Buzzfeed, or some similar listicle oracle, recently informed me oh-so-helpfully of the top seventeen most romantic places to visit (I assume they meant with a partner and not just by yourself). Which, of course, got me thinking – what makes a place romantic? I guess this is where we have to admit that romantic means something different for everyone. So dozens of people might call Ithaca’s gorges romantic, but to one person that might mean, “Damn, these gorges really make me wanna bang anything that moves,” and to another, “Golly doesn’t this gorge just make me want to stare at the moon and talk about our spirit animals,” and to yet another person, “This would be a postcard-perfect place to begin an attempt to beat the 50% odds of divorce.” And yet, most people can agree that scenic vistas of nature are romantic, similar to cute or expensive restaurants or places that are quiet and private.
Then, you have misattribution of arousal – a term used in psychology – which is actually pretty trippy. So, let’s say that you’re going rock climbing with your significant other. You’re going to experience symptoms of sensory arousal due to the physical strain and moderate danger; your blood pressure will increase and you might experience shortness of breath. People often misconstrue feelings of arousal due to fear or alertness as feelings of romantic arousal. So, like, your body could be saying, “I’m ready to fight and/or run for my life,” and your brain interprets that as, “Damn, did you always look so good in those white Vans?” So maybe the feeling you get on top of a mountain or when you’re watching the sunset and thinking about how beautiful the world is gets turned into romance by your brain. I don’t know. I don’t know why we find places romantic. It’s a little weird. It’s almost like we’re sexually attracted to a place, but since that’s taboo – I mean, is it even a thing? – we just project our attraction onto people instead. But in reality, we all have sunset fetishes. (Disclaimer: I don’t actually believe this. I don’t not believe it, but it’s not a serious suggestion.)
But if something, like a sunset or a rose, is inherently romantic, isn’t that a little unromantic? I mean, you’d like to think that you and this other person have a unique story, a special bond, a preordained romance foretold by the cult you were raised in, et cetera. But if that’s true, why are your passions evoked by the same locales that elicit the emotions of others? There’s nothing unique about the way that images of sunsets make people long for someone to share them with. It almost doesn’t matter who that someone is.
I guess that’s nice, though. That way, you can share a sunset with one person and, if things don’t work out, you can share a sunset with someone else. And it won’t be weird. No one says, “Well, sunsets were kind of me and my ex’s thing.” The nice thing about universal romance, despite how impersonal it is, is that we can always transfer it from one unique situation to the next. Without sunsets and roses and elaborate Hallmark cards that cost as much as your last pair of shoes, how would we form a concrete idea of what we’re supposed to think love is?
Love is an industry. There’s no doubt about that. But if love can be so easily exploited, if we can so easily attach a picture of a sunset to warm feelings and free affection, could we develop a “romance” for everyone we know? Could we go to a “romantic” place and use that inspiration to volunteer at a soup kitchen or plant a tree in our neighborhood? Yes, that sounds incredibly cliché. But the entirety of our social system is built upon clichés that we call “symbols.” Your life will invariably be represented by these symbols; you might not select them, but you can choose to embody and influence the meaningfulness behind them. Who says a rose by any other name must smell like cheap cologne from Macy’s? Love is one of the most versatile things. If sunsets prove anything, it’s that love is at least as utilitarian as it is fanciful. So maybe we should learn to put it to use somewhere.
Sarah is a sophomore Psychology and Performing & Media Arts major in the College of Arts and Sciences. She likes to exist sometimes, but mostly just recite lines from The Office. Her favorite food is oatmeal raisin cookies dipped in curry sauce, and she can usually be found using the words “film” and “movie” interchangeably, highlighting her favorite words in the dictionary or trying to transcribe feral cat noises into the next groundbreaking Twitter trend. Good Taste Alone appears on Fridays this semester. She can be reached at email@example.com.