Saturday, July 22, 2017

Anxiety, Fear and 'Romantics Anonymous'


Recently I watched a French comedy called Romantics Anonymous about a gifted female chocolate-maker who suffers from paralyzing shyness. She has a true passion and unmatched talent for chocolate but her overwhelming fear causes her to isolate herself and conceal her true potential. It's an issue she has always struggled with. But when she finds herself falling in love with her new boss, the owner of a failing chocolate factory who unbeknownst to her suffers from a similar affliction, her mettle is truly tested.

Jean-Rene, her boss, suffers from a crippling fear of social interaction and intimacy and quite literally often finds himself fleeing from the things he wants most. In spite of Angelique's timidity and her self-doubts, she is shown throughout the film as resilient in the face of Jean-Rene's rejection. She internalizes a lot of the awkwardness and sees it as a result of her own shyness, not realizing that Jean-Rene suffers from similar social anxiety. But even in the face of all her fears and doubts, Angelique perseveres and comes back to work the next day. She's still scared, she's still anxious and uncomfortable, but she's a fighter.

I feel like I saw so much of myself in the characters in this film. I've never really suffered from social anxiety in the same sense as Angelique or Jean-Rene, but for a long time I dealt with sometimes crippling fears. Not the kind of fear that makes you flee as Jean-Rene did, but the kind that leaves you feeling frozen  - trapped in your own cycle of hypothetical disasters. The kind that keeps you from taking risks for fear of improbable repercussions and the potential for embarrassment. That kind of fear and anxiety can leave you feeling like you're drowning - much like Angelique mentions at the end of the film.

When Jean-Rene is asked by his coworkers what he is afraid of, he replies simply "everything". That was something I could absolutely relate to. For a long time and until recently I was often bombarded with a variety or irrational fears and doubts that kept me from trying many of the things I wanted to do. In the last year I've dealt with anxiety and stress off and on for a variety of reasons and what's helped me most has been to acknowledge that I have those feelings and that it's ok. There are so many people out there dealing with the same worries and anxiety. It's not something to be ashamed of. What makes me feel stronger is reminding myself that even if I fail, even if the bad hypothetical outcome does happen, I can be proud in knowing that I truly tried and that I gave it my all. Falling flat on your face somehow doesn't feel as bad if you can be proud of yourself for taking the risk and really putting your heart into it. It reminds you that wounds heal and you feel tougher, bolder and braver for surviving those battle scars.

Maybe it sounds easy or even trite, but that has been one of the hardest lessons I've ever had to learn. It's one thing when the inspirational quotes you read on social media proclaim it but it's quite another when you've lived it and learned it the hard way. It's one of those lessons that you sometimes forget when you're feeling particularly crappy or when everything seems to be going wrong. Refreshers are necessary. But when you learn to fight for yourself, all those fears and niggling what-ifs don't seem as calamitous.

In terms of love, I am what most people would call a romantic. A dreamer. In that I also feel a kinship with Angelique. Dealing with a significant other who struggles with persistent self-doubt and fear is not easy - even more so when you both share similar afflictions. And knowing that the other person's struggles could trigger yours and lead to both of you sinking into a state of panic and no longer communicating, it's pretty terrifying. So I understand why Angelique originally wanted to give up on the relationship - only too well actually. Sometimes it's easier to give up than to risk the possibility of having something amazing go completely to shit. Giving up is seductively reassuring that way. But I absolutely love that Angelique changed her mind and that she decided their love was worth fighting for. They both learned that when the anxiety and pressure gets to be too much, they can flee it together, rather than running away from each other. That last scene was the perfect ending in my book.

I don't normally write film reviews on the blog and I wouldn't necessarily classify this as a typical review per se, but because of my own experiences, personal and romantic, and some that I've been dealing with until very recently, I just connected with this film too much not to talk about it. I think part of the reason I enjoyed this movie so much is one of the reasons why I enjoy Charlotte Stein's novels: It's important for us to know that even if we're flawed, fearful, anxious, and self-conscious, even if we have a really hard time believing it sometimes, we're always worthy of love. And it reminds us to believe that there's someone just as fucked up out there who fits us in all the ways that matter.


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