Romantic Gestures

Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: Tell me what was so special about your wife?

Sam Baldwin: Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like… magic.

— Sleepless In Seattle (1993,TriStar Pictures)

Oh, that scene was classic. Meg Ryan’s character, Annie, got tears in her eyes as she listened to the radio call-in show, and so did every romantic person watching that movie. And then, in the last scene, Sam takes Annie’s hand, and we know that it’s… magic.

What real romance doesn’t start with non-romantic gestures? I mean, the attraction has to start somewhere. There’s got to be a lead-in to that first kiss that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Something has to make us want to have that first kiss.

In the newly released novel Small Town Girl, by fellow Omnific author Linda Cunningham, if sparks hadn’t already been flying between main characters Lauren and Caleb, I can say that a real clincher for Lauren would have been as she watched Caleb, a firefighter, walk around with a little girl, showing his ‘future dad’-ness as he put her on the fire engine during the county fair. In Nicki Elson’s Three Daves (one of my favorite books ever), Jen and David #1 are so not romantic that they’re able to trust each other completely. They’re in love long before either of them ever realizes it. The smartly written With Good Behavior by Jennifer Lane has two main characters who know they shouldn’t get involved because of their own personal “baggage,” but their interactions slowly lead them into each other’s arms anyway.

In Passion Fish, I loved writing about Will’s first encounter with Eve. He watches how she interacts with her staff at the museum and he’s thoroughly entranced. Yes, he finds her attractive, but he’s looking at more than that. He’s subconsciously already making a list of reasons why he’s attracted to her: she’s smart, gets along well with her colleagues and employees, and carries herself as confident without being showy or demeaning. When he sees her again at the bar that night, he still doesn’t know her name, but he jumps at the chance to play the Passion Fish game, just so he can kiss her…anonymously. It isn’t until they’ve spent time together (through a number of chapters) that her attraction, and “list,” catches up to his. By the time they share their second kiss, you know that it’s true love.

I like romances—books or movies—where the attraction is warranted. When couples proclaim true love with little to back it up, it results in a contrived plot. I like to see from one character’s perspective what makes the love interest special above all others. “I’m attracted to him/her because…” – and the sentence is completed with a realistic list of ‘why’s. That’s where I feel Romeo & Juliet missed the mark; we’re simply told that they’re captivated by and instantly in love with each other. No “well, I met him through a friend” or “we’ve known each other for years” pre-romance background. It’s a fantastic story as a whole, and I believe that love at first sight can happen, but it just makes the romance less believable. And while I am a Twilight fan in general, I readily admit I’ve never figured out why Edward loved Bella so completely or why Bella was “irrevocably” in love with Edward when they honestly had little in common and barely knew each other. The Jacob-Bella romance made more sense; they could at least list concrete reasons they liked each other.

My next book, which I just finished, is a slow romance with international intrigue—lots of cautious flirting embedded within a bigger plot than romance that will bring the main characters closer and closer to that critical first-kiss moment. My readers will never be in doubt that they’re meant to be together; I’m just not rushing things. By the time that first kiss happens, you can list reasons why they want to be together. That also makes the conflict more realistic, I think, because you’ve been in the characters’ heads for so long that you feel the heartbreak when one lets the other down.

And so I ask you: what’s on your list of romantic gestures that makes you feel those first pangs of attraction? What has someone done that made you want to get to know him or her more? What are your thoughts on love at first sight?

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8 Responses to Romantic Gestures

  1. Hey! What a nice surprise to see Jen and David mentioned here. 🙂

    I’m not a huge fan of love at first sight – attraction, yes – but I too like to see it build and understand the reasons behind it.

    Hmm, first pangs of attraction…I think kindness. I clearly remember a certain passage of my middle school diary (because my brother found it and read it OUT LOUD!) and it was all about my crush-at-the-time, and how he’d offered me some water when my girlfriends and I invaded the boys’ fort. I still go for that sort of thing.

