EXT. MEDIEVAL CASTLE – DUSK – RAINING
LADY LUSCINDA stands near the CASTLE GATE, looking around. Suddenly, KNIGHT in full gear appears at the end of the DRAWBRIDGE, confident and hopeful, windmills turning gracefully behind him. They lock eyes. KNIGHT whips off his helmet as LADY LUSCINDA takes a step forward, and both run toward each other. She leaps into his arms. Camera rotates around them in slow motion. They kiss.
Sound familiar? While more in the vein of cheap drugstore erotica than cinema dramas, chivalric romance stories pervade the world of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Nowadays, a lot fewer of us are wishing for a dashing knight to come sweep us off our feet while spouting pastoral love poetry. Still, a collective fascination with idealistic romance and chivalry is very much a part of our culture.
Think of any rom-com within the last 30 years—you can easily conjure up images of candlelit proposals, last-minute airport chases, and “speak now” declarations of love. It doesn’t matter that these moments aren’t realistic; they’re Hollywood magic, and we fall for them every time. Or, at the very least, scoff at the ridiculousness of it all, while secretly wishing that we could be the ones kissing Ryan Gosling.
We can try all we want to distance ourselves from these fabricated and somewhat insincere ideals of romance, but the very fact that our culture is so saturated with them means that some of our actions and expectations are necessarily influenced by them. We want to woo and be wooed—though, chances are, we’re far more Don Quixote than Don Juan when it comes to execution.
When we experience the thrill of a first kiss, or a quintessential Ferris lunch date, it can feel like we’re living one of these stories where everything falls into place perfectly. We become like Don Quixote, prancing through the countryside, living out all of our fantasies. The Honeymoon Period is a sort of real-life enchantment. Windmills become fantastical giants, potential problems become cute quirks, and peasant girls become princesses under the glow of new romance.
But the wrinkle in this glittery fabric of love becomes apparent when the Honeymoon Period ends. Chivalric novels and modern rom-coms don’t tend to tackle the “after” bit of the “happily ever after,” so we internally freak out, Carrie Bradshaw style. When things stop seeming perfect, we worry something is wrong with the relationship. Or something is wrong with our partner. Or maybe even that something is wrong with us. It’s sort of like when Sancho Panza asks Don Quixote what they should do for breakfast, and Quixote pauses, confused, then proclaims that since he never read about a knight eating breakfast, he’d rather go without it. Because we haven’t seen evidence of something being normal, we assume it isn’t.
Except the windmills that Don Quixote was fighting were never giants, no matter what he persuaded himself at the time. Enchantment—specifically, the magic of new love—makes us forget the reality of the situation. Your boyfriend didn’t become overly talkative all of a sudden, and your girlfriend didn’t just become an introvert. Things didn’t stop being perfect—they simply never were.
When we become blinded by romantic ideals, we forget that awkward and clunky moments are unavoidable in real life. Love doesn’t magically make problems disappear. But because of the Hollywood ideals that saturate our romantic lives, we tend to ignore the complexity in any situation and bail once the bad becomes unavoidable. We tend to want the entire relationship to be the Honeymoon Period, but perhaps in wanting that we’re cheating ourselves of the joy that comes from genuine, un-magical moments (think of your girlfriend throwing up all over your room, or being forced to meet your boyfriend’s neo-Nazi parents).
Reality is messy. Love rarely, if ever, follows a script. It’s important, then, that we don’t judge our lives by impossible standards but rather learn to deal with—and even revel in—the imperfections.
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Hannah Barbosa Cesnik is a a Columbia College first-year who thinks that classic Spanish literature will help her get a boyfriend. She can be found on Twitter at @HCesnik. Everything I need to know I learned in Lit Hum runs alternate Tuesdays.
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