A recent post on the blog Deadspin gathered up some tales of “failed romantic gestures.” As you might expect, some of the stories are pretty funny. There’s a poor guy who, clarinet in hand, decided to be a one-man pep band at his crush’s soccer game. Bad poetry and embarrassing mixtapes abound. And one suitor had a $500 ring kicked out of his hand during a brawl in the stands at a hockey game.
I noticed that the women in the stories almost always responded in ways that spoke to me of incredible discomfort: they fell silent, or said something awkward, or shut down. Some of them fled the scene or just blurted an outright rejection. I’ve been there myself, once, when a boy whose name I did not even know decided, at writing camp in high school, to make me the lead character of his fantasy story – which he read aloud to the class. After that mortifying incident, I avoided him whenever possible, to the point that I sometimes made myself late to events.
To my surprise, though, a lot of the commenters on the piece didn’t seem to notice the discomfort or awkwardness experienced by the objects of affection. Instead, the discussion centered on how much people have to endure in the process of Making A Romantic Gesture: they have to sacrifice pride and decency and dignity and sometimes money, to be met only with scorn! Or silence! Or rejection! In the debate there seemed to be this general confusion about how a person with good intentions and romance on the brain could be rejected or how such a gesture might be received in a negative way.
And this is where I – as a woman, as a romance writer, and as a Haver of Romances, step in. Because the comments on that article about failed romantic gestures underscored what I already know: the people who complain that others (often women) just don’t appreciate romantic gestures or the risk involved and never respond “nicely” have, in general, lost the concept of what a romantic gesture is and should be, and what the purpose of a romantic gesture is. They’ve forgotten, or not yet realized, that there is a thin line between “romantic gesture” and “incredibly awkward creepy thing.”
So let’s find that line, shall we? Herewith, a useful list: