I pull Old Café from the shelf when I feel myself being too scientific and not wondrous enough. It’s a nice reminder that I play a very active role in having a romantic life, that romance is not a candlelit dinner, but a sense of hope and curiousity, of possibility, and that I miss it when it leaves town.
There have been moments in my life when romance has felt as solid as cement. I can remember feeling the wind whip through my hair late one hot summer night and vowing to never cut it so that I would always know how it feels to be wild. I remember asking someone I barely knew once: “Let’s get on the next bus going out of town. Doesn’t matter where.” And we did. I still love sitting on the dock at my parent's house with my cup of coffee in the morning, alone, looking at and listening to nature, and remembering that I am part of something much more complicated and wonderful than just me.
But like so many others, my sense of romance keeps getting lost along the way. Drowned under every hurt, held at bay by every disappointment. I have learned to distrust romance, at times, to think of it as silly. And I do what kills it dead – I analyze it.
“Romance dances just beyond the firelight, in the corner of your eye. She does not like you to look at her directly; she flees from the cold light of logic and data collection. If you persist in trying to study her, however, she first disintegrates, then dissolves into nothing at all.” –Waller
Worse than just losing our sense of romance, we mock those who haven’t. A teenager head-over-heels in love doesn’t know any better. A grown-up head-over-heels in love should know better. We call the consummate romantic an idiot – doesn’t he see what a fool he’s making of himself, waxing philosophical about nature or art? Doesn’t he know that nothing lasts / that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is / that 50% of marriages end in divorce / that you can never really trust anyone but yourself / that we all die alone.
Maybe he does, and he does it anyway? And good for him. Who are we to say what is and isn’t worth the risk? Who are we to say what is and isn’t worth caring about? Who are we to say “play it safe” to anyone brave enough to fall in love with something or someone? Why shouldn’t we try and fail and try again with the same gusto?
And so to rekindle my romance with romance, I find a dark bar and I read and I write, and this is where I am now – the Wicklow in False Creek overlooking the marina dotted with sailboats. The lights from the masts are blinking on the rippled water. In the distance, the lights of Granville Bridge glow. It is cold and dark outside, but warm inside, and a candle flickers on the table against the honey of the wood tabletop. Romance is seeping back in, and as Waller says, a familiar “sense of living just a bit too far out at the edge emotionally, sometimes; a caring for what seems to be dumb things” that makes life more meaningful.
Old Songs in a New Café: Selected Essays by Robert James Waller