My Not-So-Perfect Relationship with Romantic Fiction

Though I like to present myself as the type of girl who dwells in science fiction and adventure, I have a confession to make: much of my fictional intake involves romance. Shocking, I know! Not “romance novels” per se, that genre has always grated on me. But give me a good YA (young adult) rom-com, a dystopian boy-meets-girl, a beach or Christmas read, a gothic romance, a black and white musical, or a teen angst drama and I’m there. 

This Christmas season alone had me driving to Hollywood to watch “The Holiday” with my sis and an old flatmate on a rooftop (#dumbledamn), then Pasadena for “Love Actually” with my mum in an odd heritage center with Victorian buildings. I’ve consumed both “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn” and plan on watching many other Christmastime classics which all seem to feature romance.

I like to think my tastes run a little more high brow than Hallmark-type movies, but in the past few years, on occasion, I have been known to fire one of these up and thoroughly enjoy it. Usually alone. With wine.

My reading in the past few weeks has also reflected this bent toward romantic threads. I just finished Sophie Kinsella’s “My (Not So) Perfect Life” to cleanse my palate from the disappointing “Twelve Days of Dash & Lily.” Now much of my reading this year has not focused on romance, it may have been a subplot, but wasn’t the main story line. Still, at this time of year, after some more heavy reads, I’m all about the fun, light happily-ever-after.

Two of my absolute favorite viewing experiences this year were “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” which I’ve already watched twice on Netflix, and “Crazy Rich Asians,” which I saw opening weekend.

So how on earth do I, a perpetual spinster, enjoy delving into these fictional realms? Don’t they stir me up into a frenzy of discontentment, lust, and bitterness? Doesn’t my usually cynical brain find them immature and frustratingly unattainable? Wouldn’t it be better for me to avoid them like the plague?

The answer to these questions is “Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.”

There have been times in my life when watching a rom-com or reading a YA romance would increase my dissatisfaction with my single lot in life. I would have to check my heart after a reading or viewing and make sure my view of myself and my life was in line with God’s view of it. And sometimes it was better to avoid such plots completely, thus my passionate love of “Die Hard” as a Christmas go-to. That bromance between John McClane and Sergeant Al Powell is better than most love stories. At this point in my life, where I have come to find true contentment and deep meaning in my singleness, I seem to be able to enjoy the fantasy of it all with no problems. Yes, I’d still someday like to experience a tiny piece of that kind of romance myself, but I trust God’s plan for me. I know if it never happens, that his plan is even better.

My cynical brain may actually help me to enjoy this type of fiction because I realize much of it is fantastical. I’m not sitting there reading these novels or watching these films thinking how perfect it all looks. I’m more likely to be giggling to myself as I realize how preposterous it all is. I can enjoy it like a fantasy novel, a made up realm where things work differently than here on earth. I’m 40. Most of my friends and family are or have been married. I’m a counselor. I’ve walked through enough broken, complicated, or just real relationships with people to know how much work goes into a lasting romance.

Actually, I’ve found that sustained singleness seems to be the most difficult for my optimistic, idealistic friends. I have an acquaintance, a man in his early 40’s, who is still horribly brokenhearted that he has yet to meet and marry his One True Love. And yes, once again, I too would like that to be a reality for me, but I don’t think it is or will be and have come (mostly) to terms with this. Because of our perspectives, romances are difficult for him to enjoy without coming away depressed and despairing. For me, these days, I come away smiling, having enjoyed the story, or laughing because I thought it was rather stupid after all.

So this holiday season, while I plan to indulge in a few more Christmasy romances (a reread of the fabulous gothic romance, “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, is up next for my book club), what will you be reading and/or watching? Write a note in the comments telling me about your relationship to romantic fiction.

The Loneliness of Not Being A Priority

As the holiday season bursts into life around us, making plans becomes more and more difficult. Thanksgiving is barely over, and I’m scrambling to text, call, and email everyone to get solid dates and times for our usual December activities. Some of my frustration with this may be more about my personality than my singleness. I am, after all, a Planner with a capital P. I’ve found that not planning doesn’t work for me. I have friends in different cities to visit, ministries I’ve committed to, family where one of us always seems to be sick at any given time, and miles to drive in traffic to see everyone.

