The Death of the Romantic Gesture
Back in the early 2000s, I used to spend a lot of time writing in a little café in Brooklyn that no longer exists. The whole woodsy cabin/taxidermy thing was a new aesthetic in the city, and the venue’s layout spoke to my Tennessee mountain heart. The best way to describe the vibe of the place is that it was where I discovered José González, because they played an early bootleg of his first EP on repeat for weeks.
One of the owners started to smile and act friendly and sometimes gave me free coffee. Every now and then we’d end up on smoke breaks at the same time and talk about trees, but other than that I kept to myself. I discovered through friends that he liked guys, but I was too shy to ask him out—plus I was going through some heavy shit and knew that trying to date anyone wasn’t a good idea. I eventually left New York and moved back to Tennessee for a while to sort it all out.
But before I left, I took a chance and mailed a letter to him, thanking him for creating such a beautiful environment to work in. I confessed that I had a small crush on him and gave him the address of where I’d be staying. I said something like, “Hey it would be awesome if you ever felt like writing back; it could be like an old-fashioned correspondence type of thing.” I had this romantic idea that maybe he’d write me an actual letter too, and we’d get to know each other the way people used to back in the olden days. Someone who could design such a lovely space and had seemed a little bit interested might at least be open to the idea, right?
Of course I never heard from him, which was fine. No big deal, I had known it was a long shot. And it would have stayed fine, if a few years later I hadn’t dated a friend of his who remembered him getting my letter, and how he’d been all freaked out and was now warning the guy I was seeing to “be careful, that guy is scary intense.”
Fuuuuuuck you, dude.
Here was an adult who was shaming me for doing nothing more than admitting that I liked him. It’s not as if I were some stalker—I got the hint from his silence and forever left him alone. But it seems like telling someone that you don’t know that well that you have some genuine, curious feelings for him beyond just wanting to fuck has become totally stigmatized. Because showing you actually care equals vulnerability, which has somehow been bastardized into weakness. And nothing scares someone off faster than weakness.
But! A confession of love for a relative stranger is what some of our greatest works of literature and poetry is all about! Eighty percent of all movies and songs are about suddenly meeting the person of your dreams and reaching out to show how you feel. And if they aren’t having it, you’re supposed to somehow prove that the two of you are meant to be together. The collective creative mindset says the way to do this is through some grand romantic gesture. Nope—apparently what that action means in real life is that you are a desperate weirdo who people should run away from at parties. And these days people run away from each other at parties anyway—it’s easier to stick with your friends, go home drunk, and just hook up with someone you find online. Somewhere, Cupid is laying in a puddle of his own intestines after a round of seppuku. What else is he gonna use his arrows for?
The one thing giving me hope that these expressions can still remain pure without being seen as psycho is that my last boyfriend had the balls to Say Anything to me shortly after we’d first started dating. I’d returned home from a crazy stressful work trip, and suddenly there he was standing under my apartment window, arms reached high, with an old boom box playing you-know-what. While that scene works in the movie, in real life it comes across as totally awkward—plus I was terrified that the folks in the projects across the street were going to kick the shit out of him. The performance left this new guy in my life emotionally naked and dorky and exposed, but to this day it’s the bravest and most romantic thing anyone’s ever done for me. To quote the café guy, it was “scary intense,” and I know tons of people who would have written him off as being overly dramatic or needy since it was pretty early on in terms of us getting to know each other.
Instead, I saw it for what it truly was—he liked me, he had missed me, and he wanted to show it in a big way. And as long as acts like that are performed with pure intent, and not as some sort of insecure way to control a situation, they’re the moments that you’ll remember most looking back on your life once cancer or the comet hits. You’ll know that someone you barely knew saw something special in you.
To be clear, true stalkers obviously don’t count. All I’m suggesting is keep a cautiously open mind, because, yeah, okay, you might get hacked to pieces by that stranger who hands you a daisy out of the blue in the park. But there’s also a chance you might totally fall in love.