John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Romantics Vs. Realists

My beautiful wife and some shmo

My beautiful wife and some shmo

Romantics and realists (and silly young couple arguments).

My son Johnny was talking to my wife and I last week and reminded me that I once described myself to him as a “romantic” and my wife, Rebecca, as a “realist” and wanted to know what I meant by that.

I knew exactly the story he was talking about and I told him that I thought the story depicted well the difference in what it means to be a romantic versus being a realist.

After my wife and I had been dating for several months we started to discuss the possibility of marriage. We were in our 20’s and weren’t engaged yet but felt we soon would be and were talking one night at dinner about our love for one another. It was our conversational version of Billy Joel’s song, “I love you just the way you are.” “Would you still love me if I flunked out of law school?” I asked. “Of course I would” Rebecca reassured me.

But during the course of this otherwise sweet conversation I decided to push the envelope a little too far. I asked Rebecca a hypothetical question. “Let’s say that instead of going to law school I drove a taxi and never went to college and had no plans of ever going to college, would you still love me and want to marry me anyway?”

Rebecca looked puzzled at me as she thought about my question. “I’m not so sure about that one.” She said. “I doubt I would want to marry you if you were that different.”

I was floored! I reasoned defensively, “I would still be me …the same person I am right now. You know? But born into a different economic circumstance and with a different job and background. That’s all.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sure you’d be sweet and I would maybe date you but I don’t think I would be able to marry you,” Rebecca tried to explain. “In my family, college is just very important and I don’t think it would occur to me to marry you if you weren’t ever going to go to college.”

“Really? You wouldn’t marry me if I drove a taxi and never planned on going to college?” I said woundedly. So I tried to change the hypothetical. “OK. What if I drove a taxi, hadn’t gone to college but was considering going to college? Would you marry me then?”

Rebecca said, “That’s not a fair question.” “So you are saying ‘no?’ I interjected. “I guess so,” Rebecca said. But added, “It’s not fair to ask that and it doesn’t make me shallow for saying I wouldn’t marry you if you were that different. It’s like me asking you if you’d marry me if I was grotesquely overweight right now. I don’t think you would.”

jyb_musings“That’s different.” I said. “That’s something about you personally that would be different. In my hypothetical I would be the exact same person I am now– just born into a different environment.”

“I don’t think there’s a difference.” Rebecca said.

“Of course there’s a difference,” I said.

“Well,  if there wasn’t a difference in our questions,  would you marry me if I were really, really overweight?” Rebecca asked again.

“I would,” I said. “Even though it is different.”

“No you wouldn’t” Rebecca snapped.

“I would for sure if you were up to…maybe…say just 40 pounds overweight”

“See!” Rebecca exclaimed. “But not if I were 60 pounds overweight?”

“No, I would marry you if you were 60 pounds overweight right now –assuming you wanted eventually to get in better shape.”

“Well, then, if you drove a taxi and hadn’t gone to college but eventually wanted to go to college –and maybe even graduate school– I would probably marry you.”

“Probably?” I queried.

“Yeah. OK. I would marry you. But only after you finished college.” Rebecca explained.

“Well, I would marry you if you were 60 pounds overweight and wanted eventually to get into shape –but I wouldn’t make you wait until you got in better shape before I would marry you.” I said dejectedly. “We’re just different, I guess. I must be more of a romantic than you are.”

And that is, I suppose, the difference between a romantic and a realist. The romantic is always prouder of his hypothetical position, his hypothetical zest and his hypothetical passion. But a little sad that it isn’t fully reciprocated by the more sensible among us. Who romantics seem inevitably to find and marry. And these realists seem to find a satisfactory amount of admirable real qualities in the romantics they marry. But the romantic feels their spouse—by focusing on only their existing and actual qualities—is missing out on the hypothetical qualities the romantic admires most. But because the realist overlooks the romantic’s hypothetical qualities, and because the romantic overlooks the realist’s actual qualities, they can somehow make it all work. And Lord knows they need each other. But as to who needs the other more? That is a whole different argument. But sounds a lot like the one above.


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