Finding Amber

Elizabeth Ann Roberts is a star.

There, I said it.  And I believe it.  She plays the role of Amber Hewson in Old Fashioned and delivers the kind of breakout, career-defining performance that we all love to discover in small, indie films like ours.

And that’s just not me talking.  From Northampton, Massachusetts, to Temecula, California, to a whole bunch of other “sneak peek” and festival screenings in between… audiences agree with my bold claim above.  She provides the life and spark of Old Fashioned and simply makes you fall in love.  It’s magical, really.

Elizabeth Ann Roberts is something special and the rest of the world is about to find out and I can hardly wait.  But, the crazy thing is…

I almost didn’t cast her.

She was actually one of the very first actors that auditioned for the role of Amber.  I was already in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, scouting locations when one of our co-producers sent me video link to her casting session out in Los Angeles.

Her take on the character was extraordinary—even on a laptop; that was obvious.  When she read the lines “respect her emotions as well as her body” I choked up; my eyes began to water.  She was that good.

But in my mind, I always saw “Amber” with very dark brown hair and dark brown eyes.  And Elizabeth, though incredibly beautiful, didn’t line up 100% with what I had imagined.

So, I kept looking.  For six months.  I saw countless actresses with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes; they all looked the part, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Elizabeth.  Elizabeth simply was the character of Amber in a way that went far beyond physical appearance, in a way that was almost spiritual.

She got the gig, obviously.  What choice did I have?

And indeed, Elizabeth actually felt a very clear, personal connection with the strong, bold, and spiritually searching role of Amber.  There is sometimes an authenticity in a performance that simply can’t be faked… it’s a rare thing and it’s what exists between Elizabeth and her character in Old Fashioned.

It’s all a little ironic given that much of the story of Old Fashioned is actually about looking beyond the physical when it comes to love and romance.  There’s nothing wrong with physical attraction and chemistry, of course; but, it isn’t everything… no matter what Hollywood says.

Just like in casting a movie.  Just like in life.

We live in a world today that places ludicrous value on physical appearance.  Do six-pack abs really make someone a good potential spouse?  The perfect nose?  Just the right skin tone?  Will great physical chemistry be enough to weather the tough times that face any relationship?

Think about what we are being sold via music, film, TV, social media… think about what ideas are being affirmed, over and over, in young people.

Right now, Renée Zellweger, is being attacked and critiqued from all sides because of her plastic surgery that has made her virtually unrecognizable.  In some cases, she’s being ripped into by the very same folks that badgered her into feeling so insecure about her physical appearance to begin with.

I love movies.  Always have.  But I hate with a passion the pressure and unrealistic expectation, on women especially, for physical perfection that is spun and stoked by the entire entertainment industry.  It’s absolute insanity and it’s a lie and it’s now spreading far beyond the silver screen and into real life.  And when we buy into the “he’s so hot” and “she’s so hot” and and and… well, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves.

Whatever makes you happy, I guess.  But our physical bodies are fading… no matter what.  It’s the Kobayashi Maru (yeah, I’m an old school Star Trek nerd, deal)… a no-win scenario.

I wonder what I’ve missed out on in my own life because I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, look beneath the surface of things.  Did I miss out on something God was trying to show me… or a connection that God was trying to make?  Have you?

I learned a valuable lesson in casting the role of Amber in Old Fashioned.  If I had stuck to the preconceived image in my mind, I would have made a tragic mistake and missed out on witnessing something remarkable… something far beyond merely the physical.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Here’s to the things beneath the surface…

And, to Elizabeth Ann Roberts… thank you.

Cheers!

– Rik

 

Fifty Shades of Mixed Messages

fiftyshadesdaughter

Just a quick observation for today…

It seems that Dakota Johnson, the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, might be causing a little bit of conflict in her family with her role as Anastasia Steele in the upcoming film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey.

According to The Express, Dakota’s mom is upset that her family isn’t supporting her daughter in her high-profile and potentially breakout role.

“Melanie is bitterly upset that she is the only one standing alongside her daughter. She’s told both Don and Tippi [Hedren] that Dakota really can’t look at roles and wonder what her dad and grandma are going to think. She believes Dakota was right to seize her opportunity in what will almost certainly become a major international blockbuster.”

