I first met the girl, who I would come to call Beautiful, in college. It was my freshman year and I was still trying on different clubs, trying to find a home for me. Clubs were much more important to me in college because I was a commuter student and if I was left to my own devices, I’d be home right after classes ended. I wanted college to feel different from high school; I wanted to be able to socialize and feel part of a personal, rather than just academic, community. As it happens there was already a very large and very tight-knit club on campus for Filipino students. I didn’t feel welcome, lost in the machinations of a campus titan. But there was a smaller, newer, just starting to bud Chinese Student Association, and the upperclassmen recruiting that day assured me that the name didn’t necessarily also imply enrollment requirements. So I went on the first Wednesday of September, to my very first meeting of CSA. And there I met, or rather saw, Beautiful for the first time. It was easy to tell that she was new as well. Her excitement to be there was one of curiosity and investigation rather than of familiarity and reunion. She had this brown messenger bag with an Eeyore pin and I felt in that moment I could live forever just watching her. As old and new members began arriving the conversations picked up and became livelier. It was natural then, based on demographic, that the conversations also began to stray to what was for them a much more natural and comfortable tongue: Chinese. I started to feel left out again, and as a very quiet and reserved kid in high school, this was all the same anxieties just coming back to haunt me. As a joke, I went up to the whiteboard and drew a large perforated border about two desks wide. On the inside I wrote in big bold letters ‘The I Don’t Speak Chinese Zone’ and I waited to see if anyone would come over. Only one person did. Her. She had long, beautiful, midnight black hair that fell down her face like dark ocean waves.
‘I guess I’ll join you too!’
‘Okay, easy now’ I thought to myself, ‘let’s not get too carried away here.’
Yes, easier said than done. Let’s not get carried away by the infinite glimmering depths of her hazel almond eyes. Let’s not get carried away by the warm flush of red that painted her cheeks and framed her smile. Let’s not get carried away as the room, once so full of foreign noise, was suddenly quiet, in this little sanctuary I’ve carved, that only the two of us now inhabit.
‘I’m so glad you did that,’ the loud buzzing in my ear seemed to say, ‘to be honest my Chinese isn’t really good enough to talk to the other guys here.’
I think I said something witty here. Because I remember her laughing.
I don’t remember much of the classes I took freshman year. But I do remember going to the mall with Beautiful to have takeout Chinese, our favorite guilty pleasure. And spending afternoons lying back to back under the big tree at the Quad. Giving her piggy back rides across campus. Staying on campus til 2am because I didn’t want to leave her (she was a dorm student) and driving home in the middle of the night still thinking of her.
This must be how fate works. This must be our meet-cute. One day, I’ll tell my children of this story. How I met the love of my life when I was just some fresh-faced college student, in a club where I didn’t belong, finding someone else who felt like an outsider.
Or it could have been all the other stories I’d had before or after Beautiful. I thought, again because of what I was taught or conditioned to expect, that all relationships began with an origin story worth repeating. Having little to no real life experience to inform me, I did what I was taught to do. I absorbed external examples to inform my decisions and expectations until I could come up with my own. And what I had absorbed taught me two very fundamental things. The first was that love at first sight is real and possible and necessary. The second is that one day your children are going to ask how you two met and you damn well better have a captivating story. True love was sight and story.
The best story was of course, the meet-cute. Finding each other paired up in a club. Buying only pajama bottoms and meeting someone buying only pajama tops. The meet-cute is a commonly used, perhaps overused, trope of all great romances and romantic comedies. It is the characteristically funny, entertaining, sometimes ironic way that two people meet that inevitably leads to their falling helplessly completely head over heels in love with each other. All because of how they met. You’ve seen this before. A nerdy, unassuming, deceptively bland but excessively overworked young assistant is rushing to a meeting when she bumps into the sophisticated, charming, and mature director of the company, spilling her perilously loose papers all over the floor. As they both reach down to start gathering them maybe their heads bump, and her glasses are knocked off, and her hair is for some unknown reason let down. The bland assistant becomes the demure beauty and the director is taken aback as he grabs the glasses and gently places them back on her head.
The meet-cute is a convenient, effective, and efficient way to elevate the beginning of a love story and introduce drama, comedy, or conflict. Sometimes, rather than discovering each other’s hidden beauty or being attracted to each other’s similarities, meet-cutes can be constructed from conflict. One of my favorite examples of this is in the uber-example of 90s culture, You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks plays the heir-apparent to his father’s vast bookstore empire and meets Meg Ryan when his company opens across from the quaint, intimate, independent bookstore her mother first opened and she now runs. In person they are enemies but, unknowingly to either party, online they exchange emails and advice on life, love, and work. If love can be as simple as boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, there is no story, no intrigue, no interest. Meet-cutes give us a foil to create substance from familiar tales.
And that’s how I framed the relationships of my life. That’s how I recognized the possibilities of love. When I was a freshman in high school this unbearably cute girl came up to me and asked me what my name was. She was short and had these full adorable cheeks and a bright orange jacket. I told her my name, and she said ‘oh, okay’ and she punched me in the arm and ran away. My sophomore year, she was my girlfriend, and she was still punching me in the arm every time we met up. My senior year of high school I did an internship shadowing an English teacher. In her homeroom was a very quiet, very serious looking girl with glasses and arm-length fingerless gloves. I was friendly with most every one of the teacher’s students but this one in particular remained aloof and standoffish. I then saw that same freshman in the club I was in, and when I went off to college and the freshman became a senior in charge of the club, she was asking me to come back and help out on a regular basis. We dated for a bit, and when asked about our earliest memories of each other, I told her of the serious girl with the funny looking gloves and she told me of the ‘senior who smelled really, really good’ (cologne). And if I couldn’t naturally have a good meet-cute story, I tried to fabricate my own.
Word count so far: 2729