A couple of days ago I had the honor of offering a toast to the Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) graduating class of 2016 at their Senior Dinner. Like all of you, I had carried a heavy heart all day in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando. It took some internal shifting and expanding to make space within me to hold the joy and pride I feel for these graduates right next to the fear and despair I feel for our nation, but it actually felt really good and right to do. My toast was a call to action. An invitation for these students to honor the power of ROMANCE in their lives. Here’s what I said:
Thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this celebratory evening. You all should be very proud of yourselves. Graduating from NU is an amazing accomplishment. You have worked hard really hard over these years on campus. You have been taught by world-class faculty. You have taken tests, written papers, and, if you took my course, you have courageously spoken to your parent or parents about all things love and marriage. Kudo for that! In addition to working hard, you have played hard, making friendships that will last a lifetime. Your futures are bright indeed.
So tonight I want to offer you a wish. My wish for you. My wish for you has nothing to do with career success. You’ve got that on lock down! My wish for you has nothing to do with adventure. I trust that you will have many. My wish for you is that you will create for yourselves a lifetime of romance. A lifetime of romance? Perhaps this seems strange coming from an NU professor… strange, that is, until you remember the course I teach. And then it begins to make a bit more sense.
Allow me to explain though. Romance is defined as “an ardent emotional attachment between two people.” Romance is about courting and wooing. Romance is about allowing yourself to be swept off your feet by love. Romance is also about professing your feelings, heart in your throat. Romance, I fear, is a bit of a dying art these days. Yes, romance seems to be in short supply. Outdated even. Dare I say old-fashioned. Our fast-paced digital age means that we seem to value efficiency more than we value “the long way around”. We seem to prefer answers to mystery. So tonight, Class of 2016, I invite you to begin your own sort of Romance Revolution.
What does a romance revolution look like? It means trading in hookups for first dates. It means trading in text messages for phone calls. And it means replacing emojis with old-fashioned flirtation. It means opting out of mindless swiping in the hopes of stumbling upon your soulmate and opting into conscious intimacy that creates your soulmate.
You see, romance happens face to face not screen to screen. Romance engages our senses. It is sensual, making use of touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste. We must be in the same room at the same time for romance to bloom because romance grows in the space between lovers.
But romance involves more than our senses. Romance involves our hearts. Be clear. If you decide to commit yourselves to a romance revolution, know that you are taking some amount of risk. Leaving the illusory safety of “phone world” (as Aziz Ansari calls it) takes guts. Romance requires vulnerability. Romance requires a wide open heart. One that can then be broken. Your interest may not be reciprocated. You may even, God forbid, be ghosted. So I cannot promise you that living a life of romance will be easy. But here’s the thing. The risk of loss is inevitable, whether we are choose to play it safe or love out loud. Whether through a breakup or through death, we always risk losing those we love. So we may as well engage in life to its fullest, trusting that we can rise up when we are knocked down, and therefore knowing that loving with our whole hearts is always worth the risk.
Now some of you might need a bit of convincing here, so let me lay some science on you. A meta-analytic review of research about life satisfaction indicates that feeling good about your love life is going to count more toward your overall level of happiness than your income, your job, or even your health. Clinical research has found, time and time again, that the secret to a happy love life, the secret to success in a loving and lasting intimate relationship, is becoming and remaining emotionally engaged with each other. The happiest couples are themselves romantic revolutionaries. Happy couples continue to date each other and seduce each other and flirt with each other long after they have sealed the deal so to speak.
So, Class of 2016, I invite you to allow yourselves to be seduced by the pull of romance. Date. Daydream. Let them know how you feel. How you really feel. Play. Slow dance. Walk her to the door. Sing him a song. Get drunk on the scent of her hair. Sleep in his t shirt just to have him a little closer to you. Light candles. Write love letters. Read poetry. Love is created through these risky and sacred rituals of romance. Love that will grow you and sustain you throughout your life. Love that makes living worthwhile. Here’s to you, graduates. May your lives be chock full of romance.