I remember when I thought that Allie and Noah of The Notebook were an ideal couple. I know, I know, I’m terrible. But there was something about them that just seemed slightly magical, in a way that was attainable and relatable to my own life. They were beautiful movie stars with storybook backgrounds and a guaranteed happy ending, but I could recognize some of my own life and teenage relationships in what they did. When I was 16, that insane-overwhelming-young-love thing was all that mattered. It was the only kind of love that really existed. And one of the things that made them so perfect, in my mind, was that they fought all the time. They were able to get under one another’s skin and move the other to action, in a way that often seemed too intense. Hell, in some scenes, Allie was hitting him in the face out of frustration and anger. They melted into a kiss, of course, but their love was passionate.
For a long time after seeing that movie, I thought that being with someone who made me angry — someone with whom I fought as passionately as I loved — was the only real sign of connection. I took someone who upset and frustrated me as an indicator that they understood me in some fundametal way that others didn’t, that they had a key to my heart that could only be opened by anger in joy in equal measure. For a long time, I passed right by all of the better people who treated me universally well because I assumed that without those bursts of passionate dispute, there was no real love there. I found myself even creating arguments out of thin air just to recreate the magic, to find that sign that they got to me enough to be right for me. Of course, The Notebook isn’t the only source of this misconception. We’re taught every day that people who really love each other can get under one another’s skin, that movie just happens to encapsulate the theme better than most.
Watching it now, I mostly feel empathy for the James Marsden character.
These signs that we learn to take, though, these spectrums through which we look at other people, relationships, and ourselves — they’re everywhere. We read horoscopes and find ourselves reflected in them against our better judgment. We watch movies and read books and try to fit their narrow storylines into the complex goings-on of a real life. We try to find a Mr. Darcy, or move to New York City because we’ve heard from so many places that it’s romantic, that it’s a good place to fall in love. We allow ourselves to get so wrapped up in the story of it all that we forget that we’re actively creating our own — that we’re not going to be defined by the way two characters lived things out. We’re not here to be looking for signs the way a kid tries to decode a message on the back of his cereal box to mail in for a prize. It doesn’t work like that.
Yet we often wait for signs, for the right moment, for the way we belive things are supposed to look — so much so that we miss our actual opportunities. There aren’t any fairy tales that say “Hey, you’re going to build a really difficult but ultimately satisfying life every day, and there aren’t going to be any magical twist endings.” And we’re so used to looking for that twist ending that when we’re actually just happy with someone in a stable, continuous way, we think there must be something wrong. There is an itch that has to actively be fought off, one that wonders when the other shoe is going to drop. There is always the expectation that with that perfect person, perfect job, perfect city, there is going to be a feeling of completion and achievement that we’ll only experience if we get it exactly right.
But these stories and horoscopes and myths and predictions about our future are only bound to disappoint us. They are encourage us to ignore the more beautiful, subtle, continually fulfilling things around us because they don’t provide all the excitement and danger that we believe we should be looking for. We are raised on tropes of Prince Charming and Mr. Darcy and Noah and falling in love under the Eiffel Tower, and end up feeling unsatisfied by the far more precious stories that develop in our own lives. If we are comparing ourselves to a fairy tale, we are bound to fall short. Because there is no story complex, or nuanced, or honest enough to compare to our actual lives. There are no magical signs to be looking out for which override the judgment and responsibility we take on every day. There is no love that will be a thrilling, ever-changing roller coaster every day of our lives. It’s probably better that way, though — after all, who would be good enough for Prince Charming anyway?