Confessions of a particularly hopeless romantic
“Perhaps I am his hope. But then she is his present. And if she is his present, I am not his present. Therefore, I am not, and I wonder why no one has noticed that I am dead and taken the trouble to bury me.”
Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept
I remember standing on the moors aged eleven, up to my knees in snow, blue with cold and absolutely euphoric. I’d just finished Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronté (I’d later name my cat after her) and was convinced that this was the most romantic place on earth. I gorged myself on Bronté books and graduated to various dark gothic tragedies that I probably should have read slightly later. It didn’t really bother me that all the men were about as emotionally explored as teletubbies because they were so romantic.
My previous experience of boys had consisted of being forcibly kissed in Year 6 by the class clown. Mr Rochester was so different. It didn’t matter if he didn’t make sense and was often a massive jerk, he used long romantic words and didn’t stick his tongue out at girls who beat him in tag rugby.
Heathcliff was so in love with Catherine Earnshaw that he probably wouldn’t have broken up with her two weeks later if she sat with Jake in History. How insanely perfect were these literary manifestions of masculinity? I was in love. Overwhelmingly, passionately, utterly and completely in love. I still know Heathcliff’s speech to Catherine, complete with all the Oh Dear Gods, falling to your knees and soul shattering howling.
Of course, when I got a bit older and guys turned out not to spend much time howling in rainstorms over you, that was a bit disappointing. Luckily, I had realised that maybe there wasn’t really such a guy in year 11. They tried their best with poetry and flowers, but somehow it wasn’t as exciting. Girls were better (one of my girlfriends sang to me at Regent’s Park and kissed me in the rain for hours) but strangely, this whole romance business was a lot less dramatic and beautiful.
Just when I had given up with expecting much more than a wispa bar and a bunch of slightly dead daffodils, romance sneaked itself back into my life. This wasn’t classical music or crinolines rippling in the wind, but the deep, serious connection of two humans. Not ‘you’re cute’ or ‘love you babes’. Not even beautiful, billowing prose. Real life romance is more subtle, softer, accidental.
Those rare moments of staring into someone’s eyes up on stage, brushing hands under a table, sleeping next to them, or just feeling the most ridiculous electricity in a man’s presence. Unlike books, where large pathetic fallacy metaphors and dramatic backdrops fill in the character void, real life forces you to observe the minutely powerful.
I swear to God this is true: I have been so euphoric that I have ran all the way home after a few hours with the right man. He didn’t declare his love for me in a thunderstorm, he didn’t save my sister from the wicked clasp of Mr Wickham, he didn’t read sonnets to me in the moonlight. But for a few moments, I saw his pupils grow darker, his laughter fill the room and his arms fall around me. And that was enough. He didn’t need to write a poem or deliver a speech. It was enough. Deeply, powerfully and completely wonderful. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t six foot two, it didn’t matter that he didn’t kiss me when he said goodbye, because for those few moments I felt so loved.
So do I think I’m going to find Mr Rochester somewhere in the yellow light of London’s wandering streets? Quite honestly, I’m not sure I want to. I’m happier to keep the man on paper, and love the real, complex, brilliant, flawed, funny and kind men and women who flutter in and out of my life. Because when you feel your heart race and your body become alive at their touch or voice, that will be better than any book you could ever read.