So I'm waiting at a stoplight when another piece of techno-pop skitters across the car radio, and the notion hits me: Is romance dead?
Better suited perhaps to a Time magazine cover or an article in New York magazine, the question nonetheless is soon embedded in my brain.
"Hey, is romance dead?" I ask a colleague.
"For you, maybe," she says.
I've been married 32 years, so the truth is yes and no, hot and cold, feast or famine.
You want swoony, gobsmacked love, look at my wedding photos. To this day, she was the most beautiful bride of all time, backlit by the moon. Some days I still want to tackle her as she walk-prances to the car.
Look, our opinions are only our opinions. So you can dismiss this as the musings of a middle-aged madman. Where some see dust bunnies, I see snow leopards.
And perhaps you can suffer from too much perspective. After all, this isn't a notion you'd be troubled by at 24, only at 54. When there are more miles behind you than in front, your personal prism changes. You become a little wistful, a tad wise. In middle age, maybe your standards go up a little. Or at least they change.
Suddenly, if you're not careful, nothing seems as good as it once was. Maybe that has shaded my thoughts on romance. But after a million movies and a thousand love songs, the romance once abundant in pop culture seems to have just stopped. Doesn't matter the venue — movies, music, TV.
So, as Valentine's Day looms, I ask again:
Is romance dead?
Look, I'm no Cervantes, but I've always been a sucker for enchantment. To borrow from Virginia Woolf, I want the romance and the words all glued together, fused and glowing.
"I'll have what she's having."
"Just put your lips together and blow."
Words to love by, and we always did.
Imagine a life without romance. Well, that's exactly what we've come to in our pop culture — a joyless run of techno-pop, superhero flicks and this year's dour collection of best picture nominees.
Where's the love?
Not so long ago, we learned to kiss in the movies, big slurpy wonderful things, wet as a carwash and twice as long.
We learned of courtship in the movies, learned of heartbreak and opening lines and bittersweet goodbyes.
"You had me at hello."
"We'll always have Paris."
If you ever get the chance, watch TV sometime. Most of today's shows are raucous and smart, but not the least bit winsome or romantic.
And where are the love songs?
Remember what you get when you fall in love? You get enough germs to catch
Could be that this romantic slump is a product of our fretful and difficult times. Workweeks get longer. Traffic gets worse.
My colleague thinks that today's busy twentysomethings are interested only in hook-ups and happy hours.
To that I say: "Yeah? What's wrong with that?"
Well, nothing. It just can't ever compete with that swoony love I mentioned earlier, the kind where you're afraid to pick up your wine glass on a date because your fingers are a little trembly.
You know that love. The oops-I-forgot-to-sleep kind of love. The cannon shot to the heart.
You don't get that from a text. Or a sext.
All I know is what I see. In real life and in pop culture, romance is increasingly less artful.
Times film critic Betsy Sharkey believes that movie romance is indeed changing, a reaction to shifts in gender politics and traditional roles, with men and women a tad uncomfortable with old-fashioned flower-and-candy moments.
And while Sharkey reminds us that another Bridget Jones movie is on the way, "What seems to be completely gone are classic romances like
"What I wouldn't give for a modern-day
Me, I'd settle for "Bull Durham."
Why's it matter?
Because we appear to be leaving our offspring a world of hurt: Failing resources. Whirlwind weather. Stolen Target accounts. Crushing federal debt. Jobs that don't quite pay the rent.
Will we leave them a world without romance as well, devoid of poetry and love songs and real-life movie magic?
You know, I think that's the most of it, hope. Fused and glowing.