Valentine’s Day: ’tis the season for overpriced flowers, too many sappy romantics, bad cards and chalky candy hearts. Countless happy couples will imbibe countless bottles of cheap champagne at Olive Gardens all over the country. The blatant consumerism will make any self-respecting socialist burst into tears.
But in the midst of it all, a few brave non-romantics aren’t afraid to stick out from the horde of sheeple. Rumors wander throughout the English Department about a pair of these pinnacles of originality, these paragons of non-normative relationships (at least as far as old, married, middle-class white folks go).
We, an intrepid team of journalists from The Spectrum, set out to discover more.
“I’m such a non-romantic, and so practical that my mom was horribly afraid I would end up alone with a bunch of cats,” Betsy Birmingham, professor and chair of the English department, said.
Birmingham and her partner struck up a friendship during their time together in graduate school, but never thought of anything else until they went to Europe to see a mutual friend.
“We’re both good socialists,” Birmingham noted, smiling, “of all the things I could give money to, the trappings of being romantic are not among them. Honestly, romantic men strike me as a bit disingenuous, and a little creepy — if he had been that way, I probably wouldn’t have had anything to do with him.”
But yet, after years of friendship they ended up in Europe together. Perhaps some things are just meant to be.
“We were walking under the Eiffel Tower, and he reached out and held my hand, so I guess that was our first date,” Birmingham said, “and we came back, and that was that.”
They might have remained unmarried, if not for the bureaucratic deciders of acceptable life formats (i.e., insurance). At the time, they worked in separate states and were wondering about options for moving closer.
“He proposed through email with the subject line: ‘bad news — if you want healthcare benefits, you’ll have to marry me,’ and I responded with something like ‘that’s very bad news; yes, I think we should get married,'” Birmingham said with a laugh. “So in some sense, the state of North Dakota forced us to get married.”
Although after twenty-odd years and five children, they seem to be ok with it. Which just goes to show — perhaps the non-romantics among us aren’t destined for a house full of cats.
“Once you realize romance is culturally constructed, you decide to like it or to resist it, depending on what sense it makes to me and my partner,” said Kevin Brooks, a professor in the English department.
After their first date in Paris, Brooks and Birmingham continued to date and live together for 18 months. Then came the bureaucratic nonsense that threw these two love birds together, at least in a legal sense.
In order to get benefits for his then-partner and soon-to-be son, Brooks needed to go through a whirlwind of legal drama.
“There was extensive legal work involved and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s extreme,'” he said. “Then I asked, ‘Well, what if we get married?’ And the woman I was talking to said, ‘Just give me a call.’ And I asked, ‘Do you need any documentation? Any court paperwork?’ And she said no.”
But that wasn’t the only reason they decided to tie the knot.
“Plus, we loved each other,” Dr. Brooks said with a smile.
As far as proposing via email, well, that was a matter of his audience.
“Neither of us liked the phone. We communicated via email predominantly,” he said. “We were both non-romantic. I thought it would be funny. And I knew my audience enough to know that she’d think it was funny and appropriate for the situation.”
The rest is, as they say, history.
After 20-some years together, I asked Dr. Brooks what he thought was the key to a successful marriage.
“We don’t think about it or work at it. Culturally, everyone says you have to work at it.” Then, he smiled. “We like and respect each other, and I guess that’s the secret. We don’t really think about working at it.”
Write that down, kids.