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The Not-Hopeless, Anti-Romantic

Jul 30 2013
What Madame Bovary taught me about love and life.

I am passionate about being anti-romantic.

Romanticism is a form of idealism, a philosophy that emphasizes the world of the mind over the material world, the spiritual over the earthly. The opposite of romanticism is, essentially, realism.

Today we tend to associate the word romantic within the narrow subject of love and even more narrowly, romantic love. Although romanticism is much broader than that and can exert its subtle and unbiblical influence in many areas of life, examining the harmful effects of romanticism in love can be instructive for how we view every aspect of life. At least, that's what happened to me when I read for the first time that masterpiece of anti-romantic literature, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. The novel portrays how Emma Bovary's perpetual boredom with her ordinary life in a small town with a husband who loves her—a life nothing like the exciting and dramatic adventures she's read about in romances!—leads into a downward spiral.

In the excerpt below, taken from my memoir, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, I write about discovering my need to overcome my harmful, romantic worldview as a young newlywed. Of course, as it is often said, marriage is a metaphor, and this passage is about more than marriage.

It's about how unrealistic expectations about any aspect of our lives—our relationships, our work, the church, even our very selves—can rob us of the infinite and varied joys to be found in the everyday world, not despite the undeniable flaws and perfections to be found there, but because of them.

I was two months shy of my 20th birthday. We had both come out of painful relationships in which we had been the injured parties. I was still in college, and neither of us had stable employment. He was on the road travelling with the band. I was waitressing at Howard Johnson's the hours I was off from school. "We can be poor together or poor apart," we thought, rather romantically.

We chose together.

Our first apartment was a little one bedroom unit added onto a stately old home that the owner had turned into an antique shop. It sat snugly in the hollow of a suburban village about a half hour from my school. The apartment was equipped with an antique porcelain stove, one large kitchen/dining/living area, and lovely hardwood floors throughout. Most of the windows looked out into a large yard that backed up to a low stone wall. Our landlady ran the antique shop and lived upstairs with her bachelor son, an artist who flitted back and forth between there and New York City. The landlady was about five feet tall with silver hair and bright lipstick and wore lacy vintage dresses, usually black. She had told us no pets were allowed, but easily gave in when I brought an English Springer Spaniel home "just to try out for the weekend." Yes, our marriage had a romantic, storybook beginning.

Related Topics:Love; Marriage; Romance
From: July 2013

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