“Romance without finance is a nuis-ance,” I remember older generations of men saying to me in reference to courting women when I was growing up. By the time I was old enough to understand, it was a statement that had me cracking up when I heard it. The men who said it sounded somewhere between surly and downright mean, even as dapper as some of them dressed. Even CNN political commentator Roland Martin has had it with St. Valentine’s Day, the ultimate symbol of romantic love, saying that it is “nothing more than a commercial holiday created by rabid retailers who needed a major shopping day between Christmas and Easter in order to give people a reason to spend money.” I don’t quite feel that way. But I do think that we place too much emphasis on finance and not true romance when it come to expressing the kind of passion and love that comes with courtship.

If that weren’t the case, then I guess I could’ve started dating when I was in middle school or at least by the middle of high school. But it takes money to buy flowers that don’t wilt the moment they’re exposed to air, or chocolates that aren’t sold at the nearest Rite Aid, CVS or Genovese. It takes money and time to treat someone in a material way as if they’re valuable, to do more than just express love in voice or on paper. It takes money to make someone like myself to look presentable enough to say something about romance, or at least wanting to be in a romantic relationship.

I’ve listened to woman after woman complain over the years about their boyfriends, husbands, exs, and on occasion, about me, in reference to this romance and finance stuff. Women who won’t date a guy because he doesn’t own a car, or a recent model car, or because he’s only a security guard, or because he only has a bachelor’s degree. Or because his clothes come off the rack at Sears and shoes from Florsheim. To say the least, I could go on and on about women complaining about men because their wallets may not be as big as their hearts, or anything else for that matter. I could talk about how often I’ve from women complaining about their other heterosexual halves because they seem to lack passion, or are too aggressive, or don’t seem to strike the proper balance between romantic love and lust.

What I’ve learned from years of listening sessions could end up being a book one day, hopefully the opposite of Michael Eric Dyson’s drivel about Black women from a few years ago. But what I noticed throughout was how much outer appearances, including material wealth, mattered. By my life story and their definition, I probably shouldn’t have gone on my first date until I was twenty-nine or thirty-four. I still wouldn’t have been far enough along to get married or have a kid. And as things stand in my life right now, I’d have some explaining to do about my writing and pursuit of an agent and a book contract, as struggle isn’t exactly a part of romance.

Heck, as far as my female classmates from middle and high school were concerned — and some from my Pitt years as well — I didn’t have a romantic bone in my body. I was “asexual,” according to one acquaintance of mine, until my senior year at Pitt. Because I didn’t spent time developing my “game” or “talk,” I wasn’t romantic. In my defense, it’s hard to exude romance when most of your life’s been spent walking a fine line between high-brow intellectualism and grinding poverty. Both shape how one interacts with people, including women. It wasn’t as if I had any good examples of romance around me. Lust, yes. Sadness, definitely. Out-of-control anger, without a doubt. But obvious romance, I never saw.

As reported in about a dozen or so previous postings, I had three (3) crushes between the spring of ’82 and the summer of ’91 that lasted longer than a couple of days. That’s it. One in seventh grade, an off-and-on one in my junior and senior year of high school and the summer before college, and one my senior year at Pitt. Given my background, it’s amazing there weren’t more or that there weren’t more from afar. In all three cases, it mattered not whether I revealed my crush or not. It didn’t mattered if I expressed myself well enough or quietly walked around like someone struck by lightning. None of the young women in question saw me the same way I saw myself or them, or myself with them.

It’s interesting to think about this romantic love thing, because for a long time, I didn’t see myself as romantic either. This despite the fact that romantic music was always in my mental repertoire. From the slow jams of Earth, Wind and Fire, The Commodores, and Luther to more recent stuff by Anita Baker, Brenda Russell, and New Edition at the time. It’s interesting because when I thought of my crushes, I thought about things like chocolates and flowers, rose petals and perfumes, hanging out and talking for hours, going to goofy movies where we both would cry. But money for me was always a major limitation on my ability to execute romance.

Romance because significantly easier for me once I went on to grad school and had a little bit of money to work with. Still, I never forgot about the lessons I learned about romance and money. So I avoided women who were into status as much as humanly possible. I dated, but fairly rarely, preferring to exercise lust and one-night stands over love, and tended to shut down anything in between. Luckily, the last two women I dated — including my wife Angelia — were just as quirkily romantic as I was, making my practice of romance both easier and more consistent over time. It was easier and more consistent because they both recognized that little things, small gestures, acts that aren’t materially based, matter. For that at least, I thank my wife and my ex for.

But I also must recognize something important about my emotion chip. As romantic as I can be, I’ve found that controlled, channeled anger has acted as more of a catalyst in my life than falling head over heels over someone. My first crush in seventh grade is really the only exception, but even then, the abuse that I suffered at home was just as important as that crush in motivating me academically and otherwise. With the crash and burn I suffered from crush #2 came a semester where guys were “assholes” and women were “bitches,” and that pushed me all the way to the Dean’s List. The end of crush #3 freed me up to have a straight A first semester of grad school, not to mention my first publication. Sometimes the end of romance is as important as the romantic feeling itself.

So what kind of person stimulates romantic flutters in my mind and stomach? Someone who is confident, witty, has a great voice, someone whose sense of humor can be as weird as my own. Someone who isn’t afraid to laugh at themselves, someone who’s turned pain into laughter or motivation. Someone who’s sense of independence has yielded to a sense of interdependence. Someone whose ability to be romantic and intellectual could almost, but not quite, overpower my own. Few people in my life have approached this, and only one of my three formative crushes had all of this in spades. My wife of nearly nine years has a good portion of this, which may well explain why we’ve been together for so long. This is what romance is all about. Money can buy a lot of things, but romance isn’t one of them.