On Feb. 18, at 7 p.m., at the Oak Park Arts Center, 200 N. Oak Park Ave., Writing Matters will present the wonderfully engaging Elinor Lipman, author of the novels Then She Found Me, The View from Penthouse B, and many more. She is called the Jane Austen of our time for her cleverness, wry humor and sparkling dialogue, and she specializes in romantic comedy.
Reading her novels and her collection of essays has reminded me of what romance really is — because none of us seem to start out particularly well-educated in that department.
When I was a girl, I couldn’t wait to get older and go out on a date because I wanted the flowers and the candy. I was sure you got flowers and candy and a date who had Brylcreemed his cowlick down flat for the evening; everything in my propaganda-fueled life had told me so.
On my first date, I did not get flowers and chocolate. Nor did I get flowers and chocolate on any date I had afterward, all the way up to today.
Fine. Forget the flowers and chocolates; instead give me a guy who would say deep and romantic things to me, someone who would see me — a guy who may not bring flowers but would speak them. Finally, it happened. In high school, a guy whispered into my ear that he loved me not only for what I was, but for what he was when he was with me. Yup, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But I thought it was a purely original quote from Randy C. I thought he would never leave me. He left me after maybe a date and a half. He delivered the same romantic line to my best friend and she was smart enough to laugh in his face when he did. And then to tell me all about it. And then to dump him.
I decided to wait for marriage to have romance. Get carried in over the threshold. Have candlelit dinners and know that my every thought and deed would be cherished. I’m too embarrassed to go much further. Suffice it to say that one day I screamed at my then-husband, “Yes, Valentine’s Day is too important! You can’t ignore it! You have to get me a mushy card! And you have to get me the biggest, ruffliest, pinkest, satiny-est candy box you can find!”
So he gave me that. But it was curiously unfulfilling.
After I divorced, I decided the romance I longed for would take the form of like-mindedness. I would be with a man who would be glad to take the back roads with me on trips and stop to look at puppies and antiques and produce stands at every opportunity. And oh, maybe he would watch Project Runway with me!
Finally, I grew up, and came to see that the romance in my marriage was when my husband got my car washed for me, when I fell asleep watching TV and he took my crooked glasses off my sleeping face and carefully folded them up and then covered me with a blanket.
At its best, romance isn’t about you. It’s about the other; it’s about demonstrating your love for them in lots of different ways. I knew when I was a nurse that doing things for others did things for me. I just didn’t understand that the same was true for my relationships.
It is because of my love of reading and the joy of taking care of others that I started the Writing Matters series — a chance to hear and meet and ask questions of worthy authors. An opportunity to be exposed to someone you might not know but might very well come to love. A way to turn off your cellphone and engage your mind and imagination in real time with real people. I want people at Writing Matters events to be entertained, well fed, and reminded that they live in a wonderful and vital community. And to realize that writing really does matter.
In my romantic dreams, proposing was the man’s job, to come up with some creative, endearing, way to pop the question. But I’m going to propose something to you:
Come to the event this Saturday night at 7 p.m. Your eyelashes will go up and down, and little stars will come out of you.
For tickets ($10 in advance, $15 at the door), go to: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2727062.