A Part of the Problem

I had given up on being in a relationship, around ten or eleven years ago. I was living in Fayetteville, Arkansas at the time and all of my previous boyfriends never worked out for one reason or another. I had gotten out of another relationship, and after thinking on it for a few months I had determined that I would be one of those people who were alone for all of their lives. My personality and goals weren’t in sync with most people’s, and it was tough to find friends who understood me well enough to be close. A boyfriend was at best a long shot. It took me a few weeks, but I had begun to make my peace with it. I was actually starting to seriously consider joining a Buddhist monastery.

Then I met this guy online that I really liked on one of the role-playing MUCKs I frequent. His character had this impossibly hot body that I instantly fell in lust with, but he coupled it with a quote that stopped me cold: “Size is no guarantee of quality.” It was a warning, a set of quills that could be used to push people back. It was prickly, but in a self-deprecating way. This wasn’t the usual guy playing the usual muscle-head. I wanted to get to know him after our Internet one-night stand.

Over time I learned that he was an English major at a California university, that he had family in Arkansas that he visited whenever he could, that he wrote poetry. We shared poems, critiqued each other’s work, talked about music and books and all those things young geeks getting to know each other talked about. We were both strange and damaged people, but we actually liked rifling through each other’s baggage. We helped each other through a lot, and with every bit of dirty laundry we sorted and put away our bond got stronger.

Then came the visits — he’d come to my room in Fayetteville on his way to family holidays, and I’d go to California in the summers whenever I could afford it. Every time we visited each other, it got harder and harder to leave. After a few years of this, we decided parting wasn’t such sweet sorrow after all. I moved in with him.

We had both been in long-distance/online relationships that had fizzled, so we agreed to be careful. In a lot of ways, we had to treat this like an entirely new thing. Knowing someone primarily through the Internet is so much different from knowing who they are in real life. The adjustment was so easy it was almost non-existent. After a year and a half, Ryan proposed, and on September 27th, 2008 we were married.

I never got what a big deal marriage was until that ring was slipped on my finger in front of my closest friends. When people proposed on TV shows and in movies, I felt a vague sense of happiness, a distant reaction to this emotional beat that was played up to be momentous. I would think, “How nice for them.” But it never really affected me.

Now, every proposal nearly brings me to tears. I’m endlessly fascinated by the process of discovery, the way two people find each other, identify and look past their flaws, and decide to spend their lives together. I never get tired of watching people in love face the world together. It’s amazing. Every young couple takes me back to our courtship. Every proposal takes me back to that mountain vista where Ryan showed me my ring. Every kiss, every “I love you” is one I say to him.

And I think that’s why terrible romantic comedies persist, and why there’s way too much time devoted to courtships and marriages and babies in TV shows. Because despite the fact that most meet-cutes are trite and uninspired, or the witty banter between new couples is so tired, there’s enough of a reflection in our relationships that we overlook it. We’re comforted by it anyway. It reaffirms the bonds we have with our husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and mates. It helps us to escape right back to ourselves.

Valentine’s Day, for better or worse, is a day concentrated with all of that terrible, mushy crap. If you hate any movie with Katherine Heigl, chances are today is not really your bag either. And that’s fine — I understand. Ten years ago I would have been annoyed about today right along with you, just waiting for all of the chocolate to go on sale tomorrow.

There is no story that’s going to be all things to all people. Love stories are meant to resonate with those romantics and couples who have a bank of memories to draw on, I think, and it’s all right if that’s not there yet. It’ll come, with hope and patience.

In the meantime, allow us this little folly of rolling around in the stink of our stories and delusions about love. Let us wallow in it, fill ourselves with all of the corporate-mandated crap designed to get us to buy flowers and chocolates, go to restaurants that we would never be in otherwise. We’ll come back tomorrow, plucking rose petals and hearts from our shoulders, with an embarrassed hangover. And then you can call us saps and suckers as much as you want. I won’t argue, and I won’t deny it.

I LIKE being a sap and a sucker. Because it means that I get to have something to be sappy about.

I love you, Ryan. I’m so glad that I get to be stupid about today with you. And I’m glad that because of you, I get weepy over marriages and all of the other mass-produced pap. It’s worth it.

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