Uncapitalized, sure, 'romance' kinda refers to, yeah, valentine hearts and bouquets of red roses and love letters and walks on the beach and sitting in front of fireplaces and whatnot. Or that's how I think of it, anyway--it seems to be the agreed-upon definition, and because, although there are many words for many kinds of love and affection, I'm not sure there's another that exactly expresses this kind of stuff. (I think it was Margaret Atwood who said something like 'The Eskimos have fifty words for snow. We should have as many for love.' And, yeah, polysynthetic Eskimo-Aleut languages aside, it's a beautiful sentiment.)
I'm not much of a romantic. (I'm not much of a Romantic either--more a Realist or a Rationalist or something.) And I've learned, often painfully, that romance, either the giving or the receiving of it, isn't one of my strong suits, and that people for whom romance is important will probably not be happy in a relationship with me. Which is a big drag, since it's not like I have any beef with romance, and because people who appreciate romance often have many wonderful qualities.
My experience with romance has been when a guy is thoughtful and/or remembers a small detail that shows how much he really cares. Those special moments tell me that I am the one he wants to give his attention to. That I am or as a couple we are special in some way.
Receiving flowers is nice but a flowering plant, say miniature roses, that he might give, the day you move in together, one that you can both love and nurture together, is romantic. It's that extra thoughtfulness or sentiment that makes that gift romantic.
It's about intimacy; about being close to each other.
I don't think specifically of romantic love, unless that's the context where it's brought up. I think of romance as the beautiful things in life, things we can do for other people, things we can experience and enjoy.
I think of candles, wine, and a bath. But maybe that's just romance novels.
For real-life romance, I think of my first boyfriend who always traded me nickels for quarters because I liked quarters so much.
And how I met a different boyfriend on a bridge when we both traveled to Paris from our respective countries. Walking across the bridge waiting to see him was so exciting.
My guy thinks it's great when I leave all my spare change on the dresser. That's because he's a miser (his own words), and I'm not. So, the fact that I leave my spare money lying around for him to collect is nice, he says.
Personally, I totally agree with MonkeyButter. He remembers the things that matter to me. Back and foot rubs when I need them. Sigh. He got me this wonderful anatomy for artist's book for my birthday that I really, really wanted. He got a better deal on it than I could have, too. :)
We haven't ever really gotten to take a trip together where there weren't kids or other family involved, and those things interfere with the romantic factor as far as I'm concerned. If we ever do get to take such a trip, you know, a Honeymoon, then I might have some comments about that.
So, I guess my ending comment on romance with a small 'r' is that it is a totally individual thing. What is romantic to me may not apply to anyone else and vice versa.
Romance means many things to me, but the aspect of romance that charms me most is the way stupid or accidental shit becomes not just something to laugh at between lovers, but serious bedrock for their love to build on.
That little scar on her arm from the first time I met her, when I backed up on a full beer bottle which toppled and exploded and sent glass flying that cut her on the arm and left a crescent moon scar by which she can remember me always. Those stupid word games, the contents of which do not bear repeating, that occupied hours while we waited for the train to take us to her parents'. Those hours spent pretending to nap, nigh trembling from proximity or maybe fear, before "waking up" and looking at each other, both of us thinking, what a pair of fools, we could've been making out for three extra hours before that first kiss.
These aren't good examples because I'm having a hard time remembering love right now, but romance is like soul; it's somewhere between what you know in your heart and what you show to your lover; it's usually a small gap but it's like a clown car for all the things that can come out of it.
I think romance of the type you're referring to (as opposed to the humanities connotation of "romance") results from attentiveness, an intention to create additional beauty, joy, or pleasure. That intention can take many forms - walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, surprise gifts, whatever - but all the forms share one thing: an impetus to enhance the experience of the present moment and heighten its meaning and import for you and another person or people.
For us, it's the little things, I guess. Dinners out alone are always nice, but it's the unexpected things that are the best remembered. Flowers delivered to my job - I love that. The one time he took me on a Sunday drive to a cemetery he'd found while doing work stuff. He knows I love old cemeteries, he does not, but he hung out while I explored the place. Picking up things for him while I'm out, just because I think he'll like them. ANd a recent favorite: hanging out together under a thatched roof hut in a brief rain shower on the beach.