Popular romance and true intimacy in a relationship

Popular romance and true intimacy in a relationship

Popular romance and true intimacy in a relationship

Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be close to you.

Why do stars fall down from the sky, every time you walk by? Just like me, they long to be close to you.

On the day that you were born the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true, so they sprinkled moon dust in your hair of gold and starlight in your eyes of blue.[1]

The sentiments and emotions conjured up by lyrics like those above, are readily encompassed by the phrase 'popular romanticism'. As Valentine’s Day approaches once again, there is an undeniable ‘love is in the air’ theme building – more than encouraged by the marketing barrage associated with the fourteenth of February – an onslaught cleverly designed to inveigle our senses via the ‘that’s so romantic’ visa d’entrée.

Romance and romantic ideals of love saturate our popular cultures and historically seem to have done so since the notion of romantic or 'courtly' love arose in the Middle Ages. Songs, music, poetry, magazines, books, movies and more – from 'chic lit' to soap operas to comics. There is even an International Association for the Study of Popular Romance that publishes the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.

And this is across all cultures – romantic Spanish tele-novellas are as wildly popular as Shouju Manga (Japanese comics for girls and young women, often with an overt focus on romance and romantic relationships).

Popular romance mimics, and apparently evokes ‘love and intimacy’, but is it ever actually intimate? What is it to be truly intimate?

Is it that popular romance, as promoted and commodified by the 'romance industry' and the media, has, at its foundation, all of us being 'in love' with, or at least deeply attached to, our own issues, and ideas we have about love? With so many ideals and beliefs about what love entails, what actually is the truth of love? This is worth examining . . .

LOVE – what is love?

A great and aching heart;

Wrung hands; and silence; and a long despair.

Life – what is life?

Upon a moorland bare

To see love coming and see love depart.[2]

It is easy to get a sense of the beliefs permeating this snippet of Victorian poetry – an aching heart, despair, the bleakness of life, how love doesn't ever stay.

Or a more modern contribution:

I know I didn't treat you right

Scared you into flight

Lonely in love

Never acted wise

Couldn't organise love

But these longings return

When I hear your name

I let you go and now

I can't forget somehow

I'm lonely in love.[3]

So the relationship was unhealthy, didn't work out and he/she left you – is it far easier to listen to Lyle Lovett reinforcing your beliefs around loss and longing than to take responsibility for the lack of love that Lyle hints probably brought it about? With protestations like ‘couldn’t organise love’ or ‘ I know I didn’t treat you right’, was it ever love in the first place?

And why is the misery of missing or longing presented as something noble? And what is it being missed?

Is it that feelings of incompleteness or emptiness are all those forsaken opportunities to simply be loving with yourself and others?

If we don’t seed love in our interactions and relationships what will we harvest? And this doesn’t need to be seen as difficult – a beginning is just to be present with whomever you are with, not moving into the next thing before you have actually arrived where you are. Of course this runs completely counter to the modern, rising tide of busy-ness that is up around our necks.

All those perfect romantic scenarios with the woman or man of your dreams – in an idyllic scene of soft lenses and mood lighting – or dreamily strolling hand in hand on a palm-fringed beach in the Maldives, are in every likelihood a melange of imagination, ideals and marketing that will never be met. Mosquitoes in the Maldives… too much alcohol with dinner at the dream hotel’s five-star restaurant . . . the bubble is popped, but probably not enough to stop it reforming.

So what is intimacy?

True intimacy always begins right at home in your body. A good place to start to discover intimacy is to be intimate with yourself – through presence.

If you aren't present with simply what you are feeling, then how will you know what it is to open to another in trust? Not thinking about or reacting to what you are feeling, but just feeling what you are feeling – this allows a sense of connection to ‘you’ inside your body. Often accompanied by an inner quietude. This then provides a foundation for resonance and connection with another.

Intimacy with others then, is really allowing someone in through all your guards and protections, even the camouflaged ones partially felt on the periphery of what you more readily sense. These guards will eventually show themselves, be named and leave in the face of you choosing to feel them. Feeling, but not reacting.

Intimacy then is a choice to stay open, where before you would have closed down or defended. And at the same time welcoming being lovingly ushered into another's most tender place. Most surprisingly intimacy is never about 'getting,' for you, the person.

Shall I try to grasp a floating, falling sliver of thistledown or feel how it is completely held by the air?[4]

Intimacy is a fully equal place where no fostered ideal or belief about what love is can intrude because it would be too grating, too much of an imposition. In this light the whole Valentine’s Day edifice can be seen in all it’s forcefulness. Chocolates and flowers or else . . . don’t forget. No cards came so the tears flowed.

But if you know what it is like to hold and be truly loving with yourself; not always pushing on to the next possibility, or the next external supplement, then you know what intimacy is ... give yourself a kiss.

You may also like to read: Valentine's Dread – Tips for Liberation

And to listen to: Whats On In The World – Valentine's Day


  • [1]

    The Carpenters.Copyright: Casa David LP, Music Sales Corp. O.B.O. New Hidden Valley Music, New Hidden Valley Music Co., Casa David Music

  • [2]

    Robert Louis Stevenson. Public Domain

  • [3]

    Lyle Lovett. Copyright: Cminor Music O/B/o Lespedeza Music

  • [4]


Filed under

RomanceIntimacyHealthy relationshipsIllusionValentine's DayLove

  • By Alan Johnston, Photographer

    I have studied Social Documentary Photography. Lots of life experience throughout which I have kept a keen sense of humour.