Isn’t it romantic?

Romanticizing our lives helps us hold on to hope

May 24, 2019

Eyes meet across the busy street in Mexicali, Mexico during one fateful summer in the mid-1940’s.

He was James, a U.S. immigrant doing construction on the road, unknowing that his work would give him a first glimpse of his wife, beaming with a summertime glow.

She was Blanca, a strong-willed young woman, strolling from shop-to-shop with a group of friends when her gaze was drawn to the young man paving the street. Little did she know that she would someday vow to love him until death do them part.

He spoke only English and broken Spanish. She spoke only Spanish. But love at first sight has no native language. The inevitability of them was so simply communicated with the first of many breathtaking glances.

This was the heartwarming origin story of my grandparents’ 43 year-long marriage, a story that enchanted me as a young girl. Each time I asked my dad to retell it to me, I would sigh with content as I envisioned their romantic love-at-first-sight.

However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized something strange about the tale; with each recounting, small details would change. They would meet in front of her house rather than a busy street. Or it would take place in Calexico rather than Mexicali. If these details were inconsistent, what else about the story was changeable?

So I asked my dad, and I received a painful answer: “I honestly don’t know how much of it is true, you’ll have to ask your aunt.”

I contemplated asking my aunt, surely she would know the most accurate version of the story. But a part of me didn’t want to. I didn’t want to hear that the heart-melting love story was false. In a way, the story gave me hope that the sweet, romantic love that I had seen in movies really did exist.

So I didn’t ask.

What I didn’t know was that I was actively taking part in romanticizing my grandparents’ lives. Romanticization, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is “to believe that something is better, more interesting or more exciting than it really is.” A common misconception is that romanticization only has to do with what is amorous, however, the reality is that it can apply to just about anything.

With romanticization, we see life through rose-colored lenses. We mold reality to become more engaging and entertaining. Implementing this mentality in our lives can uplift us and invoke our spirit for hope.

Until then, I didn’t realize that I often take “looking on the bright side” to a different level by romanticizing my own life. Romanticization requires you to actively perceive your experiences in an embellished light. I knew that I was an optimist, but this is a facet of optimism that I hadn’t recognized before.

It wasn’t long after this revelation that I had decided: romanticization is a good thing. Romanticizing our lives helps us hold onto the hope that something extraordinary can happen to us, and it motivates us to pursue those extraordinary goals.

We tend to romanticize our lives instinctively. This stems from something that cognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot calls the optimism bias. She explains that no matter the race, religion or socioeconomic bracket, people are still more than likely to romanticize their lives.

The optimism bias presents itself in us even through the history of the human race. Sharot continues, “Without optimism, our ancestors might never have ventured far from their tribes and we might all be cave dwellers, still huddled together and dreaming of light and heat.” Since humans are wired for optimism, there is a solid foundation within us to romanticize our lives.

Romanticization, much like optimism, helps us endure struggles, emulate who we strive to be and makes life vibrant when it gets dull. The distinction between optimism and romanticization is that romanticization is when you make the active effort to view life as better than it is by embellishing it in your mind.

So how do we take on the mentality of romanticization? According to Nare Wien from John Hopkins University, romanticization is about channeling what you wish your life was like. Whether that means pretending that you are the confident and ambitious character from your favorite book, or that your morning coffee is the best cup you’ve ever had. Romanticizing the mundane parts of our lives is what makes them worth living.

As young adults facing the stresses of high school and looming adulthood, romanticization presents a solution to the headache-inducing routines we frequently find ourselves in. We often subject ourselves to the belief that we are not capable enough to handle the stress and pressure that we face. However, by romanticizing our lives, we actively hold onto hope that our situation will get better.

The anxiety and depression that has become a paramount phenomenon for teens today leaves many feeling powerless. When we give ourselves the impression that we have no control over our circumstances and future, we fail to acknowledge our capacity to change our own perspective.

Romanticization allows for a conscious, concerted effort to do just that. Romanticization gives the power back to the seemingly powerless.

Without romanticization we face a far gloomier world. Giving up hope and allowing the monotony of life to take over causes many dangerous things to happen. Assistant Professor of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., explains that when faced with challenges that pose a great threat to our mental health, our first instinct will be to give up. Despite this, she goes on to explain that when we consciously awaken the optimism within ourselves we can hold onto hope.

But there is one instinct that we can tap into even in our darkest times. The optimism bias will always be waiting for us to activate it with romanticization. And if we are all already optimists, why not embrace every aspect of our nature by embellishing our lives?

Even if it seems childish at first, the act of romanticization can guide us to realize aspects of ourselves that are otherwise overshadowed by the monotony of life. Take my grandparents, for example; their love story, although questionable, was an accurate representation of the love James and Blanca shared for one another.

One time drafted into war, five children and 43 years of marriage after that fateful meeting of eyes, James passed away due to exposure to asbestos in his workplace, leaving Blanca a widow.

90 years of age today, Blanca, although stricken by grief, outlived her husband and survived breast cancer, severe osteoporosis, several injuries to her skull and hips as well as dementia. The dementia altering her memories caused her to both forget the death of her husband and relive the sorrow several times.

A year ago, I found this woman, my grandmother, with tear-stained cheeks staring at the golden ring on her finger alone in the dark of her bedroom.

When she remembers his death, she exhibits a pained, somber type of love and I tense up, fearing that she will become unbearably distraught. But she simply waved me over to her bed and I sat with her as she recounted how charming and kind her husband was.

I had half a mind to ask her about the first time she met my grandfather, to see if the romantic tale was actually true.

But when I saw the memories brimming in her watery eyes, and heard her passion with each loving word, I held my tongue. I can’t imagine that a love like hers doesn’t deserve the most beautiful story, even if it is a bit exaggerated.

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