I recently came across this really great YouTube video titled “Speed Dating.”* The words “speed dating” might make you roll your eyes a bit, but let me share with you the first few lines of this video.
*Guy rings doorbell. Girl answers door.*
Guy: So what do you want to do tonight?
Girl: I was thinking we could go around in circles for a while about what our plans should be?
Guy: Yeah! We should waste at least 15 minutes being indecisive.
Girl: I think it’s really important that the phrase “I’ll do whatever you want to do” is said by each of us at least five times.
Honestly, how many times have you had this conversation with a significant other? Because, just like the girl in the video says, “we just need to say it enough times to show each other that we’re flexible,” even if one or both people does already have a date idea in mind. Or maybe neither person wants to go on a date at all. But the words “I was thinking you could just come in and tear my clothes off so we can have sex on the closest flat surface” is not at all appropriate – or at least not outside of really bad pornos. Or even the more chaste “I was thinking you could come in and we could sit on the couch and hold hands while we stare and smile at each other for a while” isn’t exactly appropriate.
But why aren’t these things appropriate? Why do we adhere to these rules and rituals? Why does every book, magazine, and TV show character tell us that the key to a successful romantic relationship is not to have sex on the first date (you’ll seem easy). Not to order spaghetti for dinner (no one looks attractive slurping noodles). To wait three days to call or text after the first date (you don’t want too seem to eager). To allow the guy to pay for dinner (it’s supposed to be chivalrous). Are these really rules or guidelines? Do they actually lead to more successful romantic relationships? If the goal is to make a true and intimate connection with another human being, are these ‘dating conventions’ really helping or hurting?
Reading the Dalai Lama’s book, The Art of Happiness, one topic I was looking forward to being discussed was that of intimacy and romantic relationships. Partially because love and desire are such rogue emotions as capable of causing destruction and unhappiness as they are of creating happiness and promoting a constructive life. And also there was the fact that these words, often in the form of advice, would be coming specifically from the Dalai Lama, a man respected for his great wisdom and advice, but also a celibate monk who has never and will never be a part of a romantic relationship.
In The Art of Happiness, during one of the psychologist Howard C. Cutler’s sessions with the Dalia Lama he says, “In Western culture, it is not just the physical sex act but the whole idea of romance – the idea of falling in love, of being deeply in love with one’s partner – that is seen as a highly desirable thing. In movies, literature, and popular culture there’s a kind of exaltation of this kind of romantic love. What’s your view of this?”
And the Dalai Lama responds, “Even from the perspective of a conventional way of life, the idealization of this romantic love can be seen as an extreme. Unlike those relationships based on caring and genuine affection, this is another matter. It cannot be seen as a positive thing. It’s something that is based on fantasy, unattainable, and therefore may be a source of frustration. So on that basis, it cannot be seen as a positive thing.”
So the Dalai Lama is anti-romance. But if you read the book, he is not anti-love or anti-sex**. And I think there, the Dalai Lama makes an interesting distinction. That romance is built on expectations, on romanticization (I mean, even the word “romanticize” is essentially synonymous with the word “fantasize”). And a relationship built on fantasy can never be as strong as one built on mutual respect, responsibility, and understanding. I think romance often completely ignores the importance of mutual understanding. From my personal experience (which I’m sure you guys all consider authoritative and totally care about, but sorry it’s really all I have to draw on…), most if not all my relationships have either failed to really become anything or have ultimately crumbled because my significant other and I just weren’t on the same page – we lacked a mutual understanding. If one partner is so enamored with the other so they put them on this imaginary pedestal of perfection, or if they are so convinced that they want a girlfriend or boyfriend they deliberately ignore that person’s flaws (sorry for the awkward impersonal pronouns, I don’t want to point any fingers anywhere), then the relationship is pretty much doomed and it’s only a matter of time.
I don’t want this to be construed as an anti-romance post, and certainly not an anti-love post. In confess I’m also a total junkie for that heart-melting, weak-at-the-knees feeling that accompanies a sweet gesture – just as much as the next girl, but what I can’t stand going through the motions of courtship for the sake of following social conventions. Cute gestures are great, just make sure they’re sincere. Intimate dinners don’t have to be on Valentines day and if a guy manages to charm me into bed on the first (or second, or third, or fiftieth) date, then props to him. I’m sick of tiptoeing around and double-censoring everything I saw because I’m afraid I’ll screw up. Will I still be acutely aware of and perhaps inescapably beholden to the rules of conventional romance – yes, probably. But I think that honesty and personal judgement are much better guidelines for strong relationships, romantic or otherwise.
*The creators of the “Speed Dating” video also have a wonderful, sometimes painfully true, tumblr titled “Fuck! I’m in my twenties” Check it out here.
**The Dalai Lama is not anti-physical intimacy. In fact he says “the appropriate or normal sexual relationship between a couple, can provide a certain satisfaction that could have a calming effect on one’s mind.”