…And they lived happily ever after

Today marks the anniversary of the day when, 10 years ago, my high school sweetheart asked me to be his girlfriend. He was about to take his SAT that week, and I, in the smoothest fashion, gave him a kiss “for luck.”

That’s what prompted it, really. I like to pride myself on that fact, because I’m a classic introvert who prefers not to make the first move. Not in this case. That move was mine.

This memory probably wouldn’t seem significant if I failed to mention that we’ve consequently spent these past 10 years madly in love, he eventually also asked me to marry him, and we had a decidedly perfect fairy tale wedding. We wrote our own vows. I threw the bouquet backwards into the hollow of a light fixture like an intentional trick shot. There were fat little polymer clay birds on the cake.

But no good fairy tale begins without darkness, and that’s why I call him my sunshine.

You could say that luck worked out for us both. “Lucky” is a term we collectively tend to ascribe to these uncommonly fortuitous situations, but that’s only part of the story. Devotion, passion, a willingness to grow up and grow together, and casually flipping off any “obstacle” like temporary long distance also worked out for us.

People have also said, “Wow, that’s so rare.” And they’re not wrong. I’ve heard young love is a flint and tinder that strikes only fleeting sparks, that the flames that do burn die fast.

Yet here we are.

There’s a fictional trope called insta-love, in which a romantic relationship between characters begins with “love at first sight” or some melodramatic variation thereof. They just met, but their destinies are intertwined! They must be together forever! They would die for each other! (Romeo & Juliet come to mind as the ultimate paragon of insta-love, but guys, I’m pretty sure Shakespeare had the jump on us all by satirizing the trope before the term ever officially existed, as Shakespeare was wont to do.)

The trope is considered unrealistic, for good reason. But if my 10-year relationship is also considered rare — really just another word for “unrealistic” — where does that leave me? Do I exist in some unseen plane of reality far from the mortal coil? Am I a robot? EXPLAIN PLEASE.

The problem is, readers are quick to stick the “insta-love” label on fictional relationships even when they’re not — they’re just perceived as unrealistic, like mine. Sometimes, the problem is our inability to consider the possible. We cannot move beyond our own limited definitions of love to understand the many, many kinds of love that we haven’t experienced or witnessed firsthand.

Next time you pull the “insta-love” card, ask yourself why. Is it because the characters are underdeveloped? Is there little basis for romantic attraction? Is it because Love Interest A compares the eyes of Love Interest B, upon their very first meeting, to microcosms of untouched galaxies within which (s)he must spend eternity exploring?

Or is it because you’re seeing what you want to see, and refuse to accept the alternative: that these characters actually have every reason to fall in love?

Maybe dating culture is partly to blame for our skepticism. Some people seeking partnerships can go about looking for them in the wrong ways. They look for the “right” kind of man, the “ideal” kind of woman. Active dating is inherently a process of judging, classifying, scrutinizing. One might seek commonalities in a potential partner above all else, when maybe someone with entirely divergent interests would be much better for that particular person.

There is too much focus on finding a partner with qualities that seemingly align with our requirements, when focusing on an alignment of goals will be more beneficial in the long run. We ask, “What kind of person are you? What can you do for me?” Not, “What are our needs, desires, and goals? Can they coexist and function well together?”

People are never static and always imperfect. The truest kind of bond does not come from meeting someone so great, you hope they never change. It is not about possession or manipulation. It is looking at the one you love and saying, “I love you for all that you are and all that you have been. I understand you, and I am recognizing you. And you will change, and I will love you then, too.”

It is strange, transcendent, and yes, rare. So it can be difficult to write convincingly.

In my novel, there’s a couple of characters who become romantically involved under dire circumstances: they’re going to die, and there’s nothing they can do about it. They haven’t known each other personally very long, but they decide they are, really and truly, in love. They don’t claim the extreme that they would die for each other — but they’ll die with each other, because at least they’ll be beside someone they love and care about deeply.

Conveying a real and powerful relationship is a challenge, but that’s the kind of love story I’m interested in telling. It’s the kind, after all, I’m living.

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