• S.E. Burr

The Problem with Romance: Mr. Right Can't Fix What's Wrong

For the last year I have had what you could call an interest, or a hobby, or an obsession with watching videos of bands on YouTube--performances, music videos, and especially interviews and "popumentaries." The music is a part of it, but a bigger part is my interest in the band members' lives--traveling, performing, writing, recording, and particularly their relationships with each other. They're engaged in this joint creative endeavor where they rely on each other to be able to make good music, to put on good shows, and to be able to keep performing. How do they maintain their friendship (if they're even friends?) Why do bands split up? Why do they stay together? It's fascinating.

This week I've been interested in Twenty One Pilots, which is hardly unique. They've been massively popular lately and their song "Stressed Out" has spent months and months on the radio, but I was relatively oblivious. Until this week, I didn't know that their band was made up of only two members, let alone what they looked like, or what their names were. I am really impressed by how well-spoken they are in interviews. The lead singer, Tyler Joseph, strikes me as a very deep, thoughtful person. I wrote down something he said in an interview: "The most honorable thing to be remembered for is that everything that we did, everything we created, all the time and energy we put into this, was focused on others." (I apologize. I wrote it down as a motivational quote for myself. I had no plans for this blog post, and so I don't have the link to the interview. If I find it I'll put it in.) Something I think that appeals to a lot of people, and certainly to me, about this band is that they sing mostly about other things than romantic love and women.

Tyler's quote made me think more deeply about the book I'm currently writing, which is a romance. It's the second romance I've written. The first one was a lot of fun and an incredible experience to write--I wrote it over 3 days at a retreat--but after the high of that experience wore off, I realized I had some major qualms about it, and un-published it, at least for the time being. The big issue that I have with romances is the idea that what constitutes a happy ending is getting together with some guy. Romantic relationships can have a huge impact on our happiness, and I am a committed monogamist. BUT, no one person is capable of filling the holes that exist in someone else.

There's a song that I've heard a lot lately, and that I find really catchy, called "Piece by Piece" by Kelly Clarkson. It's about how her relationship with her husband has helped her heal from her father's abandonment and how she's sure her husband will be a better father to their daughter than her father was to her. "Piece by piece he fills the holes that you burned in me at six years old." I found the video of her singing the song, while heavily pregnant, on American Idol very moving and I like to sing along to it on the radio. However, it scares me. She sings, "I fell far from the tree. I will never leave her like you left me." According to the song, it was Kelly's father not her mother who left her, and he didn't do it until she was six years old. I can't help but think, "You could be so, so close to that tree." I'm not trying to be negative. Every marriage is different. We are not automatically destined to repeat our parents' stories in our own lives, and I wish her the best.

But even if two people are completely psychologically healthy and socially adept, one relationship is not going to be enough to make them happy. I heard somewhere (and again I apologize for not having the link) that when someone finds themselves disappointed in their marriage, often that disappointment comes from the feeling that, "I thought you were going to be more people." Traditionally when you married someone, you married their family, their clan. They came with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents, all these people engaged in this shared social endeavor called "family" and you instantly became a part of that. Now, more often then not, a couple will live hundreds or thousands of miles away from all their relations and their family is made up of only the two of them. We are not designed for one relationship to be enough. There are exceptions, but in general, two people stranded together on a desert island, literal or metaphorical, are two lonely people. If you can't rely on DNA or a marriage contract to give you the relationships you need, and let's face it, you can't, you have to form those relationships for yourself through friendships and other social and work connections. It is by no means an easy thing, but, in my opinion, it's a necessary one, both for the well-being of your romantic partnership and your own well-being.

SO, after hearing what Tyler said about what he hoped his legacy would be, I found myself wondering whether the book I'm writing would be valuable to anyone and whether the main message of my story and so many others--two broken people get together and fix each other--was inherently harmful. I don't totally know the answer to those questions, but I definitely know that the story I had started to write was not the one that I want to tell. It's still a romance, still a love story, but I've decided to focus more on what they're doing to try to heal themselves, and on their relationships with the other people in their lives.

I feel much better about how the story is going now. Yesterday I really enjoyed writing a scene between the main character who's in her twenties (currently named Amelia) and a friend of hers who is an elderly prostitute (currently named Lupe.) It's an unusual friendship but one that they both get a lot out of. Lupe is based on several people I've known, but my biggest inspiration was Maureen, a friend of mine who was forty or more years older than me and who passed away a couple years ago. Maureen was certainly not a prostitute, but she was never afraid to be exactly who she was, to say exactly what she thought, or to tell the people she loved that she loved them. I loved her, and I really enjoyed remembering her as I wrote that scene.

In the comments: Do you have any suggestions for what I should call the book I'm writing? It starts on the Gorge Bridge near Taos with a woman who has lost someone, and as a result, has taken it upon herself to walk the bridge every night and try to keep others from jumping to their deaths. Her love interest is (of course) a musician who she meets on the bridge.

I recently wrote a fictional version of the band interviews I like so much. You can read it here.

Check out the first book in my "Gobbled" series, Goblin Fruit, by clicking here. You can get it free for a limited time.