Nora Ephron might have slightly ruined my adult expectations of love and romance. When Harry met Sally. You’ve got mail. It wasn’t just Nora. There were other culprits. They wrote movies like Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, Love Actually. And then came the YA novels. Meg Cabot and (please don’t judge too harshly) Stephanie Meyer unknowingly scripted my tween and teenage expectations of men, boys, and romance.
In high school, my friends and I loved nothing better than to fantasize about meeting The One. In life, we were smart, driven, accomplished well-rounded. A college admission counselor’s wet dream. In love, we were idiots. Naïve, inexperienced idiots. We spent most high school weekends in someone’s living room, eating cookie dough and watching romantic comedies. Fantasizing about the days our “real lives” would begin. We weren’t exactly what you’d call cool or popular. But looking back, I miss those days and those happy, hopeful girls. They hadn’t yet learned that real life rarely resembles a movie.
The story of my real-life true love would not be interesting to watch on a screen. Our relationship began in flirtatious fits and starts in college, slowly evolving into a committed partnership based on mutual respect. Yawn. Now that we’re “grown-ups,” the questions I get from nosily well-meaning girlfriends and female relatives have changes from, “So, like, are you guys, like, exclusive?” to “So when is he going to propose?” and “Are you upset that he hasn’t asked you yet?” and — the worse one — ”So when did you know he was THE ONE?” Because here is the awful, awful truth: I still don’t know. Not for sure, anyway. I’m still ruined. I can’t turn off my inner-rom-com. I can stifle it, yes. I know that a real partnership beats shallow puppy-love. I know. But is he the one? I love him, but sometimes he drives me absolutely insane, and I find myself thinking, this fight over the needlessly loud TV volume never would have happened in Pretty Woman. Bradley Cooper would never snap at his leading lady.
At the same time, there are the unexpectedly amazing parts – the parts you don’t see in movies. Like when we’re drinking coffee together, just talking about who knows what, and suddenly I’m aware that my cheeks hurts from smiling and laughing, and I’ve scooted forward in my chair without realizing it, because talking to him is just so, so fun. I know, that sounds stupid, but it’s hard to explain…our conversations are just infused with a little extra happiness that I don’t experience with other people. It’s hard to quantify. It’s silly, but there are moments like that when I step back and think, hey, I like this guy. Sometimes it’s easy to forget. Or there are times of unexpected lust. Like when he’s making fun of the gratuitous sex scenes in one of our TV shows, and leans over and jokingly gives me a sloppy-passionate TV kiss, and I’m surprised by the actual shivers that run down my spine. Moments like that aren’t shown in movies either. And yet….and yet. What if all of this goes away when I meet my actual leading man? Or worse, what if he meets another leading lady? How can any of us be sure? How can we say someone is THE ONE?
In You’ve Got Mail, while discussing the joys of autumn, the main guy writes to the girl, “I wish I could send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils.” I still swoon over this line. I’m aware that Nora wrote it, but in my heart of hearts, I wonder if there are actually people out there who say such uniquely specifically brilliant things to the girl they like.
Most days, I know I’m in love. But sometimes, when we have a fight, or I’m feeling lonely, I indulge in cruel bouts of escapism. I find myself waiting for that third act twist, where everything will suddenly fall into place, and suddenly, I’ll KNOW. When I have these Nora-inspired toxic daydreams, I can’t help but give extra meaning to every little event. I meet someone new, make brief coffee-shop eye contact and think to myself, Was that our meet-cute? Is this the one I’ve been waiting for? But I’d never act on this. I know this is my life, and I know it’s not a movie. Most times, I’m happy about that. But am I right? Are we right? I guess I won’t know until the credits roll.