But.

In another related article in Indiewire, Griffith acknowledges that it’s unlikely she’ll ever actually see the film she is so proud of her daughter for starring in:

I have not seen “50 Shades of Grey.” I don’t think I’m going to see it…[Dakota] was like, “You guys cannot come. There’s no way.” So we’re not going. I did go visit for a couple of days when they were shooting just normal stuff. I did see the Room of Pain — I did go in there and check it out.

It’s all a little confusing.

If I was doing something professionally that I wouldn’t want my family, friends, or loved ones to see… should I be doing it?

Further, this is another curious example of the contemporary twist in defining “unconditional love” as blind, unquestioning, non-challenging support for almost any choice or action whatsoever.

Maybe, just maybe, there are some things we shouldn’t encourage… some things that are not worthy of applause.

Personally, I think it’s rather obvious that you can love others “unconditionally” and yet also challenge them and, in some cases, even withhold support if a person’s choices or actions could actually end up hurting that person or someone else.

For if we applaud and encourage someone toward things that could indeed lead to real and lasting damage—even if those things make them millions of dollars or give them great careers or win them the appearance of success—aren’t we, at least in part, responsible for that damage?

Not saying this is easy or uncomplicated.  And I definitely don’t mean to imply in the slightest that any person, bad choice, or well-intentioned yet misplaced support is beyond God’s redemptive reach.

All the same, just something to think about…

– Rik

 

Christian Singles, Marriage, and the Danger of Sexual Atheism

sexualatheism

There is an article that is making the rounds right now that has a lot of people talking about singles in the church, sex, and the erosion of biblical standards.

Clearly, this is Old Fashioned territory…

Author Kenny Luck really goes after what he calls “sexual atheism” among many self-described Christian singles today and begins by including this little tidbit:

In a recent study conducted by ChristianMingle.com, Christian singles between the ages of 18 to 59 were asked, “Would you have sex before marriage?” The response? Sixty-three percent of the single Christian respondents indicated yes.

63%.  Does this surprise you?

It does me.  Or it did.  Now that we are having some advance sneak peek screenings of Old Fashioned and I’m being involved in lots of conversations about this issue… I’m hearing more and more evidence to back up the stats from the study quoted by Luck.

I fully expected to get some push-back to the God-honoring approach to love and romance that we take in Old Fashioned (which includes, among many other things, the idea that sex is sacred and meant for marriage).  I just didn’t expect to get so much push-back from others who claim the same faith and yet don’t share the belief that physical intimacy is exclusively for marriage alone.

It’s been an interesting, eye-opening experience to say the least.  I was clearly naïve and not fully informed.  Luck continues:

To say that professing or self-described Christians are becoming more liberal means that their reference point for assessing and practicing sexuality is more cultural and personal rather than biblical or spiritual. It means that they possess a low view of God and Scripture and a high view of self and culture as the key drivers of their moral and sexual behavior.

But why?  Why such a seismic shift within the church?

Culture is indeed key here, I think.  America has shifted… and it’s never easy to resist or stand against any avalanche of social change.  Bottom line is that a majority of Americans no longer believe that sex—in nearly any fashion or expression—has anything to do with morality.  It doesn’t mean we don’t still look to judge things as “good” (eco-friendly living, healthy diets) or “bad” (bigotry, racism)… we just don’t much include sex in that context (good/bad) anymore.

Ironically, it hasn’t made folks less judgmental at all… just judgmental about different things.

I personally know of a progressive, socially conscious pastor who refused to confront his worship leader—who was living with his girlfriend—because he didn’t feel it was his place to judge.  Maybe you can relate to a similar situation in your own life with a family member or friend.

But, what if that worship leader (or family member or friend) was an outspoken racist… and yet claimed to be a Christ follower?  Would that pastor, or you, hesitate to challenge or question that person?

Of course not.  In fact, you might think it your duty to do so and it possibly a sin to not say something.

There’s no denying it, when it comes to chastity or purity or sex in general, I think a lot of us are very hesitant to take any kind of stand (about anything in any way) because we don’t want to appear judgmental and/or we don’t want to end up as a punchline on The Daily Show.

And over time, that slowly affects not only the way we think… but eventually our actions.

