This is where I shamefully admit to spending more time in bookstore aisles looking for cute girls than actually looking for a book. Where I admit I was hoping to find someone in the same aisle as some of my favorite authors or to be asked even just once by someone to reach a book or, watching someone trying to reach for one, catching her before she falls or catching the book before it fell on her. This is why I would frequent the same coffee shops over and over, obsessively dissecting the daily conversations with the same barista over and over, wondering if this coffee shop banter was actually the script to true love. You didn’t have to convince me that the love of my life was out there; I was hyper-aware of that reality and was spending unhealthy amounts of time trying to figure out how to construct my schedule in the best way possible for us to finally meet in some cute way. Is it so much to ask for a few clumsy girls to fall in front of me every now and then?
I wanted so much for my actual relationships to mirror the ones I read about in comics and literature or saw on television or film. I placed so much pressure on just the ‘how’ of relationships that at times I lost sight of the ‘who’ or the ‘why’. Though I would become seriously involved in online dating, even paying for some services that promised better results, I placed much less credence and importance on these relationships because I felt I did not want my ultimate story of love, especially as a self-proclaimed romantic and lover of love, to be one that started and ended online. Even in the darkest days of despair and loneliness I still held out for what I believed was a love much more worthy of effort and attention, one that had enough of a captivating plotline to be able to tell stories about to our friends, to our families, at our wedding, and to our children. In my naiveté I confused correlation with causation. The love stories I consumed from pop culture were indeed all characterized and begun from meet-cutes, but for almost purely and strictly entertainment and economic reasons, not out of necessity or formula for success.
I think part of the reason why I and so many others like me place so much emphasis on meet-cutes, and why they work so well commercially, is because of who we are as a society. Human beings are creatures of habit. We naturally seek patterns and justifications from the chaos that surrounds us. The human mind naturally operates on certain cognitive biases. Two of which are 1) the necessity to recognize patterns and 2) the desire to create meaning.
See, patterns are appealing, both visually and cognitively. When we (seemingly) find patterns in our life it helps us act faster and predict outcomes more accurately. This is why we oft times erroneously believe that if the pattern we see most is ‘meet-cute, fall in love, happily ever after, we try so hard to recreate or capture the first step to better ensure the next. We see so many times how couples who share cute stories of how they met and bonded almost instantaneously live longer, happier, more lasting lives of love and bliss. Even further, since we’ve seen so many examples of meet-cutes already, we can even go to the same lengths like I did to try and ‘set up’ the most favorable conditions for it to happen. Maybe for every bookstore aisle I camped out in, somewhere in the world there actually was a young girl, hopelessly seeking love, constantly tripping and falling or dropping her books on purpose. And even though both of us would have been in that situation under completely false pretenses, you know that if we had met, the two of us would have created that sense of fate, sensing the pattern of success, and knew, with the story secured, we would fall in love and be together forever.
The other thing about our biases is how we seek justification and meaning from the events in our lives. If we had to live in a reality where there was truly naught but chaos, we would be thrown into despair. We need to believe that there are reasons, some unknown forces and machinations that are driving the events of our lives and the people we encounter. In the vast unforgiving and uncaring expanse of the universe if everything we do truly amounts to nothing to no one, we would lose all hope, all purpose. So we cling, in whatever form, in whatever way or discipline, to the hope that there is some meaning, some design, for us. In some crazy twist then, not only do meet-cutes help predict love, but we can use love to justify our meet-cutes. We can say ‘oh it must have been fate, we must be together, this must be love’ because through the cosmological astronomical odds we found each other under the most unique of ways. Though we know we may live in a world devoid of reason, we convince ourselves to believe there was a reason why we had to meet under the circumstances.
That’s why meet-cutes speak to us. Why as overused and as prevalent of a device it may be, we never tire of it. Instead we just keep getting more and more creative with how we use it and how we frame it. It is familiar and comfortable territory that encourages us to hope. In one of my favorite examples in the manga Love Hina, the main male and female characters, independent of each other, choose to take a little escape from their daily lives by visiting a nearby resort. They bump into each other, but in the course of the accident break each other’s glasses, and spend the day literally blinded to the person in front of them as they become increasingly closer and partake in more and more romantic activities. In Love Actually the character of Martine falls in love with, and eventually in return is loved by, the British Prime Minister. In all technical aspects perhaps the most powerful man in Britain and how does an assistant get to meet or even make an impression on him? By being so adorably flustered by meeting him that she starts a string of expletives in his presence. Cue: Awwww. And if you think meet-cutes are relegated only to the realm of fiction: think again. Grace Goodhue, President Calvin Coolidge’s wife, first saw him when she was outside the school where she worked watering flowers. Across the street was a boarding house where she saw a man in nothing but long underwear and a top hat shaving. Her laughter alerted the man (Coolidge) and he simply tipped his hat to her and kept shaving. Smooth. These seemingly random, undeniably adorable, alluringly simple meetings promise us the potential for a lifetime of love and happiness. It’s only natural that we unnaturally place such emphasis on them.
But the reality is, if a meet-cute was all it took to guarantee lasting bliss, I’d be with Beautiful right now. There’s no story in my life more captivating than the one I created with her. But it just doesn’t work that way, and maybe that’s a good thing. Meet-cutes are fun stories, but they’re just that: stories. They don’t promise anything or necessarily guarantee what may come next. They are an added special feature to real relationships but they don’t make any better or worse for it. I still sometimes wonder, of the many wonderful, attractive, interested women I’ve met through online dating, if any could have, if not been ‘the one’, at least been ‘one longer’ if I wasn’t so caught up on trying to figure out how to explain to family and friends how we met. The numbers don’t lie: in 2005 only 44% of Americans thought online dating was a good way to meet a potential partner. That number jumped to 59% in 2015. That’s more than half the country now. The stigma of online dating, of which I was so concerned about, has also decline. In 2005 29% of Americans thought that those who used online dating were ‘desperate’. Online daters would be happy to know that in 2015 that number was only 23%. If you’re single, the odds are in your favor. There are currently an estimated 54 million single people in the US right now. Of those, 49 million have said they have tried, or are trying, online dating. Despite what your well-meaning but very paranoid grandmother might tell you, the majority of people online are not actually just all men. There is a fairly promising split, 52:49 men to women. If you’re looking to tie the know and settle down, consider that it normally takes only 18 months for couples who met online to decide to get married. Compare that to couples who met offline who took an average length of 42 months. Let’s face it, as much as we might amuse ourselves with meet-cute stories and hope we have one ourselves, more and more people are beginning to realize that the relationship itself is more important. Two people looking for love need to find ways to meet each other, and even just an hour online can give us access to hundreds of potential mates. We couldn’t bump into that many people or accidentally trip in front of that many people in day without sustaining some serious potentially permanent injuries. There’s no benefit in placing this unrealistic expectation or requirement on our relationships that dictates how and where and when we meet. The most important thing is to meet the person. Embellish it as much as you want, the fact of the matter is the truth remains and will always be, boy meets…
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