May 03, 2014

To Romanticise

I was filling in an online form the other day because I was signing up for something. I won’t elaborate on what it was because it was a bit cringe; but one of the questions was sum yourself up in one word. Didn’t have a clue. One word is a bit hard, isn’t it? Summing someone else in one word would be hard enough: but yourself? Plus we’re all different creatures from one day to the next. One day “happy”, the next day “selfish”, the next just “alright”. One day I’m sure we can all be very pleasant if we woke up on the right side of bed, but some days not even the nicest most softly spoken people on the planet can get you to answer rationally. Ideally you’d want to word to be a bit different than just the norm. My housemate used to say she didn’t really find “nice” people appealing: “nice is just a boring word and a boring thing to me. I’d rather someone have a bit of a screw-loose than just be “nice”. She has a point.

I asked a few of my friends. We all summed each other up in one word. One had “funny’, the other “organised”, and one had “ambitious”. Weirdly, there was a word that cropped up a few times about me which I didn’t really understand. My boyfriend has also said this to me before too: “Romanticiser. Well, by that I mean you romanticise everything a lot”. I don’t know if that is even a word.

What does that even mean any way?

“To romanticise” means to idealise and make things seem better and more glamourised than they really are, mainly in your own head. It’s to think everything you read in a magazine or in book or see on social media is just shiny and glorious. It’s to look back on memories and make them seem really cool and earthy, like a Sepia polaroid. It means to conjure up ideas in an unrealistic fashion. Everything is better in hindsight anyway. But I like to think maybe that means I just have to wrap  a little layer around things to make them a bit more appealing. Otherwise we’d be in danger of things being grey all the time. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with romanticising our own lives. As long as it doesn’t become too Hannah-Horvath-levels-of-narcissicism.

I know that I do it most when I read. But isn’t that sort of the point? Memoirs for example are meant to look back nostalgically, to sum up the “tough times” as something that actually was kind of fun and raw and those defining moments that lead the author’s successful present tense (in which they’ve been commissioned to write a book about their past). I was watching an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she talks about the toughest time of her life, the depression, the heartache after a divorce, when she went travelling to India, Indonesia and Italy to find herself again (the story behind her amazing memoir Eat, Pray, Love). Even though I know this couldn’t have been easy for her at the time and in fact she was in the depths of despair, my brain can’t help romanticising it all. There is a beauty in the story, although of course the reality is much, much different. 

I remember reading autographical books of twenty-somethings gallivanting around London when I was at school and on holiday with my parents. I used to think that these people in London had the best lives ever. Even the smallest most mundane thing would seem so exciting to me. The funny thing is that even now, even though elements of my life have been more exciting than some parts in those books, the book will always win. The book will always be more exciting, more appealing, more glamourous. Ideas conjured up in my head of “internet dates”, “an office job”, “a party in Soho”, it’s all stuff that isn’t a million miles away from my own life and day to day activities, but real life is not the same as a piece of paper with nice words on it. John Green once said “we romanticise the people we adore”. That’s why our best friends and family can always be characters in our own books. The other quote is “never meet your idols” – we always glamourise the people we admire professionally. That is also why when reading back on my 14 year old diary I am not “in love” with a boy, I am just in the midst of a massive daydream and romanticising the idea of it. 

Wikipedia is also something that is romanticised, public profiles of people that only mention the good bits, the awards, the marriages – it doesn’t go into detail about “gaps” on the CV, when said person was out of work for six years trying to get published or in rehab. It’s a glamourised list of achievements. 

Isn’t that the problem with social media; with Facebook? We all read the studies on the BBC that say we are a generation of feeling down-in-the-dumps because everyone’s lives look so 100% brilliant on Instagram and Facebook. This is the romantic side of our brains taking over “so-and-so has the perfect relationship”, “so-and-so has the dream job”, “so-and-so is a freelancer and therefore lives a dreamy life of constantly being on holiday”. We know this isn’t true. We have logical brains too and we know full well that the still filtered image on Instagram is not the moving reality. We all know that a holiday can look sparkly online, only to find out that someone had a nightmare situation during those 7 days. It’s happened to me loads of times. But all the good photos are of good memories which is why photo albums only bring happiness. That is why photos, books, paintings and films are pieces of escapism for the human race, that is why we turn to pages in magazines to feel better about the world. To add that gloss and shine. Romanticising things can have its downsides too I suppose: (nothing is ever really what you think it will be) and you are essentially deciding not to be realistic about things half the time. But I can’t help it. 


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