    • Hey, glad to put a plug in for some of my favorite authors! ; )

  2. Some insightful points in this post, Alison. (And thanks for the mention of With Good Behavior!) I’ve seen Sleepless in Seattle a gazillion times and I never put together that bit about Sam taking her hand. Lovely! I really like stories that come full circle like that. And I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the Bella/Edward romance–I thought it was mostly that he seemed like a big time stalker, but maybe it’s also what you mention–the reason for their love seems largely superficial. I guess Edward’s attracted to Bella’s selflessness and she’s attracted to his protectiveness, but it doesn’t really jive. I haven’t had the opportunity to read Passion Fish yet but it’s definitely on my TBR! Good luck editing your newest novel.

    • That movie was full of scene connections, too — someone exits a room in one scene and then someone enters a room in the next. Funny you mention “full-circle” — the original title of Book#2 was Half Truths and Full Circles. Too long a title so I cut it back and am hoping Between the Lies will be acceptable. Regarding editing, I’m so picky, I’m hopeful that who ever edits the book for me won’t encounter too many problems!

  3. I really need to catch up on my reading because I want to know how all the romances you mention develop. I like a gentleman. And while this isn’t a gesture, I can usually tell a lot about a guy just from looking at his eyes.

  4. Janine Eveland

    Is there life after widowhood? I hope so. I hate the connotation of that word and the sense of life suspension it conjures up, even after all of these years, still feels intimidating. : ) I am looking forward to a hopeful breeze of inspiration in the form of your new book.

    After becoming widowed at 44 without life insurance 9 long years ago, dealing daily with 2 jobs to stay afloat, 5 years of college at night and spending any free time creating some semblance of a life for my 2 daughters, now 14 and 18 (then preschool and 3rd grade), I look in the mirror and a stranger looks back.

    My writing which in the past has always been a source of energizing renewal for my spirit and any half-hearted attempts at a social life through ridiculously injurious internet dating services, have taken a backseat to basics like paying the bills and sleeping and eating regularly.

    I recently took my first real breath in 9 years the day I began working in my field teaching blind and visually impaired children. The fog is clearing but at what cost? Regular paycheck, insurance with dental, a cornucopia of services which leaves me feeling strangely like I have won the lottery. I am the owner of a brand new set of hard won, albeit stinted priorities.

    So what’s missing? Someone to love and to help me to remember what real life, really is.

    A romantic gesture in the past may have meant flowers or a dinner date with good wine and better conversation. Now? A gesture of romance would be a real mans kindness to my daughters in filling a bike tire or offering a strong protective voice of calm amidst the drama of teen angst. An extended look or word with a small smile directed toward me as a woman rather than the harried tunnel visioned non-person I have become.

    Real man qualities turn me on like no other including free legal help from a pro bono attorney who could surely be making millions if he wished. Yeah, I may or may not have fantasized about him once or twice…


    • Wow, Janine. Just wow. I remember when we first met and I told you about the book I’d been working on about a widowed teacher for the visually impaired. I’d already finished 8 chapters at the time, and had a good feel for the general storylines and characters. Then, out at Forest Lakes, you said hello to a co-worker, Georgia — the name I’d chosen two years earlier for one of the VI teachers my main character works with. Since then, my sister became a widow (8 weeks from cancer diagnosis to funeral), and I realized I don’t — no, I can’t — understand the emotions or experiences of a widow. In your posting, you bring to life (quite beautifully, I must add) a glimpse of a mindset I’ve still not yet adequately grasped. Now that I’m actively working on the story, I’ll be throwing out a lot of it. Might even need to treat you to lunch to bend your ear one of these days…if you’re interested.

      And as I’ve written many times, I’m a romantic. If I come across someone worthy of you and your daughters, I’ll be sure to let you know. ; )

  5. C.A.

    Just finished the In the Garden trilogy – Nora Roberts spotlights 3 romances. The romantic participants are connected by association with the gardens. Greatest visual, for me, was a toddler clinging to the leg of her mother’s heart-throb before either of the adults acknowledged the attraction. Children are wise beyond years.

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