A few weeks ago I posted an article about writing romance. In so many words, said I, romance in a story is just a couple of emotionally needy people making a series of bad decisions. I got a bundle of LOLs in my inbox and few likes on Facebook. I finally had romance figured out.
Or so I thought.
Today I read a letter written by a girl who just got engaged to the boy who was her first crush. It was about the most romantic thing I've ever read. The strange part is nothing really seemed to happen between them except growing up and intermittently hanging out. Yet, the story grew into a wonderfully beautiful heart wrenching tale of lost and found, and happily ever after.
Both are in college now. Their love story has all the ups and downs of "a couple of emotionally needy people", but what is was missing was the bad decisions. Of course it took them a long time to realize that they were in love. But not being together romantically from the very beginning was ok. They made the right choices at various times to explore and be in relationships and grow.
So if they weren't making a series of bad decisions, stuck in each other's own pride or prejudice, why was the story so gripping and powerful and emotional and just so ridiculously romantic you wanted to tear your own heart out so it would stop hurting and cry for joy at the same time?
At that moment I realized that there is a difference between just plain romance, the kind of romantic tension in a novel I can script by having a character just say the wrong thing at the wrong moment and hurt someone else, and a beautiful romance, a truly beautiful story of love.
What is the difference? What is the golden ingredient?
Brooke and Erich--see even their names sound just perfect together--are best friends. For the rest of their future they know that they can be that way forever. That is beautiful. But their relationship was beautiful before they realized they were in love.
Listening. Caring. Loving. Sharing. Crying. Giving. Believing. Trusting. Sacrificing. Waiting. Hoping. Risking.
When all the emotions and drama boiled away, what remained was the single truth they had built together: they had each other. And there was one thing that wrapped it up and sealed it for good, a truth that bad decisions can only gaze upon from a languishing distance.
Friendship is being true.
They had each other not because they made mistakes, but because they were true. Like a redwood rising to its full glory, so long as its core, its heart wood is strong, the redwood is beautiful and grand. So in a romance, more than being pretty or petty, more than being selfish, more than running away from what you should run toward, what bestows beauty is friendship and its core is being true.
Even if it took Brooke and Erich a lifetime and an eternity to find each other, the thing that would make it beautiful beyond compare is that heartwood of being true. Like a Rembrandt waiting to be unveiled, like a Steinway waiting for its first concerto, in the moment of its discovery the beauty of its enduring worth is revealed.
Am I getting any closer to understanding romance? Maybe I'm still galaxies away, but I see a bright star of love burning, and it makes me want to be true.