In the delightful French romantic comedy Romantics Anonymous, Jean-René is the owner of a small and failing chocolate company. He is afraid of just about everything—especially women. Angélique is a gifted chocolate maker who stopped making chocolate for another company because she feared being acknowledged for her immense talent. Angélique goes to work for Jean-René, but only as a saleswoman.
Jean-René is in therapy for his emotional difficulties; at the advice of his psychiatrist he asks Angélique out to dinner. The two are immediately attracted to each other, but Jean-René is crippled by his fears. While at dinner Jean-René keeps getting up every few minutes to change his shirt in the bathroom, thinking that would quell his fears. Finally, unable to cope with his busy mind, he climbs out the bathroom window of the restaurant and leaves Angélique stranded.
Jean-René doesn’t realize it, but is he is suffering from nothing more than a busy mind. He believes he is incompetent in romantic relationships because for years he has simply treated every frightening thought about women as a valid interpretation of reality. His mind is so busy with distorted thinking that there is no room for any other thoughts. He can’t seem to turn away from his anxious thoughts because ignoring them seems impossible and too risky. After all, like so many of us, Jean-René believes his thoughts and feelings are generated by the circumstances he is in. What if he is wrong?
Despite his inability to turn away from his frightening thoughts, the romance continues to blossom. When they finally have intimate relations, Jean-René again panics and leaves Angélique. When he finally comes to his senses, it is too late; Angélique has left.
With his psychiatrist, Jean-René tries to rationalize his loss. “Phew,” he exclaims. “Why do you say that?” asks the psychiatrist. “You don’t love her?” “No,” replies Jean-René, “I love her madly. I never felt this way before.” “Then why do you say phew?” asks the psychiatrist. Jean-René responds, “Fear of love and its problems; relationship anxiety.”
Love seems to be lost, but the small staff at his chocolate company intervenes. They insist that they will take Jean-René to Angélique and that he will make the situation right. They get into the car and drive to Angélique’s apartment, but Jean-René will not get out of the car. His staff asks him what he is afraid of? He replies, “I’m afraid of pretty much everything.”
Jean-René is paralyzed because his frightening thoughts look to him like more than thinking, they look like an objective external reality that would be foolish to ignore. Thinking generates feelings, and feeling can be felt in the body. For Jean-René, the strength of his fearful feelings reinforced the idea that he is suffering from his circumstances. Yet, it is not his circumstances but his busy mind that processes the same thoughts over and over again.
Jean-René is everyman, and Angélique is everywoman. We all have personal thought patterns that we have honored for many years. These patterns generate anxiety, worry, and fear in all of us. When we honor the thought pattern and repeatedly process our thinking, we turn what would be just a passing thought into something more—into something that seems very real. We have the first fearful thought, we engage that thought, and we add on more thoughts: “What does this thought mean about me” “How can I fix these circumstances and relieve myself of these feelings?” The busier our minds, the more we think about the issue, and the more “the issue” seems real.
Jean-René runs away, or he changes his shirt. We may do the same; or we may play videogames, shop, drink, or eat excessively. In the movie, Jean-René’s behavior is farcical, but so is ours. He can’t see it, but neither can we. In truth, there is nothing wrong with any of us other than a head full of thoughts that we take seriously.
Finally, Jean-René realizes it is white-knuckle time. He has to face his thinking. He follows Angélique to a meeting of emotions anonymous and admits, “I would do anything to face my emotions.”
In truth, there is nothing for Jean-Rene to do other than to not take his thinking as a true representation of reality. The noise in his head, telling him otherwise, may continue for some time; but even while the noise is in his head, he can refuse to turn in its direction. In the interim, Jean-René makes the choice to pay no mind to his dysfunctional thinking. Jean-René is ready to let his thinking be and to get on with his life. Jean-René confesses his love to Angélique.
Angélique: “My stomach is growling.”
Jean-René: “I like the sound.”
Angélique: “I have clammy hands.”
Jean-René: “I don’t mind.”
The antidote for his misery is to not mind the crazy thoughts in his head. Initially, Angélique and Jean-René may not be able to change their thinking, but all is well. Jean-René (we all) can’t fight the thinking in his (our) head with better thoughts. The antidote for a busy mind is not trying to drown it out; the antidote is simply to remember that we are being frightened only by our thinking.
To find peace and joy, Jean-René had to look away from what he thought he knew; he had to trust what would arise if he got his thinking out of the way. We can all learn his lesson.