the time it will take to learn to converse with ease. Travelling across a continent to tell someone that you are in love with him or her; not considering the expense of the trip, or that you might realise, within minutes of arriving, that you have misread the signals. Taking a leap into the unknown with the absolute certainty that you will be carried to safety on the wings of love… Even if, sometimes, you land flat on your posterior.
It takes guts to be truly romantic.
I hope you all remembered to wash your hands and face with dew, this morning. ‘Tis said it invites love for the year to come.
Happy May Day!