This week I’ve been lucky enough to get to work with a friend of mine on a production at the Triple Door in Seattle. The original musical is called “Modern Luv” and we opened last night to a full house of laughter, applause, humming audience members and waving cel phones.
They play for two more nights here in Seattle, and then are going off to NYC for a short run at IRT. I heartily endorse this for anyone who has ever either listened to the radio or used any social media. That would probably mean everyone reading this, so if you can, go.
At the same time, I disagree with one of the fundamental premises of Modern Luv: that the prevalence of social media and text-based media has spelled the death of romance.
Romance Is As Romance Does
Part of that lies in what “romance” actually is. Again, I’m not going to take the easy way out and reprint a dictionary definition; I’m all about empowerment, and you can look it up your own damn self. The dictionary doesn’t matter anyway, though, because the way we use the word in everyday language is far from the original meaning.
I know this because I am in the process of writing a romance novel. I’ve written many stories and even a couple of novels under a different name, but they tended to range from documentary-accounts of events to outlandish urban fantasy. When I was challenged to write a romance, I wasn’t sure where to begin.
So I decided to take a look at some of the staples of the romantic canon. Everyone has their own favorites, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Dangerous Liasons (or, for the purists, Les Liasons Dangereuses)Â fall into that category.
I watched that movie very carefully. I examined it from a perspective of plot, of how this story was different than, say, any other story about French aristocracy. What was it that made it a romance?
I narrowed it down to two main elements that need to be added to a story or movie to make it a romance.
The LoveLifePractice Instant Romance Kit
The first thing is: miscommunication. Absolutely necessary. Sometimes this is deliberate (I’m only pretending to love you) and sometimes it’s circumstantial (Juliet’s letter to Romeo, never delivered). But it’s a key element to romance: somebody says something that, when it reaches the other person, means something else.
The second thing is: overreaction. It lends drama to the story if Romeo finds Juliet apparently dead and then kills himself over it (sorry for giving it away, incidentally). If he’d sat there, sad, and then gotten up and went on Capuletting (or was he a Montague?) it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as intriguing.
If the Marquise and the Vicomte had been honest and clear from the beginning how they felt about each other, as well as how their feelings changed during the events of the story (notice how discreet I’m being? You should watch this movie!) then it would have been a very, very different movie, instead of the pinnacle of Keanu Reeves’ career.
But what does this have to do with Modern Love?
Romancing the Phone
The show is a hilarious parody of life and love in the digital age, where texting, emailing, facebooking, and âlikingâ have replaced true romance.
That’s where I have a beef with the show. I don’t actually believe that romance has been replaced; if anything, the prevalence of social media and the ubiquity of phones have exponentially increased the opportunity for romance.
Think about it. “Why didn’t you call me?” “I did! Well, I texted.” “I got that text. What do you mean I’m all fat for you?” “Fat? I said ‘that’! Goddamn autocorrect!”
Even after you get things cleared up – “You’re all that!” obviously a different meaning than “You’re all fat!” – there is still all that emotion roiling around inside of you. It doesn’t just go away. I recently spent an entire weekend rather angry with a friend because I’d added the tone of a certain text message to be smug and aloof. Later, I found out it had been more interrogatory, which changed the whole meaning…but it was too late, the weekend full of hurt and anger was already past.
Why didn’t I ask for a clarification of the text? Because the original question was for a clarification of a different text message, delivered with a package in what seemed like a pretty insulting way. At a certain point, you need to just stop asking “What did you mean by that?” and trust that words have meaning.
Unfortunately, when there’s not much meaning there, we attach whatever we think might go along with it. Bingo! Misunderstandings! Dramatic overreaction, as your mind fills in the blanks that you don’t understand!
Choose Your Medium
While there are amazingly convenient things about texting, emailing, phone calls, etc, they have inherent limitations. So here’s the rule, if you want to avoid the “romance” and get into the “love”:
The more important the message, the more bandwidth you need.
Simple as that. You want to tell someone you love them? A text message will do it, but it won’t tell them much. A phone call, on the other hand, lets them hear that you meant it in a smoldering I-want-to-kiss-your-face-off way, not in the same way you love squirrels on the roof outside your window (at least, I hope not).
If you want to get really fancy, bend space and time so that you can have a live connection when you say those magic words. You get all the benefits above, plus the added bonus of seeing the reaction, seeing the way they lean in towards your image, seeing the way they catch their breath and start to say more before closing their mouth in a shy, coy smile.
Or something like that. Of course, you could also wait for the super-high-def-surround-sound medium known as reality, and get the advantage of breath, body temperature, the texture of skin, and the joy of a hug. Or more, depending.
But that’s a luxury. In the meantime, we have all these great tools for “communication”. And that needs scare quotes, because we don’t really use it for that very effectively.
On the other hand, it means that romance is alive and well in the digital age.
more on the “overreacting” part, and what to do about it, next week!