That is how good a job American culture as a whole (politics, entertainment, and social media) has done in repositioning the sexual discussion as it relates to morality, etc.

And the how it happened, why it happened, when it happened no longer matters.  It happened.

I say this because I have great empathy for Christian singles today.  It is not easy.  In some ways, it’s never been harder.

But even with culture at large making a mockery of virtue… and often times confusing, conflicting messages coming from different branches of the Christian faith… the call of God on our lives remains the same.

Be still.  Listen.  Follow.

Check out Luck’s article in its entirety at Charisma Magazine.

– Rik

 

Science proves benefits of nice, boring guys

Before I sat down to write the very first draft of the screenplay that, many years later, would become Old Fashioned, I interviewed a wide variety of women…

Some single and never married, some divorced, some married… some younger, some older… some devoutly religious, some not…

I asked them all the same two questions.

First, I asked, “Describe to me your perfect date.”

The answers I got back were remarkably similar… he needs to be romantic and handsome, a good sense of humor is a plus, he better make me feel like a princess, it helps if he drives a nice car… even better if he has a good sound system in that car…

Nearly all of the answers revolved around idealistic romantic fantasy and some surprisingly superficial qualities in many ways.  Then, I asked the follow up:

“Describe to me your perfect mate.”

Again, the answers were remarkably similar… I want someone who is honest, faithful, good with children, good with money…

The two lists of responses to those two questions could not have been less similar.  And it really hit me like a ton of Valentine’s candy that, indeed—at least in American culture—we are much better trained to be good “dates” than good “mates.”

Movies and music and pop culture have deftly schooled us in how to be romantic, how to create a mood, how to woo and seduce and pose… we are experts at that stuff.  We are much less educated in how to prepare ourselves to be good life partners for another or even how to discern the qualities in another that would make for a good life partner for us.

That reality very much helped shape the story of Old Fashioned and the odd and curious character of Clay Walsh, especially… the kind of guy that could easily be passed over today for being a little too—in a word—boring.

Well, according to some recent scientific research, it now turns out that guys like that might not only lead to greater happiness in marriage, but also more successful careers!

No, I’m not making this up.

In a recent article in The Washington Post, Elahe Izadi boldly stakes the claim: Want to get ahead in your career?  Marry a dork.

Based on a new five-year study in Australia, it seems like our cultural over-emphasis on physical chemistry, personal charm and charisma, and/or our conditioning to be drawn to the “bad boy” or the “bad girl” may, in fact, not be the best recipe for relational bliss…

The study’s findings may have broader implications when it comes to picking partners, said Joshua Jackson, an assistant professor at Washington University.

“This might be something to suggest that people maybe should be attuned to these conscientious, more dorky, not-as-lively-or-exciting-because-they’re-rule-following people,” said Jackson, the study’s lead author. “There’s something to say in terms of the characteristics you should look for in a mate. This might not be the most obvious, but it’s important.”

Izadi half-jokingly ends the piece…

So, look, next time you’re on a date, don’t write off the boring rule-follower so quickly. You may be writing off career advancement, too.

All joking aside, whether or not it leads to career advancement or making more money, when it comes to romance… it makes sense to take the time to look more closely than just the surface.

As it says in Proverbs, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting…”

Learn more about the study here.

– Rik

 

A higher calling…

I’ve had some media interviews and discussions related to Old Fashioned since that lost blog entry and it’s got me thinking again about something I’ve believed and harped about for quite some time:

The process is as important as the end product.

To explain what I mean, I’d like to briefly continue the thought of the last blog and take it in a slightly different direction.  While I enthusiastically agreed with the idea that the smartest thing “Christian” movies can do right now is be good, I actually think—at a deeper level—the greater issue remains that filmmakers of faith should aim to be “good” in the way they make their films as well as being focused on creating “good” films, period.

As the old campfire songs goes: “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love… yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Not by our great films.

And this isn’t meant to let sloppy filmmakers off the hook or imply that filmmakers of faith shouldn’t pursue excellence, but…

You could make the greatest, most awe-inspiring film about the life of Christ and yet do it in such a way as to make a mockery of that very same life.  And the opposite could be true as well.

