Have we gotten to the point where romance seems ridiculous? We roll our eyes at cheesy moments in films and TV shows were we can see the plot unfolding from a mile away. Even in our daily lives we refuse to want to look like we’re too interested or be with someone who’s a little too much into us. Why is it that we are experts in pretending not to care that much while also nostalgic for the times of yore when everyone was more than willing to yell outside your window all the ways you are marvelous?
When I think of someone who was not embarrassed of enunciating all the feels evoked by his beloved, I think of John Donne. I don’t know if his technique would work in the current environment, but I have a feeling he would’ve aced Tinder.
Twice or thrice had I lov'd thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame
Angels affect us oft, and worshipp'd be…
John Donne, “Air and Angels”
Again, when I say Donne would’ve slayed online dating, I mean he would’ve gotten tons of matches (I get the feeling he would’ve swiped right at everyone). He then would’ve begun filling all those women’s inboxes with texts about them being the most amazing, beautiful, and angelic looking lady he’d ever seen. And that’s when his luck would’ve run out, because our current society doesn’t value over-enthusiasm, or any enthusiasm at all. This is especially true in the romantic department.
Think about it: whenever we say we’re not feeling someone’s vibe, what we actually mean is “I don’t like that they’re that excited about me.” Again, I think movies are to blame. All these romantic films that include these grand gestures you can’t even imagine how the character was able to afford or get away with, have left us feeling like we’ve been oversaturated with love.
So when we look through other artistic outlets for demonstrations of love, we want quirky, funny, and witty. We want to be challenged to not know if we’re being wooed, mocked, or just bamboozled. Like this poem by Carol Ann Duffy from 1993.
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
Like the careful undressing of love.
Carol Ann Duffy, “Valentine”
Considering the title, would you send that on Valentine’s Day next to a funny Gif or meme? Would that send the right message to your intended?
The following five books provide unusual tales of love. They don’t exactly begin, develop, or end where a Hollywood Rom-Com would, but they’re still a different form of romance. They present different ways of emotional attachment and attraction. By the end of each, you won’t know what hit you, but I promise it won’t be anything sappy.
No One Will See Me Cry, Cristina Rivera-Garza
There are plenty of stories set in psychiatric hospitals; however, this particular one is set in La Castañeda, an institute of horrors that existed in the first half of the twentieth century in Mexico City. This is the place where a photographer hooked on morphine recognizes a patient as a prostitute he met once. As both of them begin to narrate their lives, they start to realize that their minds will survive this insane asylum only by sharing their memoirs with each other.
The Infatuations, Javier Marías
Are crushes moments of lunacy we’ve socially permitted? They’re usually described as harmless or innocent, relating them to childish love. But what happens when, for that instant, your mind checks out and you do something horrible? What if your impulsiveness takes hold and refuses to return your rationality? This is a murder mystery that poses the question of what can happen when we place our imagination onto an ordinary person. When a woman gets involved with a partner who she’s envisioned as perfect, the consequences prove to be far from ideal.
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
Can love be measured and quantified? Is there an algorithm or formula that ensures compatibility? In this humorous and bizarre story, one scientist sets out to find his match through math, research, and genetics. What he ends up discovering is that the human element surpasses the rational. And the woman who he considers a complete anomaly –someone who is not compatible with any man– is actually one he finds exceedingly interesting.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Jordana
Another tale featuring a scientist using logic and numbers to understand the world, this tale revolves around two teenagers who don’t quite fit in the world. They see each other as possible kindred spirits, yet are ultimately separated by the walls built between them. As time passes and they meet again, the tragic entanglements of the past curse them into an unending cycle of attempting to make a connection but ultimately being unable to.
All Souls, Javier Marías
A lover of books and women find themselves in a college town full of exactly that. As the main character, only referred as The Spaniard, navigates the waters of remaining a distinguished academic while also engaging in an affair with a colleague’s wife and numerous trysts with younger women, he finds that the one who would seem to have more to lose is less preoccupied than he is about being found out. You would never expect to find such a beautifully written story about the celebrity culture and hedonism within academia as it would happen with a literary jewel you’d find in a tattered volume at a used bookshop.
So what do we want? An incredible sort of love, an obsessive crush, a cheesy nostalgic moment, or a tragic entanglement that can only lead to destruction? Love is ordinary because we all live it. However, we have to accept it: Love is anything but boring.
Illustrations by Never Forever