Most of my life I’ve had a pretty warped idea of what love is. For once I don’t blame my parents, even though they were poor examples. I blame movies. Ever since I was old enough to understand the concept of love, I’ve been devouring impossible love stories. I think it really started the summer before my eighth grade year when my best friend and I would sneak into the family room to watch Dirty Dancing every time my mom left the house. It didn’t matter that Baby and Johnny were from different social circles, had different goals in life or were what appeared to be about 20 years apart in age, they fell in love over a very sexy dance and that was all that mattered. I was hooked.
As the years progressed, so did my love of these stories. Some Kind of Wonderful, Reality Bites, and Shag, all introduced me to the idea of falling in love with my best friend. It didn’t matter that Pudge wasn’t as skinny or as beautiful as all of her friends, she started a great friendship, the kind where they could really talk and share their hopes and dreams, and in the end, he fell for her. Eric Stoltz thought he wanted hottie Leah Thompson and poured his heart out to his awkward (yet secretly beautiful) best friend Mary Stuart Masterson. He was too blind to see what was right in front of him until it was almost too late. But, as the credits rolled and the most adorable version of “Fools Rush In” started up in the background, they strolled down the block, hand in hand, kissing in between final words. These were the movies of my teen years, and these were what I expected love to be.
Boy was I dumb.
At fifteen I met a guy who quickly became one of my best friend. He was the only person in the world who I really thought “got me.” We spent hours walking around our tiny subdivision whispering our secrets to each other. In a few short months, I knew him better in some ways than his oldest friend. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have paste eating stories or field trip vomiting vignettes to remind him of at inappropriate moments, I really felt like I knew his heart. I was sure I loved him. Unfortunately, he was sure he loved my best friend. I didn’t let this bother me. I thought of the long suffering Mary Stuart and kept right on being his friend. I encouraged him in everything, was always there to lend a shoulder or hand and kept up our late night walks. I knew we were destined for each other.
Only it didn’t work out like it was supposed to. He didn’t hand me the diamond earrings that were really meant for me all along. We danced quite a bit, but that was at prom, and I didn’t even get a good night kiss, just a late night cheeseburger with several other friends. Worse than that, our relationship ended up strongly resembling Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke’s after she starts dating Ben Stiller. Only he was the one dating someone else and still hurling cruel words at me.
We ended our friendship in my dorm room a few years later when he came to visit one weekend. I’m not sure how the fight escalated so quickly, but I remember him screaming that I needed him and me screaming I didn’t. No more quirky trials to fling us back together so we could finally find that love that had been there all along. I didn’t get my happy ending. The movies had lied to me.
I didn’t give up though. I dove head first into relationships, always expecting the grand gestures my flicks had taught me about, and always being let down by love in daily life. It wasn’t until my marriage crumbled that I realized the unrealistic expectations I was putting on everyone I loved.
I still watch my romances, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a thing for period pieces these days: Nicholas Nickelby, Pride and Prejudice, and I Capture the Castle. It’s easier to distance myself from these. That’s probably the same reason I still love bubble gum romances like Clueless, Drive Me Crazy and Can’t Hardly Wait. I’m not 17 anymore and they are too nostalgic to put false hope into my head.
It took me awhile, but I think I’ve finally got this love thing down. Although the movie worthy proposal I got a few years back sometimes sends my expectations soaring and I find myself waiting for five dozen roses to be delivered to my classroom after a fight, one for each minute we were mad at each other.