There is so much chatter right now about “faith-based” films and what they should be or shouldn’t be… what they should do or shouldn’t do.  But almost all of these discussions are based on defining things be the final product, not the process…

How was the cast treated?  The crew?  Were promises honored?  Was the production a blessing or a curse to the local community?  Was the spirit of Christ reflected in the deals, the contracts, the negotiations?

This is complicated stuff, admittedly.  Making films is a high-stakes, high-pressure affair and mistakes will be made.  No one is perfect.  But, the point is, to be a maker of “faith-based” films is to be committed to more than merely including elements that will “sell” to a niche.

There is a higher calling, in my opinion.  A much higher calling.

– Rik

 

The Smartest Thing Christian Movies Can Do

SmartestThing

Momentarily putting aside the discussion of the labels “Christian” or “faith-based” or “religious” or “spiritual” or any other descriptor as they relate to putting a movie in a box and/or providing—depending on one’s disposition—either a stamp of approval or a caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) warning of sorts…

Without a doubt, of all the press that has circulated in the six weeks or so since we announced the theatrical release of Old Fashioned on the same weekend as Fifty Shades of Grey (Valentine’s Day 2015), a blog entry by Scott Beggs over at Film School Rejects remains one of the most thoughtful, balanced, and convicting…

In it, the author strongly affirms our marketing strategy:

… choosing sides can have a powerful psychological effect, and Swartzwelder has effectively thrown the challenge down in a way that tacitly paints people who go to his movie as being one way and those who pick Goliath as being another. Those who don’t desire more from love and those who do. It’s an incredibly shrewd and clever move, and you can imagine more faith-based projects in the future making direct appeals within the scope of a mainstream, Hollywood giant.

He goes so far as to actually call our Fifty Shades counter-programming angle “the second smartest thing Christian movies can do right now.”

And while I personally appreciate the kudos on our release date savvy, what really hits home is Mr. Beggs’s follow up:

So what’s the smartest thing a Christian movie could do? Be good.

Boom.  He couldn’t be more right and I couldn’t agree more intensely.  The word “good” is subjective, of course, and the measure is relative, in my estimation.  An indie film with a budget a far less than a million dollars and a blockbuster with a budget of $100 million plus can both be good movies… albeit in different ways, most likely.

Regardless, his point is well taken.  He continues:

… the hallmarks of great, non-hammer-to-the-head storytelling have not found their way into faith-based filmmaking yet (unless you count movies like The Book of EliNoah and most of The Blind Side). At least not this particular, indie-focused subsection. Sure, there’s evidence that more people want “Christian values” in more movies (in whatever myriad ways they personally define them), but until Christian filmmakers learn nuance and symbolism to communicate those values, they’ll be preaching to the converted.

This is a smart guy.  I’ve never met him, but he is dead on.  And please know, I’m not afraid of messages in movies (and they all have them, no matter what anyone says), but good messages aren’t enough.

Yes, I am a person of faith and I believe in and love God… but I also love good movies, good art.  And I appreciate a wide variety of films from all over the world… just as I also very much appreciate this blogger’s call to excellence.  It should be heeded by anyone endeavoring to tell cinematic stories, filmmakers of faith and otherwise.

So, will Old Fashioned measure up to Mr. Beggs’s standard?  Are we “smart” enough to qualify for number one on his list?  Only time will tell.  He’s right in calling us out, whatever the case may be.  One thing I can assure you is that a very talented team poured every ounce of themselves into making not just a “good Christian movie” but a good indie movie, period.

It was never about a cash grab or exploitation.  Never about an agenda or propaganda.  It was about telling a dramatic and entertaining story in which we believed fully… to the very best of our ability…

Thank you, Mr. Beggs.  Sincerely.

Check out his full article here: http://filmschoolrejects.com/opinions/second-smartest-thing-christian-movies-can-right-now.php

– Rik

 

15 ways we can put an end to the dishonest dating culture

15Ways

Looks like even Millennials are longing for something more when it comes to the status quo of love and romance in contemporary American culture.

Earlier this summer over at Elite Daily (The Voice of Generation-Y), a very interesting blog post gave voice to the growing dissatisfaction with the whole “dating” experience of 20-somethings.

