Romancing the Bloke – Part One


Clipart from

It’s Valentine’s Day this week – a day with a mysterious history. As a saint’s day, it honoured several martyred saints with similar names, and there are also suggestions the day was created by the Christians to overwrite Lupercalia, a pagan holiday. It was in the 18th Century that Valentine’s Day became a big thing, with cards, flowers and confectionary.

However it started, and whether or not you observe the day in any way, it’s a good excuse to tell someone you love that you care about them.

Of course, every day of the year is good for that – and that’s what a lot of men told me when I asked a number of male friends about their experiences of romance and what they found romantic themselves.

Craig Martin wrote simply that:

I love surprises. Little things I’m not expecting that do not happen on those “designated days”. These are the most romantic.

KJ was the first to reply to my questions about what things he found romantic, and his favourite recollection of romance.

I don’t equate ‘romantic’ with wooing and courting, perhaps as I have been married for over 25 years.  If romantic is when one feels in love there are two times that are memorable for me.

One day I needed to read a Charles Dickens or Jane Austen for university.  At the time I was sharing a flat near St Kilda junction with a Sri Lankan friend.  It was a first storey flat with a view across the junction to the West Gate Bridge.  A. wanted to spend time with me but I needed to get the book read so she brought over her own book.  We settled into armchairs for the afternoon and spent our most companionable afternoon together.  No speaking, no need to.  Being together was enough.

Another time, A. and I were on the Great Ocean Road for a weekend away during Winter (our favourite time).  The tide was out and we were walking the beach.  We separated as we were hopping across the rock pools looking at crabs, seaweed, little fish and all the wonderful colours that the absence of a tide allows.  I was wrapped in my own activities when I wondered where A. was.  I looked up and she was around a hundred yards away walking among the rocks, collecting some shells and enjoying the solitude.  I remember feeling happy, content and very lucky that she chose me as her partner.

It may seem odd that I am not talking about the romance of a wedding or the lustful simplicity of a light touch in the small of one’s back or the time when I was given a special gift.  Gifts are tokens of affection and I prefer the real affection, the love, the comfort, the reassurance.

Chuck McKenzie, who runs the Notions Unlimited bookshop in Chelsea, is similarly moved by the everyday expressions of love.

What’s romantic? Anything that allows you to be with your partner, preferably alone together, in relaxed surroundings; sitting on the beach at evening time, eating fish and chips. Or dinner in an uncrowded little café.  My partner romances me every day, with random kisses, and unsolicited I love yous.

“What romantic thing would you like your partner to do?” I don’t feel there’s anything I could ask for – for me, romance is unplanned and unexpected, and leaves you feeling happy that your partner thought to say or do something nice, whether that be with a cuddle, flowers, or a surprise hotel booking.

Chuck feels that romantic gestures are important.

They’re a pleasant reminder of why you’ve chosen to be with someone, as well as a reminder not to take that person for granted. I speak from experience when I say that, once you’ve endured a relationship with no romance in it whatsoever, you realise the true importance of such things in living an enjoyable life.

Josh Kinal, former presenter of Boxcutters and podcaster extraordinaire, says he doesn’t believe in romance, as such.

I believe in acting in love in all moments. Romance, to me, has a sense of desperation to it; of courting favour in the chase for reciprocated love. But when one loves truly, then acts are not romantic but an expression of how much one is aware of the other as a whole. So the question ‘what activities do I find romantic’ can’t be answered because I don’t think a regularly accessible activity can capture this feeling.

The most romantic thing my partner ever did for me was to give me cufflinks for my birthday. She had them made for me specifically and they relate to the two places in the world I feel most at home. It spoke to so many parts of my being that it’s the most meaningful gift anyone could have given me.

As to whether romantic gestures are important – I think acts of confirmation of love are important because we can take each other for granted, and we can take the love for granted, which leads to an unhealthy expectation. Acts of romance, on the other hand, are trivial and akin to trickery.

Horror writer, comic book writer/artist and rock fiend Jason Franks mostly wants to have fun with his other half.

What I find romantic is anything that’s actually fun. Staring into each other’s eyes across candle-light or gazing into limpid ponds? Composing love sonnets and wearing berets? I’d rather drown in napalm. Watching DVDs on the couch?  Gallivanting around foreign locales, having adventures and goggling at weird animals? Laughing hysterically because there’s WAY too much chilli in tonight’s dinner and we’re both crying tears of fire? That’ll work just fine.

My partner does lots of little romantic things for me. Buying me some useless tchotchke because it has a guitar or a skull printed on it. Jumping out of the car to open the garage door for me. Organizing my t-shirts drawer so I can find Black Sabbath without having to turn the wardrobe upside down. Taking me to a concert for some band neither of us has ever heard of so we can bang our heads and jump around like idiots.

I don’t think grand gestures are important. They feel staged and fake to me. Much more important to keep on laughing. I don’t want a life with my partner where we’re always working up to some theatrical event; I want a life that’s just fun and funny.

Voice artist Kevin Powe is similarly enchanted by shared interests, daily affection and having fun.

Ive had relationships where I’ve done the traditional romantic thing (rose petals on hotel beds, surprise weekends) but I finally got it right with the girl I see myself growing old with. The most romantic things I find are ones where we indulge shared interests, or find a window into the other person’s world. Our first ‘date’ started at the State Library, where she gave me the benefit of her vast historical expertise, including explaining Hannibal’s tactics for smashing cavalry with elephants (on the back of a napkin). Whether it’s a love of good cafe breakfasts, great theatre, or bad TV, sharing that is what I find the most romantic.

There are a lot of little things that my partner has done for me that are wonderful gestures, but the most romantic thing of all would have to be being willing to go on crazy adventures, and make our life together exciting and bold. Shortly after we became a thing, she moved to Perth with me for a year.

I’m not sure I’ve got an answer for the question of ‘what romantic thing would I like my partner to do for me’, because it sidesteps the spontaneity, which is what I tend to find the best part of it all. However, we have been discussing Vala Mal Doran cosplay recently, because we’re watching season 8 of Stargate SG-1, and PIGTAILS OMG. *cough*

I absolutely think that romantic gestures are important. Small tokens of thoughtfulness and affection outside of daily routine surprise and delight us, and remind us that we’re not just a functional part of an ongoing series of cogs in a household – we’re someone worthy of falling in love with. (incidentally, there’s a great subplot in the late 90s film Playing By Heart that explores that concept – I highly recommend it!) They build up a storehouse of warm fuzzies that helps you get through the rough parts of your week/month/year.

There’s a more saucy side to romance, too, since sex is part of love and intimacy after all. In the next post, some of the men who responded talked about showers, surprise nakedness and unexpected physical intimacy.

Read Romancing the Bloke Part Two 

What is your take on romance and romantic gestures? Feel free to leave a comment!

My thanks to all the men who answered my little survey and revealed their loving hearts to me for this blog. You’re all lovely.