Natasha Vaynblat, a stand-up comedian, has had aliens on her mind for the last week. Consuming her, in fact, she said.
“What if aliens, like the stereotypical green guy with big black eyes, are actually just super evolved humans in the future?” Vaynblat, who also writes for NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” mused in an interview this week.
This, she said, was her Roman Empire.
If the term “Roman Empire” sounds odd in this context, that means you are either A. blessedly not as online as others or B. thinking about your own Roman Empire.
(We would also accept C. “All Of The Above.”)
For the UnRomanized, there has been Discourse online this month about the Roman Empire. It is based on a social media trend across multiple platforms revealing that a lot of men are privately obsessed with the Roman Empire. It has spurred others to ask their male counterparts: “Et tu?”
And because the internet is an endless expanse of Content, this has spurred a reverse trend, where women and nonbinary people have wanted to weigh in with their own Roman Empires, loosely defined as the topics one privately contemplates more than anyone realizes. Where is your mind meandering when no one else is around? (In one widely shared post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, a user wrote, “Someone said the female version of the Roman Empire is ‘when is the last time you thought about your ex best friend’ and uhhhhhhhhhh.”)
Being kidnapped. That video of Tom Holland lip syncing. Princess Diana. All have emerged as possibilities. There isn’t just one topic, according to Aliyah Boston, the W.N.B.A. forward: “I think about just so many different things all at once. I feel like my brain just keeps going.” Though if she had to pick one, Boston said it would be soca, a music genre related to calypso and popular in the Caribbean.
Vaynblat has multiple Roman Empires, too — the alien one and then a more serious one: motherhood.
“My constant thought is: Should I be a mother? And how many of my friends am I losing to motherhood?” Vaynblat, 36, said, adding, “My conclusion is I’m not going to be a mom and I’m just constantly trying to find somebody who agrees. A friend who will stay.”
Min Jin Lee, author of the novel “Pachinko,” described her equivalent of the Roman Empire as “Colonial America,” a subject of her college thesis.
While discussions on American colonization often focus on the harms that settlers imposed on Indigenous Americans, Lee said she’s also particularly fascinated by what she sees as another legacy of white Americans: “cultural inferiority,” which is a theme she explores more generally in her fiction. In particular, Lee said she often sees “obsequiousness” to France and England as common throughout American institutions.
“You can see it in every museum,” Lee said. “You can see in every piece of literature that anybody who gets educated in America has. And it’s a real kind of chip on their shoulder.”
Sometimes, the object of obsessive thinking is based on one’s stage of life, and the reality of living in America. Sandy Rustin, the playwright behind the Broadway comedy “The Cottage,” said she spends a lot of her private thoughts on how to stop gun violence in the United States, a result of sending multiple children to school.
“On the daily, they have drills now,” Rustin said. Her son was at a football game last week when there was a scare in the crowd that there might be someone with a gun. “It’s just part of the vernacular of our kids that we’re raising in this country right now. It’s become a norm. And I find it so deeply upsetting.”
She added, “As a solution-oriented person, it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about.”
Sanjana Curtis, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, finds herself combining her existential fascinations with a scientific background when considering her Roman Empire.
“Every day, I do think about how wild it is that we are here, that the universe exists and the whole sequence of events that happens for us to exist at all,” Curtis said.
Instead of thinking about one empire, Curtis thinks about every single one: Her research involves the origin of elements.
“I do this research because I have always been this person who needs to understand where and how everything came to be,” Dr. Curtis said, adding, “If we were to understand how we came to be, maybe we’d know how to act better every day.”
Leandra Ellis-Gaston, who performs as Anne Boleyn in the Broadway musical “Six,” thinks about location. More specifically, one location in particular. (She checked with her husband, who does not think about the Roman Empire.)
“I’m constantly actually thinking about that saying, ‘New York or nowhere,’” Ellis-Gaston, 29, said. “I’m always like, ‘Is that true or not?’ Some days I’m like, ‘It’s so real.’ It is New York or nowhere. New York is life,” she said. “Then other times I’m like, ‘I need to pack myself up in a van and take my dog and my husband and just travel the world.’”
A secondary Roman Empire for Ellis-Gaston: Beyoncé. She thinks a lot about the artist she considers “the Diana Ross of our time.” Even the Romans would agree on that one.
The preoccupation with the Roman Empire isn’t limited to men, as Ellen Adair, an actor, noted. Adair’s Roman Empire? The Roman Empire, which they think about “at least once per day.”
Adair, who is nonbinary, was recently in Europe for the London premiere of a horror film they are starring in, “Herd,” and insisted on going to Portugal to see Roman ruins. Adair’s mother is an art historian who exposed them to classical allusions growing up and references to mythology.
Adair doesn’t just think often about the Roman Empire in its heyday, but also spends time preoccupied with its collapse. After all, no empire has lasted forever.
“Are we getting to a point where we’re going to have some kind of societal collapse, whether it’s from climate change or, like, technological advances or something like that?” Adair pondered. “You know, if the human race isn’t wiped out, are we headed for a second Dark Ages? Maybe.”
They continued: “I would not be totally surprised to be a ghost in a couple of hundred years and being like, ‘Yeah, I feel like we were headed toward that.’”