An Incomprehensive Guide to Romanticizing Your Life

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Vienna photos

Wien, 2014.

We’ve talked about brands selling us stories before, but what about the stories we tell ourselves? This Thanksgiving I’m in Vienna and everything begs for romanticizing: the Christmas market lights, the warm punch, the mermaid-haired students in fluffy scarves, and the somber gaze of dead emperors as we dare to dance in their palaces or Instagram their statues.

Back in America, the settings are less poetic: at times Baltimore’s crime rate and fellow students’ obsession with grades convince me not to wear my white beret and not to listen to the Hairspray soundtracks, because life is life and maybe I should face it as it is. But soon something – a song, a movie, a lipstick shade – snaps me out of it and I am yet again the heroine of the carelessly fabricated plot.

101: Why Choose to Romanticize

As the ancient proverb goes, there are two terrible things that can happen to your dream: it can not come true or it can come true. The latter is possibly worse. We choose fables and semi-realities, because we are heroes, not humans. We are famous for 15 minutes. We fall into tropes and literary archetypes to derive courage from them.

This is why representation is so important: fictional characters are more real than we give them credit for and they can be there for you if needed. Relating to a character is like having a friend who is just like you, only with cooler remarks and a better wardrobe.

I recall the days of my youth spent imitating Blair Waldorf and only half regret the huge red headbands and classic green coats; I also channeled her determination to get into a good school and it made my SAT preparation more bearable. Romanticizing can be fun and useful, if you are careful in your choices.

Serena and Blair

Blair was the queen of my fashion past. | ELLE

102: Which Trope to Pick and When

Sometimes in my encounters with a certain type of jaded and sarcastic guys, I involuntarily follow the Manic Pixie Girl trope: I take them to museums, wear '50s-inspired dresses, and make quirky, infantile remarks. Then I have to stop myself and go back to being me. It is important to pick and choose which character and in which aspects of your life to romanticize: Blair Waldorf in academics may be great, but Blair Waldorf in jealousy and arrogance doesn’t sound too delightful.

Being a trope in social interactions is only cool as long as you are willing to keep the performance up and never let them see the actual you – a sort of game of “conceal, don’t feel,” that doesn’t tend to end well. Be responsible in your choice of characters. Just because Effy from Skins makes her depression look blasé and cool, doesn’t mean it is. Don’t make up your aspirations either: I decided to be pre-med because Dr. House made it look so effortlessly smart. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.

Lana del Rey

Lana does the wrong kind of romanticizing so casually. | ELLE

In that sense, fashion gives you a complete freedom of choice: channeling anyone in style is fine, whether it’s Dracula or Barack Obama. Period dresses may difficult to pull off, but Lolita girls still manage. Somewhat separating the character from the style is a skill to practice as homework.

Another is to construct a fashion identity, like a potion, from the exact right measures of the characters you like, forgetting age, gender or race. I am now going to wear prison clothes to channel Poussey from OITNB, boots in Russell Brand’s style, and dye my hair Arabelle Sicardi’s hair color.

103: Options, Options, Options…

If anything, romanticizing can be a tool to a better self. Romanticize wearing long flowery skirts and pretend to be a fairy queen. Romanticize a healthy lifestyle by personalizing your body. Make-believe you're in a romcom when you need to make the grand move in a relationship. Post songs online for a particular person to see. Pensively read Austen on a bench. Wear your hair old-fashioned, like a Greek goddess.

Romanticize everything that makes you feel and be better as a result. Leave mental illnesses to therapists and self-loathing to the self-obsessed. Romanticize life, not some version of death.

woman sleeping

Romanticize the hell out of enough sleep. | ELLE

104: Control

Ultimately, the main skill to master in the art of romanticizing is control. To quote Kipling:

“If you can dream -  and not make dreams your master.”

There’s a lot of satisfaction in thinking of tea, as the same tea that “danced” in the Boston Tea Party or as the same type of tea you and Lisa drank before she got on a train to Munich, or as the tea that gives life to dead leaves one last time. But romanticizing life, just like falling in love, is a choice to let reality (or a feeling in the second case) go to the edge of its potential.

It shouldn’t be capitalistic, because in many cases, the best romanticizing comes from no money at all – second-hand finds, protests in graffiti, and library cards as life-savers. It shouldn’t be desperate or escapist, because there is always a wake-up call. It’s a spice, a choice, an accent. It’s about letting your accumulated imagination and knowledge come out to play along with what actually is. Everyone’s at the same place, but some people take genial photographs of it. Some people see it better and who says they don’t see it true-er?

Mona Lisa Smile

How do you see it? | ELLE


Tell us in the comments about your routine romanticizing or characters you channel. We’re curious.

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