Romance . . .

This seems pretty "romantic" to me.
I had a great conversation with a friend the other day about how "romantic" the holiday season is. Apparently the short days (that bug the crap out of me) and all the twinkling lights, carols, peppermint scented/flavored everything, and hustle and bustle put her in quite the amorous mood (she's single, fellas - let me know if you want her digits). I started asking questions about the use of the word "romantic" . . . did she mean "warm" or "loving" or "nostalgic" or "quaint" or did she actually mean romantic?

Romantic, for those without a built-in or readily-available dictionary officially means "inclined toward or suggestive of the feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love". So where is the "love" in the holiday season in this case? Is it love of shopping? Holiday parties? Peppermint scented/flavored everything? The excitement I get . . . the mystery I do not. But she was SURE that she meant romantic. I still think she meant amorous because the conversation hooked directly south as I started in with some sordid tale of Naughty Elves and peppermint "sticks" (I'm 12 years old, people) and she didn't seem disinterested in the yarn I was spinning.

So is this time of year "romantic"? And is "romance" something we can label as a universal (quick answer - no. Much like "beautiful" the word means too many things to too many people)?

I'm not much for romance, I don't think. I like to be affectionate. Hugs are free, people. I have been told I am a flirt (this I dispute wildly). I like to tell people that I find attractive, interesting, engaging, or lovable that they are one/some/all of the above. I don't mind looking foolish in these pursuits and statements. But I don't know that I've ever really put much effort or energy in to romance . . . because, for me, BEING romantic is a choice - not a coincidence.

I think the most "romantic" thing I've ever (intentionally) done was, oddly enough, in the days just before Christmas, 2004. I was engaged to be married. We had lost a pregnancy in a horrible ectopic misadventure a few months earlier and it was our first Christmas living together. We were driving to Upstate on a cold but cloudless December night. Pennsylvania's stretch of Route 81 can be a lonely stretch and we had been chatting away about all sort of things. I took a random exit and parked the car. I put The Blower's Daughter by Damien Rice (one of the saddest and most anti-romantic songs ever recorded, frankly) on the car stereo, walked around the car, opened the door, took my beautiful passenger by the hand and we proceeded to dance on the shoulder of the road for about five glorious minutes. We never spoke. When the song ended I walked her to the car, shut her door, walked around the car, got in, put us in drive and got back on the highway.

I asked my now ex-wife about this incident the other day . . . did she remember it? What was her takeaway from it? We both remembered it fondly. And by "it" I mean that dance and, more importantly, that phase of our life. The window after the adversity of our lost pregnancy and the excitement of wedding and life planning.

Maybe it was more than just those five minutes that was the most romantic thing I've ever done . . . maybe that was not a romantic thing at all (John Cusack would probably call me a "douche" if I told him the story, right?) and maybe the whole notion of romance is something we only really feel in that moment or in the thoughts and gestures that initiate it. Maybe romance, like fibromyalgia, isn't real at all (calm down everyone out there that has it . . . I believe it is totally real for you). Maybe it is just a sticker we slap on something after the fact when we want something to point at when we look back on love in bloom. Maybe romance is something that happens all the time and we just don't see it or feel it. Maybe romance is in shopping bags and holiday parties and shorter days and twinkling lights.

Maybe real romance is in the moments and hours you spend driving the dark stretch of highway with peace, love, and happiness between you more than the few minutes you spend on the shoulder of the road.