Lust cause

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2004, 12:00am

THERE IS A SCENE in the film Bridget Jones's Diary where the dashing Mark Darcy tells Bridget he likes her. 'In fact, I like you a lot. Just as you are,' he says.

It's not the most romantic declaration of love in the history of cinema, but its impact on Bridget is dazzling. From then on, she is smitten. She sees Darcy in an entirely new light - not as the smug bore in the reindeer jumper, but as the man who likes her just as she is.

Experts say it is this ability to communicate how special someone is to us, that lies at the heart of romance. It doesn't have to be communicated with flowers and chocolates on Valentine's Day - a simple card or a well-chosen book can do the job just as well.

Sharon Glick, a relationship expert with St John's Cathedral Counselling Service in Hong Kong, says it is this motive that should inspire actions on Valentine's Day. Glick believes that, despite what cynics say, there is a place for Valentine's Day and romance in relationships - even for married couples.

'Romance is very important,' she says. 'And no matter how foolish or silly we may think it is, I think most women would worry if their partners did not find a way to express themselves on Valentine's Day. It doesn't have to be diamonds or flowers. In fact, many women - myself included - would think it trite to receive flowers. A card or a book of good poetry can be enough. What's important is that he remembers you on this day and makes a statement which says, 'I cherish you and you are the most important person in my life'.'

Glick says Valentine's Day, despite its commercialism, is also the ideal opportunity to say something nice to partners - things which often go unsaid because lives are too busy or the time is never right. 'Let's face it. Many wives would be suspicious if their husbands gave them flowers at any other time,' she says.

It's not just a girl's thing either. Glick says men also like to know they are loved - often more so because they have less supportive relationships outside their marriage than women do. Likewise, it can be used as time to rekindle romance - something that all couples should try and do long after the first flush of love.

'Finding time to be romantic does get harder when children come along,' says Glick. 'But you should try to find time to be together, to look at each other, to see each other, to talk and to connect.'

In Hong Kong, the luxury of domestic helpers means that couples have more chance to do this, says Glick, and romantic interludes like dinner dates, a night at the movies, even a weekend away from the children, are much more feasible. Glick believes the most romantic gestures are those like Darcy's declaration which convey 'unconditional total acceptance' of the other person.

'When I try to think about what is romantic, I think of the word 'cherish',' says Glick. 'One of the things I tell couples who are struggling with their relationship is to look into the eyes of your partner and ask: 'How do you see yourself reflected? How do you think your partner sees you?' If you know someone cherishes you and thinks you are wonderful, then it is wonderful and very comforting.'

Psychologist and author Dr Neil Clark Warren, one of the best-known experts in dating and marriage in the US, agrees that it is vital not to overlook Valentine's Day, however solid a relationship is.

'The major thing to know about Valentine's Day or any other special occasion is that your partner wants to know that they have been remembered - whether it's with flowers, candy, jewellery or other gifts,' he said. 'The important thing is the message, 'I love you and I am thinking of you and I want you to know that I am remembering you'.'

Warren says the most romantic treat is one that involves a thoughtful gesture or plan that is tailored to the other partner. 'We all want to know that our beloved is so in touch with us that they know exactly what would please us the most,' he says.

Warren is the founder of one of the biggest online dating agencies in the US and has spent more than 20 years counselling couples and studying what makes marriages work. Romance is high on his list of 'must-haves' in a relationship.

'Two people who really like each other a lot, but have no romance or chemistry in their relationship, should never try to turn that friendship into a romantic relationship,' he says. 'Romance in a marriage is a key ingredient to the success of marriage. And romance really thrives if the couple is well matched on the important dimensions that contribute to the smooth running of that marriage.'

He says it takes dedicated people to keep romance alive, especially when the stresses and routines of daily live force it to take a back seat.

'If there are children, for example, of course they need parental care particularly when they are small, but parents who recognise the importance of keeping their romance alive can schedule times to be alone and times when they can be free and unencumbered to pursue their romantic sides.' He says there is also danger when romance is the only element in a relationship. 'Passion can fizzle out in short order if there is not a foundation of the important qualities that make for a fulfilling relationship.'