My childhood seemed to pass in a haze of Cary Grant’s velvety intonations; there seemed to me to be a constant stream of classic films, and therefore classic men, playing in the background of my youth. The drama in these films has hence left me inclined to black and white daydreams of meet-cutes in European towns (think eating ice cream cones with Gregory Peck a la Roman Holiday). The romances in these movies happen as a result of unlikely circumstances, or against all odds, and there is something about the impossibility of these occurrences which emphasize their romance. While I know my love life will most likely be a result of an intriguing OkCupid profile or the subtle flirtations with a coworker (and there is nothing wrong with this), there is a part of me holding out for the man I will meet when we both reach for the same Fitzgerald novel, as disgustingly sappy as that might sound. Until our hands brush and the inevitable electrifying eye contact is made, I have resolved into a habit of falling in love with almost everyone I see. (When this gets old, I think I will just stand next to attractive guys at Half Price Books, waiting for them to lift an arm so I can mirror their movements.)
I see someone striking, and regardless of our non-relationship I imagine a future, their home life, their favorite book followed by their favorite vacation followed by their least-favorite food. I’m convinced everyone must do this, even if they only take a second to wonder about the human standing next to them. It’s not always romantic, either, although it often is, and usually I see the strangers forming a temporary cast in my life as fodder for future stories and inspiration. We pass through each other’s moments all the time, and yet never stop to say “Here I am.” I fall in love with those people that take a moment to sit at a table close to mine, as we decide to mutually occupy space together. Here we are, and in the five feet between our booths there is an unlimited amount of potential energy, a pull towards each other that we have become extremely adept at ignoring.
At Panera, the man that takes my order is in his twenties. I imagine that he finds my indecision with the menu charming. “How delightful she is! It is just her kind of fumbling lack of resolve in terms of soups that I’ve been looking for in a girl!” He has a boyish face, the kind of face I would love to bring home to my mother as a first boyfriend. We would watch movies together and geek out over Harry Potter, and he would nervously stumble into a messy kiss after our first date. Everything about him screams safe, but he is not the man I will marry. No, he would be a good first boyfriend—his roundness and easy smile tell me that much. We will fight about how he isn’t serious enough or how my expectations for him are unreasonable. We will watch movies and geek out together, but his desire to settle down and my yearning for Someplace Else will stifle our chemistry.
“I think I will have a bowl of…”
Sometimes it’s the man on the train. He is certainly not for me, but if I was perhaps ten years older and more cultured, I could be the sort of olive-skinned woman worthy of this man. His eyes are round, his leathery skin stretches across a wide-nostrilled nose. His cheeks sag underneath long-lashed and naturally lined eyes. The fullness and voluptuous curve of his lips offer an instinctual feeling that they could easily make you forget your problems, at least for a little while. For a second, I picture myself moving across the aisle and kissing him square on the lips, but the vision flits away quickly. He gets off at the next stop, and while a part of you wants to follow him from a distance (for maybe a block or two, or maybe forever), you remain seated in vineyard reveries.
He’s the customer that laughs at your stupid jokes as you ring him out. His sense of humor sells it—the fact that he cracked a smile at your lame pun means you obviously have a lot in common already. Forget the fact that you may have nothing else in common, this is real love. This is the boy with whom you will spend evenings doing nothing and simultaneously everything. The conversation will tangle and unravel for hours as you both watch the sun pass over the shades in your room. His eyes light up when he speaks of Nietzsche, and this glimmer in his pupils convinces you that love is Real and alive in this room, never mind that you haven’t read the philosopher since your freshman intro class. Time passes not with the hands of a clock, but with the comfortable lulls in conversation as you both doze off. You look at his perhaps too-long hair and stubbly shadow, and you clumsily pile his purchases into a bag, reddening.
I fall in love constantly. Sometimes I worry this detaches me from the present and from actually talking to people, but then I have yet to find a compelling reason not to try to fall in love with everyone I meet. A little fancy never hurt anyone—and besides, sometimes I do ask for more, I ask the waiter what he recommends, or inquire for directions from the handsome foreigner, or nudge the customer into sharing more laughter with me. There is something magical about somehow including myself in their story, too, as if a single brush of our fingers as I pass a plastic bag across the counter could show each of us our possible future, in every beautiful, painful, and dreamlike moment.