Dare I say it… a lot of what this talented writer, Lexi Herrick, maps out here sounds downright Old Fashioned

What is the dating game, you ask? Well, you probably know it all too well. It’s the game of “let’s see who can try to act like they care less in order to get someone else to care more and then take turns.”

It’s the blurred line between how casual you are and what title you decide to designate to your romantic encounters. It’s so confusing that I often lose track and I’m sure you do, too.

What is the reason for not being able to be simple and honest? Like, “Hey, I think you’re really cute and I would like to get some coffee and giggle awkwardly at our small talk, so I can spend some extra time looking at your cute face.”

The reason it isn’t so easy is because we all play the game. Here are a few ways to put down your cards and really look at the faces that surround you without wearing your own poker face:

As Clay says in Old Fashioned“We don’t have to go around using each other, hurting each other.  It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Nope, it sure doesn’t.  And no matter what lies pop culture tries to spoon-feed us, that remains true.

And honestly, when so many “non-religious” (whatever that means) young people are clearly looking for a more beautiful way to live out their romantic lives… after being devastated and their hearts bruised and battered for lack of wise counsel or guidance or even one, single positive example of love… many of us in “the church” need to remember that much of what seems obvious or old-hat to us could be brand-new and life-changing to someone else.

It’s time we move beyond our desperate, modern need to be approved of by and/or to not offend the cultural gatekeepers and tastemakers of the day.

It’s time we get over our fear of being mocked by The Daily Beast or Cosmo or People magazine.

It’s time we all risk a little rejection for the benefit of those who are so ready to not settle for less than true love…

Read more: 15 ways we can put an end to the dishonest dating culture (check out her #8, especially).  Looks like we’re not the only ones hoping that “Chivalry makes a comeback” next Valentine’s Day… sorry, couldn’t resist…

– Rik

 

Why I don’t want my daughters to see ‘Fifty Shades’

DaughtersFiftyShades

Meanwhile…

Back in 50 Shades-land…

Just last week, CNN had a fascinating article written by one of its own senior producers out of New York, Ronni Berke.  This is no right-wing propaganda piece or something written by someone blinded by a haze of overly-religious piety…

This.  Is CNN.

A mother of two daughters, one 23 and the other 26, Berke shared some rather serious and level-headed concerns about the influence the submissive undercurrent in the book/film might have on her own children.

Here’s a little taste:

Very little is really, truly, off limits these days. Girls much younger than my daughters will surely find a way to see “Fifty Shades of Grey” — either in theaters, on cable, or online. What’s unknown is just how profoundly it will affect their emerging sexuality.

Exactly.

And as for those who deny that Fifty Shades will have any major impact or that all this “knee-jerk overreacting” is all much ado about nothing… well, I actually have a lot to say about that.  But let’s save it for another day…

For now, as a person of faith myself, I’d simply like to say that I find it more than a little encouraging that it’s not just us “unstable and crazy religiosos” or Old Fashioned-types that are challenging some of the assumptions and the peculiar absence of societal concern in much of the media regarding some of the messages in Fifty Shades.

While it’s clear from her piece that Berke and I would not agree on everything, the one thing upon which we 100% concur is the reality that the stories we lift up and share with our young people… matter.  Those stories will shape them.  Those stories will impact what both our children—and our world—become…

Read the full article, you really should… it’s not that long: Why I don’t want my daughters to see ‘Fifty Shades’

– Rik

 

A Longing for More Old Fashioned Relationships

OldFashionedRelationships

The last post featured the author of the Old Fashioned novelization, Rene Gutteridge.

Today, it is my pleasure to introduce the author of our non-fiction, companion devotional, The Old Fashioned Way: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Romance.

Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Ginger Kolbaba

When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher, Miss Raymond, asked the class about the future and what would happen if we ran out of energy, oil, and electricity. She was looking for us to be creative about other ways that we could survive.

I knew the answer and I was thrilled to share it. “We could go back to the way things were in the 1800s. With horses and buggies and stuff.” I thought it was clearly brilliant; Miss Raymond did not.

Looking back these many moons later, I am no longer thrilled with the prospect of returning to the days when we had no air conditioning, cars, or DVRs that can record endless episodes of Downton Abbey. While I may not want to travel around on horseback, there are a few ways that I do still agree with my younger self who saw value in the way things used to be. I yearn for the days of good old fashioned relationships. When front porches were used to sit out and greet neighbors passing by. When a handshake meant the same as a contract signed, witnessed, and notarized. When saying “I do” meant “until I die.”

