I go back and forth over whether I consider myself a romantic or not. I tend to think of myself as practical and logical. To me, it’s the thought that counts; and I’m not one of those women who says that but doesn’t really mean it. I’d rather dance under the stars to the car radio with a view overlooking the city than go to some ridiculously overpriced restaurant. To me, romance is when a man takes the time to do something he knows you would like, instead of throwing money at a situation. The thought behind the action is what matters. If he tried to take me on a moonlight picnic in the park and we ended up covered in ant bites because we couldn’t see that we put our blanket down on an anthill, I would laugh it all off (while applying Calamine lotion liberally and downing a Benadryl). It was the effort that mattered, whether or not the attempt failed.
That’s one of the reasons I disagree with so many people who love The Phantom of the Opera. They think it’s romantic. Well, I guess that depends on how you define romance. If you define it as being expressive or conducive to love, I disagree. I don’t argue that it’s an amazing production. The costumes, the songs, the staging are all top notch, perhaps even unparalleled. The idea that the character of the Phantom is romantic is where I draw the line. My friends who love it tell me I have it all wrong, that the Phantom is in love with Christine and he’s been hurt by the world, he just doesn’t know how to go about it more appropriately. Um, sorry, I just don’t see it that way. While I was watching the 25th Anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera thanks to Netflix, I keep the closed captioning on to make sure I didn’t misunderstand any of what was being said or sung. Here are the highlights that support my side:
Christine’s father told her that he would send The Angel of Music to her after he died, to watch out for her. The Phantom uses her naïveté to call himself the Angel of Music to control her. He sings of his power over her growing. He encourages her to “surrender to your darkest dreams” and give in to him and his music. At one point when Christine is getting sucked back in by the Phantom, Raoul has to remind her that the Phantom is not her father (which just seriously crosses the line into creepy given the Phantom is using that to get her to fall in love with him, ew).
Eventually Christine admits “I gave him my mind blindly.” She knows there is no excuse for the violence or the murders he has committed to be in control of the theatre, to make the owners and the players all his performing puppets. Yes, he wanted Christine to be his lead in the production, but I think it was more out of control than love for her. She was his discovery, his student, his creation. He wanted to show everyone that he was better at running the theatre than they were, that he was right. Otherwise, would he commit murder to force Christine to perform? Would he make her choose between marrying him or the death of her fiance, Raoul?
And I’m sorry, the Phantom saying, “I love you” to her does not make me feel sorry for him. All I saw was a man whose birth defect made him bitter with the world. He felt entitled to force others to do things his way. He messed with people’s minds. He used fear, coercion, violence, and murder to get what he wanted…power.
And poor Christine’s only other apparent choice is Raoul, who cuts a better romantic figure, except for the fact that he sees freeing Christine from the Phantom’s control as best being served by her doing everything he (Raoul) tells her to do, including putting her in danger. Nope, not my idea of romantic.
So what is romance in my eyes? Look at Les Miserables. Jean Valjean is a man thrown into prison for stealing bread for his sister’s family. He is given an unreasonable sentence and treated mercilessly. He becomes understandably embittered; but in one beautiful act of grace, a priest renews his faith and he vows to become a better man. He doesn’t change for a woman’s love; the love of a child (a child not even his own) changes him. He recognizes his own choices, his own responsibilities, and goes about living a better life. He makes a mistake here and there; but his life is one of redemption and self-sacrifice. To me, that’s romantic. That’s someone I would want to spend my life with. Someone whose life isn’t about his own power and control; but is instead about doing what he can to help those around him.
What difference does it make if some see one thing as romantic and some see the other? It matters to me. I’m a counselor now. I sit across from people who tell me that it doesn’t matter that he tried to kill me a couple times because afterward he cries and says, “I love you, don’t leave me.” They go back to brutality because it’s easier to live under someone else’s control and menace than it is to face life alone, to face the possibility that there might not be someone else better for them, someone who shows them what real love is. Love isn’t obsession or possession. Love isn’t power or control. Love doesn’t demand or threaten. Love doesn’t use. Love is tender and kind. Love thinks about what is best for the other person, and is willing to put them first when it is in their best interest. Love is gentle and patient. Love protects.
So yes, a part of me cringes when romance is identified with something like the Phantom; just as it does when I think of the message of Beauty and the Beast (if I love the Beast enough, eventually he will become a Prince). I don’t think fantasizing about the romantic serves us any good purpose in reality; in fact, it can do the opposite. I’d much rather walk, eyes-open into this world and be ready to see reality, to see a man for who he really is. That’s what I hope he will do for me.