Okay, maybe not overrated.
But the definition for romance, in my opinion, is usually all wrong.
At 25, romance was frilly and came in tiny packages with red ribbons. It contained mostly things I’d learned from fairy-tales—from actual story-books as well as from my own young-woman imagination.
Romance was what I would name my children and what I would get for my first wedding anniversary from my new husband.
Romance, in short, was pretty.
Today, at 35, romance is not always practical.
At 35, romance can still be attractive, but, much like myself, it’s gotten the addition of a few smile lines—things that make the packaging look a little bit worn and loved, even if not yet tattered and forgotten.
Grand, princely gestures have been replaced by tokens of simple appreciation—things like doing laundry and getting the ingredients for my favorite dinner on the way home from work. And while romance is surely alive and kicking, it’s often found dressed in fun, cotton leggings rather than taffeta dresses.
This recently came up on a car ride with my sister.
I mentioned to her that I think women can get themselves into trouble when looking for charming, dashing suitors instead of actual partner material. Partner material doesn’t always pull your chair out at restaurants—although that’s not to say that women don’t deserve to be treated this way.
Still, partner material is someone who has a career that motivates his or her daily life, someone who strives to take care of himself both in body and in mind, and partner material can be romantic, absolutely, but partner material might occasionally have to work late or prefer to eat in.
Because romance and charm, while attractive, are also somewhat of a shiny veneer that, frankly, can be a false, sirenic echo of what actually lies beneath—hidden and untrue.
The other thing that I told my sister was that, often, I’ve found pointy, jagged personalities underneath such sparkly armor.
This isn’t to say that all charming, charismatic people are dissatisfying.
No, my husband is sweet and thoughtful and gentlemanly—and also a genuinely kind person.
My daughter, too, is the most charismatic person I’ve ever been privileged to meet—and she, equally, is the kindest human I know.
Regardless, charm wears thin when not matched with soul; not coupled with purpose; not paired with an earthy, willing personage that seeks the same things beyond appearing wondrous from the outside.
We are more than body.
We are more than cute dinner conversation and fun weekend outings.
We are people who have jobs and extended families and things that complicate our lives and make us not imperfect, but who we are and what makes us special underneath our work clothes and smiling Facebook pictures.
And partner material looks like what would never be posted on Facebook.
Partner material will laugh when you call out bathroom/social media interaction—and nickname it “Facepooping.”
Partner material will hold you after you’ve been hurt by someone who you think should care.
More, partner material will want romance with you, of course, but they are prepared and ready for the reality and rigors of daily living.
The older I get, the more I discover that life is not easy.
I think life is hard.
This isn’t to say that I don’t find joy coupled with sorrow and all of the typical yin-yang aspects of our world. But I do think that life can be hard and I’m only 35.
So, yes, I’m glad that I chose someone who is romantic—someone who tells me I’m beautiful, but because he believes it and means it and not because he knows that it should come out of his mouth.
Do you want to know what I received for my first anniversary?
A gym membership.
A membership that I used to make me strong and that I used to help me deal with the stressors of life and of the first few years of our marriage, because those aren’t always easy and story-book romantic either.
So, as I drove to the grocery store with my sister in the passenger seat and my two children screaming for different reasons behind us, I felt lucky, and I felt loved.
Because, at home, was a guy cooking dinner for our return. At home was a guy working on his truck. At home was a guy who loved me, through better or for worse, through sickness and in health.
In health, romance is pretty—it’s also terribly unprepared for when “worse” hits if it doesn’t want to be there.
I crack my knuckles and look at the mother’s ring I bought for myself after giving birth two months ago. (My new baby is asleep on a pillow in my lap as I write this; my oldest daughter and my Prince Charming are at the grocery store, likely buying my favorite dinner ingredients.)
And maybe the life of you, dear reader, doesn’t involve children or cooking and that’s fine.
But my suggestion is to take a look at what life does idealistically—prettily—look like and then find someone who fits there, alongside and looking out at the landscape you want to till and harvest.
Because that’s where partner material lives: shoveling manure and planting trees, as well as in admiring the view.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Jennifer S. White
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers/Flickr.