The Etymology of Romance or: Oh, No Wonder It Didn’t Work Out

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“Photo of couple holding hands under palm trees” by Shifaaz shamoon on Unsplash

We tend to villainize our former flames, our ex-lovers, our past pursuits. They didn’t get us. They were too selfish! They were co-dependent. They never listened.

It was almost as if they were injecting drama into our relationship on purpose.

I watched Tarantino’s True Romance the other day and I got the bright idea to research the etymology of “romance”. What I read made everything make perfect sense and explained Alabama’s relationship with Clarence, and probably your last failed fling.

“Romance”, if you look at the root of the word, shows that it’s about Rome or romans. Specifically, a romance is a story about an adventure. It later took on an erotic nature, but maintained its entertainment value. Now you know why romantic relationships are “drama”.

Moreover, when the bourgeois couple were smitten with one another, a romance indicated that there was an invented story injected into the minds of the two and into the entity that existed between the two, their relationship.

So, have you ever met someone, really hit it off (or at the very least you didn’t barf at the end of the interaction) and start to daydream about your futures together? Then maybe you continue to date for months or even years and then the same snag that couldn’t be addressed kept occurring? Well my friend, don’t beat yourself up! You were unconsciously doing something that people used to do consciously hundreds of years ago.

You made up a story, but it didn’t come to pass. The things we invent in our heads are not reality. As a matter of fact, reality tends to spit on our dreams. If we pay attention to the facts of the situation — which is hard because we’ve already idealized the other person and the relationship — we would be more realistic about what the future holds for our relationships.

We don’t have to be story-tellers to know how stories work. Stories (read: dramas) work because of a key ingredient: conflict. Without it, there can be no epic tale, no adventurous saga and, according to our ancestors, no romance.

Now, of course, we don’t think of romance in this way contemporarily. However, we live it every single day in our past and present romantic relationships. We aren’t consciously asking for drama, but a romance like the ones we’ve read about and watched on TV are riddled with conflict. And if you’re honest, we’d see the same in your own relationships.

But at the end of the episode or the season or the series, we see the two lovebirds gazing into each other’s eyes like addicts. And we think, “Oh, I want that.” It makes you feel alive. It will eventually make you sick too.

We think that these two people who have no addressed the same old problems are somehow not going to revisit the same old issues. Or, the two have transformed and we think that if we stick it out with this other person, they too will change for the better. Or that you will change.

But here’s the problem with fiction: it isn’t real. So the thing you’ve invented in your head is unlikely to happen because of the non-fiction, the truth of the two of you. The incompatibilities, the unhealed trauma and baggage, the conflicting desires, etc. These are the ingredients as to why you two are together in the first place, but you somehow want to circumvent them to make it work. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways.

If the conflict brought you together, you can’t now undo it. This is why when people change, the other person gets resentful. “You aren’t who I married!” The drama and excitement is over! There are no fights, but that means there’s no passion.

We explicitly state that we want romance, not realizing that we should be careful about what we wish for. Romance does not mean functional. It does mean dizzying, dangerous and possibly doomed.

What’s nutty is that some of us would probably still opt for the dizzying, dangerous and possibly doomed. Why? Because it’s entertaining! Because it’s what we think love is, and anything less than this would be boring.

And only when we get dizzy enough that we fall on our asses in pain, and hopefully eventual laughter from all the exploits, can we then decide that “boring” is the only thing that is actually sustainable.

So while your ex-fling or last relationship had problems, the fact is, you chose them. You chose them and they chose you, at least in part, because you both saw an engaging epic ready to be told/complained about. It sucks, trust me I know. Some rich people got bored centuries ago and now we have to undo the crap they peddled to us.

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Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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