So when the Tyndale editors and Rik Swartzwelder asked me to write the nonfiction counterpart to the movie Old Fashioned, I jumped at the opportunity. In writing 40 days’ worth of reflections on different “old fashioned” values, such as chivalry and kindness and honor, I was able to share vulnerably what those issues mean to me—someone who has yearned to do things right, but who has too often missed the mark, and who is grateful for redemption and second (and fifth and twenty-seventh) chances. I wanted to fill the pages with grace, encouragement, and hope—and even a bit of challenge.

Obviously the “good old days” weren’t always so good. Neither have we arrived at the pinnacle of knowledge in our society today. But I do think we can harness what was good about yesteryear’s and today’s mores and use them to become the kind of people who overflow with the beauty of Jesus in all our relationships.

That’s what I think about when I think of being old fashioned: I want to be a person who is respectful, who genuinely listens, who takes time to laugh and cry with others, who honors others, who forgives, and who focuses on the other person without having to check text and email messages every few minutes. Someone who lets a yes be yes and a no, no. Someone who lives by the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” (Matthew 7:12). Those are pretty good traits to have whether you’re riding a Mustang with a tail or one that has a Ford emblem on its front grill.

I love the fact that a book about reconsidering old fashioned virtues is releasing first in a digital format on September 1 and then in print on January 1. That’s what being old fashioned is all about—combining the best of both worlds. I’m blessed (another old fashioned word!) to be part of the Old Fashioned movement. I hope you’ll check out the book and let me know your thoughts at http://www.gingerkolbaba.com/.

– Ginger Kolbaba

 

How “Old Fashioned” Helped One Woman Overcome Her Romance Handicap

Yesterday was a BIG day for Old Fashioned

The eBook/digital versions of both the novelization of the film and the non-fiction companion devotional (The Old Fashioned Way: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Romance) were released by Tyndale House Publishers.

They can be purchased NOW at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and cbd.com.

Print copies will be in stores in January 2015 (just before Old Fashioned lands in theatres on Valentine’s Day) and can be pre-ordered now via a wide variety of online retailers.

In honor of this milestone, today we have a very special guest blogger: Rene Gutteridge, the incredibly talented author of the novelization of Old Fashioned!  Enjoy…

When you’re a romantic comedy writer, people make assumptions about your personal life.  They believe my life is heavy on the romance and the comedy is thrown in for good measure.

The truth of the matter is that I’m so romantically illiterate that I shouldn’t be allowed to darken the door of any kind of existing romantic genre.  Looking at me, you probably wouldn’t guess it because I fix my hair and stuff.

But just toss a question out to my husband like, “Hey, on a scale of one to ten, where does Rene fall in romantic ability?”

Because he’s a good guy, he’ll probably smile widely and say, “She’s a good cook!”  He’s thinking, “Negative seven.”

When Sean and I got married nearly twenty years ago, I looked to be a very promising wife.  I loved all the things he loved, and I think he was particularly smitten with the fact that I played sports, loved action/adventure flicks and could pig out on nachos and hot wings just like any guy buddy.

When you’re a young man in your twenties, you think you might have found your dream woman.

But all that came to a screeching halt soon into our marriage when Sean tried to send me flowers.  We were on a very tight budget back then and they arrived at our doorstep on a Tuesday while Sean was at work.

For an hour, a dozen stunning, red roses stared back at me from the little bookshelf I set them on.  I studied them for a long time, biting my finger nail, trying to appreciate their beauty and wondering how much that beauty actually cost.

When he arrived home, after gushing about how kind that was of him, I somehow weaseled into the conversation the question about how much “…does a dozen roses cost these days?”

This kind of thing went on for a few years in the early part of our marriage (my squirmy inability to cuddle well, my complete ignorance about the power of poetry, my aversion to classic love songs) until one day Sean stood in our living room and declared, “I think you’re romantically challenged.”

Well at least we’d found a term for it.  And we dismally acknowledged there probably was no cure for my condition. I looked it up on the Mayo Clinic website. Indeed, the statistics were not in my favor.