Being single, however, means that I am constantly battling all the other commitments and priorities in my loved ones’ lives. I know married people have this battle too, but they should appear toward the top of the list for their spouses, children, maybe even grandparents and in-laws. As a single person, I’m not really the top of anyone’s list. Well, maybe my mom’s, which is nice. But I’m rarely, if ever, the person other people are going to plan around. I’m the one who has to plan around them. Which is fine. Until I get tired.

The exhaustion of trying to hold all my relationships together, trying to maintain them over time and distance and through busyness, hit me like a ton of bricks today. And then my head spiraled into the melodramatic exaggerated cry of “Why doesn’t anyone prioritize me? Why don’t they commit to time with me? Why do I have to ALWAYS be the one to text, call, message, plan, and drive? Why am I the one who has to figure this all out? 

Like I said, exaggerated. Because I know I’m not the only one. Heck, my friends and family just threw me the biggest most beautiful surprise Harry Potter birthday party this summer for which I did zero planning. So, obviously, my brain is spiraling into not-quite-reality. Which happens when I’m tired and sad.

There is, however, a trend in my life of being the planner. Like I said, more of a personality thing. But my singleness seems to exacerbate this, especially during the holidays. I’m usually (not always) the person who has to text first to keep up with friends. I’m the one who has to call and say I’ll be coming to town on these dates, so can you meet up? I end up booking 4 dates a day for a 3 day period – breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner – in order to see as many people as I can. But the thing is, I wouldn’t have to exhaust myself in doing this if others would reach out to me as well. Perhaps actually invite me over for dinner one night. I’d drive down to LA for dinner on a weeknight if anyone actually invited me. No one ever has. Not once since I moved, not without me initiating it. People in the city in which I live don’t even do this very often. Most people just don’t invite others over. Ever. 

So, it’s back to me having to squish everyone I possibly can into a hectic 2-3 day period. And then of course I can’t fit everyone. Which makes me sad. So I end up seeing the people who have responded a bit more to my reaching out and have to leave off the ones I haven’t heard from in awhile.

And it’s exhausting. I am pretty sure that if I stopped texting people first that 90% of my friendships and even some family relationships would devolve quickly into nothing but the occasional “like” or comment on social media. And not because they don’t love me, but just because I’m not a priority. Which is natural and necessary. They have spouses and children, roommates and parents, work commitments and church friends, cousins and grandparents. I actually can’t be a priority. They don’t have enough mental and emotional space for that.

I get it. It makes sense. I’m not bitter or angry. But I am tired. Tired of hearing nothing from the vast majority of those I love until I make first contact. Tired of having to invite myself over because others rarely invite me. Tired of only ever having super last minute invitations that I can’t say yes to because I made other plans, and to which I’m obviously just an afterthought. 

I try pretty hard in this blog to be the best version of myself, but today you just get a rather selfish ramble, a glimpse into the reality of the mind of this single lady. Again, I know how busy life gets. And my friends should, indeed, put their husbands and wives and children in front of me, even their jobs (we’ve all gotta pay our bills, right?); I get it. I think most single people get it. We understand. So we try to accommodate your schedules and your commitments, as well as ours. And we try to be patient. And we try to reach out so others don’t have to. We try to take things off your plates to make it easier for you to spend time with us. We try to squeeze into your lives where we can. We try to be unobtrusive and helpful.

But today, I’m tired of squeezing into others’ lives. Today, I’d just like to say no, I won’t reach out. I won’t drive hours. I won’t bend my schedule. I won’t keep texting. Today, I’d like to become a hermit, like the kind you have to climb a mountain to reach. Like if you value me, you have to come find me because I can’t come to you. I’m tired of putting in the effort.

But that’s what relationships are: effort. So I’ll keep doing it. And every few months it’ll hit me again and I’ll be sick and tired of it. But I won’t give up. It’s not in me to give up on friends. Still, I can’t deny that it would be nice to be someone else’s priority for once. To be, if not #1, at least in the top 5. Or maybe even 10. To be the person other plans get set around, instead of the person expected to bend and change for everyone else.

Just a little reminder to those of you who are married and someone else’s priority: during this holiday season, reach out to someone who doesn’t have that. Text first. Call first. Invite them over. Go to coffee. Don’t schedule them around all of your other plans, but commit to them first and plan other things around that. Please don’t forget there are many of us who could really use being made a priority, even if it’s just for an hour or two.