For Day 3 of 30 Days of Summer, I want to talk about a realization I had recently. In a previous post, I had linked to an article about the difference between romantic love and prosaic love. To recap, here’s what I wrote:
Romantic love is the Romeo and Juliet style love of chasing the extraordinary, the feeling of getting swept off your feet. It’s magical, unreal, and unsustainable. Prosaic love is about embracing the reality of your lover and making that the source of your love - their eye crusties, imperfections, and stupid things they say. I’m a big believer in prosaic love!
What I’ve been thinking about more recently is: does this dichotomy between romantic and prosaic only exist in the context of love, or does it exist in other aspects of life too?
We all have a romantic vision of our future. We want the perfect body, perfect career, perfect house, and perfect children - and then, of course, we dream the same romantic vision for our children, which sets off an endless cycle. But maybe, for the same reason that romantic love is an illusion - because, by its definition, it is extraordinary, separate from the world, escapist rather than immersive - the allure of these romantic visions of ourselves is also an illusion. I’m not arguing against self-improvement, which I’m a huge advocate for. I’m just saying that, since the fundamental nature of everyday life experience won’t change no matter what we accomplish, maybe it makes sense to learn to cherish the mundane: waking up, doing a job, eating meals, running errands, meeting friends and family, and going to bed. This is what the majority of our existence on this planet will look like, irrespective of our accomplishments.
I think the difference between orienting towards a Prosaic Life versus a Romantic Life is subtle, and the best way to get a sense for it is to listen to David Foster Wallace’s 20-minute speech called This is Water. I’ll link some quotes from it below:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.