Is romance still alive – or has it been asphyxiated by these dark viral days? What’s the difference between romance and love, and how the hell do we live romantically in these strange, sad times? I’ve been riffing on these questions for weeks (this is what happens when you live alone during lockdown) and have a few inconclusive conclusions about romance, and finding love very close to home. Here we go……
The most romantic moment of my life so far was in Mongolia. Though it was many years ago I remember it clearly: galloping across the steppe midwinter, clad in fur, my cheeks numb from the cold, flinging our way forward through snowdrifts. I was with my Mongolian lover and his brother, on our way to visit their other brother in his remote valley somewhere in central Mongolia. It was almost evening, the air biting us, I’ve never felt so cold in my life. Or so riotously joyful. Laughing out loud as I galloped, my heart shouting “this is is it – this is why I’ve come here! I’m alive I’m alive, I’m alive!”
Mongolia was outrageous
I spent three years in Mongolia. Much of it was hard work, I had a few scary experiences (like getting mugged in a dark stairwell) – and the food was consistently crap. But for me Mongolia was romantic in the biggest most outrageous sense of the word: impractical, unrealistic, wondrous. I lived almost every day with a feverish intensity. For the first time in my life I realised how brief life is especially, when it is beautiful. My first book, Hearing Birds Fly, was a love letter to my final year living there, in the furthest West village in Mongolia. In many ways I think all the traveling I’ve done since was because Mongolia made me love myself and what I was capable of.
Self-love and self-compassion is what this is all about. I know it sounds very cringy (believe me it feels cringy writing this) but I’m outing myself here. The most lost, sad, and obnoxious people I’ve ever met, without exception, hated themselves and by extension, their lives. They had little or no self-compassion. The only permanent relationship we have from our first day of life until our last, if with ourselves. Self hatred chokes joy out of anybody, poisons love, makes your life hell-like.
I don’t always love myself: I sometimes find myself a pain in the arse: I can be tactless, selfish, sometimes I drink too much, get over-sensitively defensive. But I’m compassionate to myself, especially when I mess up, and try to be my best friend. This is not about excusing everything you do, it’s not beating yourself up over what you can’t change. Without self-compassion, who are we?
Dark Romance between knowledge and power
I was inspired to riff on self-love and compassion today not because it’s Valentines (with all the horrific tackiness and nauseating commercial shite that vomits up for consumption), but by a quote from Russian writer Sergei Lebedev. “I was fascinated by the dark romance between people of knowledge and people of power” he said about his latest book, Untraceable, that excoriates Vladimir Putin’s choking regime.
Sergei Lebedev’s dark political romantics have tentacles stretching across our world, wreaking havoc as they administer violent embraces. The world often feels ripped wide open these days, even as it shuts down against the ravages of Covid. Our Government is staggeringly inept, and our communities increasingly divided. It’s hard to love life right now. Kindness and compassion are weapons we can take up and wield, the viruses we do need to spread. They are our resilience to the cruelties around us, our reminder that joy is still contagious.