I won't make you read until the end to figure out my answer. I believe that the answer is actually an important starting point. So, drum roll please, I am a realist. I am not a romantic. I get that this may come as a surprise considering my professional field is human sexuality and relationships.
I wasn't always this way. When I was a teenager, I was overcome with the need for romance. I was the type of kid who wrote down thousands of song lyrics in a composition notebook. I cried for days when a boy didn't return my feelings of "extreme-like" or worse, "broke up with me." During these crying jags I had The Jets' "Make it Real" playing on the boom box next to me. I loved you. You didn't feel the same... I fell in love a lot over the course of my youth. I have notebooks full of names of people (some of whom I do not even remember) I swore undying love for. As a teenager, I would have given anything for someone to make me a mixtape. (All right, full disclosure, I still want that.)
I'm not exactly sure what caused the shift from romantic to realist. Maybe it came from studying sexuality. Maybe it was that I understood (okay, I learned from personal experience) that the majority of high school love affairs are not built to last the test of time. (Some do; just not mine.) Maybe it was that I grew up and recognized that for me, fulfillment had to be individual first. I needed to love me before I loved someone else. I needed to figure out who I was, not just how I wanted to be seen by someone else.
Whatever the reason, many years later, I approach relationships differently. (Friendships, too, for that matter.) I am a rock. I am calm, sturdy, reliable, a beacon of light when things go off course. I don't easily lose my cool. It's not that I lack passion; but I recognize that human beings are indeed human, and responding with emotion isn't helpful for me. Now would I call my partner a romantic? In many ways, yes. Far more so than I am. Does that drive him crazy? I don't think so. But I suppose you could ask him.
Because I talk publicly about love and relationships, I am acutely aware of who I am as a partner. And I am the first to admit that I am not everyone's ideal. I can be painfully rational. Calm to a fault. And I am messy. And I don't cook.
I was interviewed by Kovie Biakolo at Thought Catalog a few months ago in an effort to explore sex and love in our new Tinder-ized culture. We talked about the swipe, monogamy, and the way in which we choose mates.
I acknowledged that respect turns me on. I am not going to get hot and bothered receiving flowers from a paramour. Jewelry isn't a measure of how much someone loves me. (In fact, I like going to do the choosing and purchasing myself.) This Valentine's Day, I will be at a hockey tournament in a motel close to the rink with all of the other hockey parents from our team. (If you want me to give a super flowery quote about the importance of Valentine's Day, I probably won't give it to you. At least, not in the way that you expect.) I never feel hotter than when someone calls me smart. Of course, if you are someone who loves those aforementioned gestures and gifts, that's great -- amazing in fact. It just doesn't work for me. In my experience, "things" don't guarantee fulfillment. Maybe a moment of pleasure, but the reality is, even that has a shelf life.
There may have been a time when I felt bad about my lack of romanticism. But no longer. True intimacy cannot be dependent on candy hearts and love coupons (I just received a Groupon email for those, whatever they are). True intimacy is about vulnerability and honesty and showing strength and at times, weakness. And at least, for me, respect. (I suppose Aretha Franklin would be proud.)