Once upon a time I was sitting in a tiny greasy bar with a boy, when a rose seller came along. She had a basket full of dozens of roses, each one tied up nicely and ready to be hawked to the nearest soppy romantic.
I growled my customary ‘don’t disturb me in the pub’ growl. The boy looked interested.
Romantic acts don’t have to be the obvious ones: diamond rings, flowers, breakfast in bed and the like. But these things do have a certain kind of charm, and if you want to impress someone, it might be easier to reach for a bunch of flowers than a deeply personal something-or-other that has the potential to backfire.
I have a deep and sincere admiration for people who perform romantic acts. Those who know exactly when to shower love, and in exactly what quantities, to make someone melt.
But it’s not easy. One person’s romantic gesture is another’s worst nightmare, and the success of the gesture in question all comes down to how well it’s received. I was reminded of this recently when a friend told me a story about a guy she knew: madly in love with one of his friends, he journeyed the two hours it took him by train to turn up at her house. Rather than knocking on the door and sobbing his undying love directly at her, he decided to be a bit more subtle. He knew she was a chess lover, so he left two chess pieces: a king and a queen, on her doorstep, along with a dozen red roses and a letter that explained how he felt.
“Aww,” said I “how romantic.”
“Fuck that,” said she “it’s creepy as all hell.”
The roses and the romance
I hate that this is the case, but it is, and I have no idea why. Romance is a fantastic thing, and I’m sure many of us would love to have more of it in our lives. But it seems like the main thing that makes a difference between a romantic act and an inappropriate one is something the romancer can’t always know: whether your crush actually fancies you.
If they do, you’re a hero. If they don’t, you’re a loser. And possibly a creepy one at that.
I’m going to tell you two different versions of the roses story now.
The rose seller approaches me and the boy, and my heart is beating far too quickly, hoping against hope that this shy, nerdy first date doesn’t turn into a mush-riddled disaster. All I know about this guy is his name, his occupation, and a story he’s told me about how his sister once pushed him off a swing. I don’t know him well enough to anticipate whether he’s cheesy enough to think the ‘rose for a pound on a first date’ gambit is a good idea.
Red-faced, I accept the rose. Later that evening we part, and his post-date text seems unnecessarily gushing. We never see each other again.
The boy grins at the rose seller, and I whisper to him “seriously, dickhead, don’t buy me a rose. I’d only have to carry it home.” He squeezes my leg under the table, looking slyly at me in the way he knows makes me want to lick him. For the last two, three, four years I’ve alternately mocked and raged at him for his lack of romance, his lack of spontaneity.
“How much for a rose?” he asks the lady with the basket. I’m looking away now, too embarrassed to make eye contact and show that, secretly, I actually really want a bloody rose, even if it’s drooping slightly and will end up getting left on the bus. She tells him how much they cost, and there’s a long silence. Ages. Aeons. Millennia pass while I stare at the rings of liquid on the bar and fiddle with the plastic twizzly gin and tonic stick and just wish he’d get on and tell her ‘no’ so that we don’t have to eke out the embarrassment.
Years, or perhaps five seconds, later, he speaks.
“I’ll take the lot.”
And he hands over note after note after note from a wallet that’s rarely opened unless it needs to be. And I walk home arm in arm with my boyfriend of many years, drowning in roses and love.
There’s no right way to do romance
Arguing with my friend over the chess incident made me sad for the boy who’d tried so hard. For his unrequited love and his inability to read the girl’s reaction. Assuming they were both in earnest, no one did anything wrong here: it’s just a misjudged gesture and a mutual tragedy. But from my friend’s point of view, it’s a stupid guy making a desperate play for a girl who’ll never want him.
As she put so succinctly: the difference between creepy and romantic often just comes down to whether they actually fancy you.
I don’t think I want this to be true.