Thankfully he still loved me anyway.

But as I went on in life, I ruminated about this peculiar problem.  What woman is romantically challenged?  How did that even happen? When did things go wrong? If romance was a stock option, women would rule the world—and I’d be totally broke.

I thought for a long time it might have to do with me being an absurdly practical person. Money on roses? Why not spend it on the water bill?  Sean would write me a poem and in return I would clean out his car to surprise him when he got up on Saturday morning. I don’t have to spell this out for you. Clearly I am lucky to still be married.

I think over the years my husband has subtly tried to help me out with this problem.  As much as I loved action movies, I thought it suspicious when he would insist on going to see romantic comedies with me.  We were of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan era of romantic comedies, and I saw every one of them.  Perhaps Sean was hoping against all hope I would at the very least recognize the Empire State Building observatory deck was amazing at night. (I say cold and windy, but please believe I’m trying.)

The thing that always drew me to writing and watching romantic comedy was the dysfunction.  That, I knew, was how love really worked.  Save it, Nicholas Sparks. I’m on team Sandra Bullock, where every romantic relationship is steeped in personality disorders.

I never bought into the idea of romance.  And I was sure I never would.  Romance, I thought, was just lame idealism, the world’s answer to the lack of loyalty and dedication to the hard part of life—real life—where people fail at sticking around at the first bump in the road.

Romance was, at best, unstable.

So I immersed myself in nachos, action flicks, and lacing my books with enough romance to get the general reader hooked and get me off the hook.

Then, along came Old Fashioned.

My longtime publisher, Tyndale, asked if I would read the script to see what my interest was in doing a novelization of it.  They said it was a straight-up romance.  To be polite and remain in good standing with all my editors, I excitedly agreed while secretly slumping on the other end of the phone.  I was hoping for a murder-mystery or something that didn’t involve flowers.

I opened up the script and began reading.

I was first caught off guard by the absolutely hilarious dialogue.  I leaned back in my chair, scratched my head, and thought, Huh. Romance writers can be funny. I had no idea. I thought they left humor to the romantic comedy writers.  I checked the name on the front of the script. It was a man who wrote this?

A twinge of jealousy struck me as I read on. I don’t like to be beat by a guy at anything, and certainly not romance.  But this guy had romantic chops.  This thing was the real deal.

I’d intended to sit and read for about thirty minutes or so that night, but I read it straight through, astonished at what I was feeling at the end.  Was I feeling…romantic?  Was I cheering on romance?  Was I rooting for what I thought I was rooting for…love?

Of course, the script did what writer Rik Swartzwelder intended it to do, which was challenge our modern world’s view of love and reintroduce a notion that hasn’t seen the light of day since perhaps Jimmy Stewart stopped making movies—chivalry.

And I suddenly understood that perhaps my own aversion to romance was itself drenched in the misconception about love and romance that had been ingrained in me since I was a child.  I realized that I certainly couldn’t live up to the hype of modern-day romance, love and sex.  What woman can?  We’re presented with flowers and chocolates and suddenly, no matter the guy’s intentions, we’re supposed to be every man’s dream.  We’re supposed to be more than a fairytale, mind-blowing in a way that puts Meg Ryan diner scenes to shame.

Though my husband never expected that from me, and in fact kindly accepted me as I was, I had put my own expectations on the notion of romance, and decided that I couldn’t possibly live up to the hype that came along with a box of chocolates.  So I rejected the notion of romance.

What a shame! What I have missed!

But I knew I had true love.  If Sean can love me through our rose fiasco, then I think it is love to stay.

And perhaps, if he ever decides to courageously return to his old fashioned, chivalrous ways, I will find within me the delight that I know it can bring, as it underscores that we’re lucky enough to have found the beauty of true love.

Rene

P.S.  Before I start getting mail about this, yes, we’ve read The 5 Love Languages, listened to the audio version, done the workbook, watched the small group DVD and attended the class at church.  I’m going to be writing Dr. Gary Chapman to let him know there are actually 6 love languages, the sixth being one that requires a mutant gene in the temporal lobe of the brain, but it’s still legit. Sean promises me I’m not the only female who failed the test in the back of the book.