Why do we keep romanticising shitty situations?

Words by Emma Maidens

Anything can seem poetic when you’re looking in from the outside.

We all know the appeal of immersing ourselves in an emotionally charged drama (I’m looking at you, Normal People), knowing at the end we’re free to retreat back to the safety of reality.

It doesn’t matter whether you prefer a Netflix series or a good book, the key to enjoying these stories is that they’re happening to someone who isn’t you.

Since I can remember, I’ve devoured emotionally charged books, movies, poems and songs. As I read about or watch characters experiencing intense romance, adventure and even heartbreak, I often think “I want to feel that.”

I’ve spent countless hours longing to be my own main character in a Pulitzer prize-winning book or the subject of a song that people play at weddings and funerals (tear-jerkingly appropriate for both). However, despite the years of yearning, life experience has begun to teach me that I actually don’t enjoy these moments when I’m the protagonist.

Most recently, I discovered that embarking on solo travel while nursing a broken heart didn’t feel quite like the poetic cliché I’d imagined. There was no Bon Iver playing as I stared out the aeroplane window with tears streaming down my face.

Instead of feeling brave or deeply moved, I was snotty, numb and already contemplating how to politely squeeze past the strangers beside me to get to the restroom.

Experiencing the mundane nature of events that seem so profound in story form has begun to open my eyes to the harsh reality of reality. This, combined with the recent increase in hours of time alone with my thoughts, has made me contemplate how future generations may perceive the COVID-19 induced isolation and social distancing.

Will the recounts be accurate, or will they take on a wistful tone? Social media suggests that people have already begun romanticising this time spent indoors, with users sharing poems and quotes that parallel the current crisis, attempting to inject beauty into this universal slow down.

I am grateful for these messages, both for breaking up the “see 10, do 10” push up challenges I’m tagged in, and as reminders to try and embrace the current situation instead of resenting it.

However, while events of my life have hinted at this truth, it’s taken a global pandemic to cement it for me: it’s not poetic when you’re in it.

“In a beautiful world that has come to hooray the hustle, I find my sweet-loving soul rebelliously dancing to the contrary. For this season, busy has no place – busy cannot lasso my time. It is down by the river, sunbathing on silky rocks.” – Tess Guinery

Short, powerful and in 1080 x 1080 dimensions, when applied during the current circumstances this poem casts a dappled light over the harsh truth of self-isolation. I read it as I scroll Instagram and begin chastising myself, thinking “I should be enjoying this, I should join busy and sunbathe these days away on those silky rocks.”

But before I get swept away in this train of thought, the incessant news drags me back to reality and I realise that applying the sentiment of this poem to my current life is ludicrous.

Firstly, sunbathing in many parts of the world right now could land me with a hefty $1000+ fine and secondly, relishing the relinquishment of ‘busy’ is not a luxury I, or many others, have. Instead, we must face the new reality brought on by COVID-19 and attempt to adapt.

This reality isn’t endless hours spent lounging in the sunshine, it’s little to no work and a looming question mark about how to pay the bills. People don’t wake up feeling wistful, instead, most are overcome with stress, loneliness and heartbreak. For front line workers the reality is so far from lazy afternoons – it would be laughable if they had the energy. This is the reality.

The extreme contrast between COVID-19 life and how reading that poem made me think I should be feeling means I’ve been confronted with the absolute realisation that in life, not every situation will live up to how your favourite book, poem or movie makes it out to be.

Christmas isn’t a picturesque day of laughter with your family, often it’s 24 hours spent keeping the peace. Breakups aren’t melancholic walks through the park in the rain, they’re wondering what the point of getting up each day is. Moving to a new city alone isn’t days on end of exploring, sometimes it’s a lot more loneliness than it is an adventure.

I’m not saying Eat, Pray, Love lied to me, I’m just saying I now know to take Julia Roberts with a grain of salt and a large glass of red wine. However, one good thing about being the protagonist of your own story is that you get to choose which parts are your defining moments.

There’s no Hollywood executive directing, no ruthless editor cutting your favourite paragraphs. The moments a B grade coming-of-age movie might skip are the ones I cherish most.

In the end, it’s rarely the emotional peaks and troughs that keep us going through tough times such as these. It’s the small day to day moments that put a subconscious smile on your face. So, if you ever watch my movie, be prepared for a killer soundtrack and a solid two hours of me, sitting on the beach with my dog.

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