Cultivating Romance In A World of Distress
Candlelit dinners aren’t the same with face masks and tables arranged 6 feet apart. Flirting with strangers feels risky without first understanding their views on racism in America. And intimate phone conversations have become daunting since they all end with unpredictability and fear for how the rest of the year will play out. When there’s more worry and less excitement, more uncertainty and less security, more distance and less connection, life’s little sparks inevitably dissipate. Our current world simply isn’t conducive to romance — or many other forms of pleasure and joy for that matter.
My life typically thrives on thrills of love in my relationships and in my social circle. But for several months now, I’ve been in the trenches... scraping residues of romance from what now feels like a past life. So much of my time is spent reminiscing on a culture of easily accessible romance and fantasizing of a better world for the next generation. Reading old journal entries on past lovers, scrolling through better times in my camera roll, and making plans with partners in an unforeseen future have all helped me cope with the withdrawals, but fail to satisfy my cravings for real-life romance.
I’ve even tried redefining romance — by centering myself with ample me-time and self-reflection, seducing myself with weekly wine and roses, and innovating my life with technology’s sexiest distractions. But my love languages are quality time and touch, so my life has become the definition of a struggle. I’m a certified romantic who has found herself single during a worldwide crisis and there simply are no shortcuts.
Being a romantic hasn’t always served me well in our modern society and it especially isn’t serving me well now. Throughout my adult years, I’ve struggled to determine what romance means to me and why I crave it so much. But after years of trying to define romance, it has been the era of having it completely stripped away from me that gave me my answer. I’ve decided that it’s not about the dinners, the roses, and definitely not the sexy distractions. While all those things are exciting and intoxicating, they only provide short-term gratifications. It’s also not about the butterflies, the happily ever afters, or the ones that got away. While these are fun to ruminate on, they seem to fit better in movies. At its core, romance is about connection, and that’s what I miss most about how the world used to be.
Connection is our gateway to finding acceptance, appreciation, and belonging in not just our relationships but in our world. In societies all across the world, survival has been dependent on one's ability to bond, establish healthy relationships, and positively contribute to community. Over the years, research has only reinforced this belief. One of the most common psychological reactions to the use of psychedelics is “feeling one with the earth”. An 80+ year-long study by Harvard consistently finds that the key to a happy life is quality relationships. The part of our brain that fires up at the onset of addiction is that same part that fires up when we are in love or deep, deep connection. When you take a good look at the meat of existence, you’ll find that what we all crave the most is oneness — a longing of understanding others and feeling understood in return.
The opposite of oneness is clearly division. Differences in viewpoints amongst friends and family, distrust in the media and government systems, and a shortage of opportunities and outings to look forward to only pile emotional isolations onto physical isolations. Being cut off from all the things that foster new and intimate experiences can feel as impactful as cutting off a plant’s water supply. My inability to feel one with the earth and my exhaustion from having to find new ways to capture that feeling leaves me feeling a bit empty at the end of each day. But I remind myself that feeling this disconnected to the world around me can only end with a stronger appreciation for an inevitably deeply intimate and romantic reunion with the world.
Almost like make-up sex — I imagine that my reunion will be with filled longing, passion, and sweet reminders of what I’d been missing. Conflict always brings me closer to my partners, differences make room for understanding, and heartbreak leads to awareness. Some of our most intimate moments can be found in some of our most painful moments. Despair and uncertainty have the power to bring people closer than ever before, because at the tail ends of such occurrences, the highest of celebrations is possible.
It’s hard to fully appreciate the good having not ever experienced the worst. As an introvert, my first month of quarantining was a breeze. Even during month 2 I was doing just fine. But now I can empathize with the complaints from my extraverted friends. This is hard, but this too shall pass. Today I’m holding on to hopes of reuniting with my fellow distressed brothers and sisters, and the celebration that will come soon after. True connection can only be found in glory for the present moment, and I intend on riding this turmoil wave out while being grateful and present as possible. Historically, Mother Earth has taught us her most valuable lessons through disaster and tragedies. Perhaps we are at a time where Mother Earth is fiercely loving us back; she just has a weird way of showing it.