The single yellow rose, the voyage-a-deux to France, a moonlit dinner on the beach.
I love romance, you love romance, movies and songs would barely exist without its dreamy glow.
Whatever you call Roy Moore’s alleged behavior toward teenage girls, it is not romantic.
And yet in the past few days, story after news story has used that word to describe the former Alabama judge’s alleged conduct toward girls not yet old enough to legally drink or vote.
Moore, who is running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate, is 70 now, but when he was in his 30s, according to a story first reported by The Washington Post, he liked to “date” the girls of Gadsden, Ala.
At the age of 32, as one AP story summed up the Post’s report, Moore “tried to initiate a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl and pursued romantic relationships with three other teenagers.”
The original Post story didn’t describe any of Moore’s encounters as romantic, but that hasn’t deterred other media.
Various outlets, including The New York Times, have referred to these relationships as “sexual or romantic.” The relationships, meanwhile, have been variously characterized as “overtures,” “encounters” and “interludes.”
Call me old-fashioned, but the term “romantic interlude” doesn’t evoke images of a 34-year-old man taking a 17-year-old home and kissing her in his bedroom. That may be on the right side of legal, just barely, but it’s not romance.
And call me old-fashioned, but that’s not a date either.
Some stories have called Moore’s behavior “misconduct” or “inappropriate conduct.” At least one used the word “molested.” He has denied it all.
The right-wing Breitbart News, on the other hand, wrote one story in response to the Post report that made him sound like Lancelot or Romeo.
“In fact,” it said, recounting the claims of the 17-year-old mentioned above, “she characterized Moore as being romantic, reading poetry to her, and playing the guitar. The woman is cited saying that physical contact only involved kissing and did not progress any further.”
Call me old-fashioned, but poetry and a guitar don’t make a creep a heartthrob.
And only involved kissing?
I understand why news writers lean on the word “romantic.” It’s shorthand. It implies sexualized behavior that doesn’t reach the level of illegal.
But the word “romance” romanticizes the pernicious behavior, casting it in the soft glow of candlelight and moonbeams.
On Tuesday, I asked Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and a specialist in feminist legal theory, about this application of “romantic.”
The problem, she said, is that romance implies “two consenting individuals with some baseline level of equality … two people coming to this from reasonably equivalent positions of power.”
And while she didn’t say it, I will: It’s hard to imagine that a 17-year-old girl and a 30-something assistant district attorney have reasonably equivalent positions of power.
Romance — real romance, the kind that involves not just desire or predation, but love and respect — sometimes breaches the boundaries of propriety. Love is not logical.
Maybe — and I say this with some distaste — if Roy Moore had engaged in a single relationship with a girl of 16 or 17, and if that girl looked back fondly on that relationship when she grew up, he would merit a reluctant pass.
But if we’re to believe the women who have spoken out — and there’s no reason not to — there was more than one.
And one was 14, and she says he did more than kiss her. And since the original Post report, another woman has come forward to say that when she was 16 Moore assaulted her. That makes five.
A man with a serial history of pursuing teenage girls is not a romantic but a lecher.
One of the women who says Moore pursued her was quoted in the original Post story as saying that as a girl she was “flattered by the attention.” At 54, she thinks about it differently.
“Now that I’ve gotten older,” she said, “the idea that a grown man would want to take out a teenager, that’s disgusting to me.”
Disgusting is not a synonym for romantic.