A Quick Lesson (and Rant) on Love

My senior year English teacher once stopped class to give a bunch of hopeless teenagers a lesson on love.

5a7e2641549057813d8816ac4de3d003

“Get out a piece of paper,” she said sternly, her usual intricate gray bun sitting imperiously atop her head. Her hair – as she told us – reached below her knees when she loosened it out of its bun. She never cut her hair after high school, save for a few trims, as was the Native American tradition her Pawnee grandfather had taught her. Dr. Lara was by far one of the most interesting teachers I ever had in my educational career (which is saying something, since my 50-year-old communication applications teacher once had a screaming fight with her boyfriend in the middle class over the phone). (Also I had an English teacher claim that Julius Caesar was essentially Jesus Christ because they both had the initials “J.C.” But that’s beside the point.)

“Get out a piece of paper,” she commanded, “and write down three things you look for in a romantic partner.”

I blanked for a second. What do I even look for in a person? I realized I never looked for specific traits, I was either attracted to someone or not. I never really thought about why.

…Intelligence, I wrote down. Kindness. I couldn’t think of a third. I could think of a lot of qualities, but none that I considered an Ultimate Character Trait.

49fd5f1d5beb2aa6badff204935c7ca8

“Next, write down three things that you would never want in a romantic partner. Three deal-breakers.”

Violent/brutal. I paused for a bit. Ignorant. Untrustworthy.

“Now, move your desks in a circle.” And then there was the usual cacophony of chairs scraping against carpet and backpacks shuffled about and pencils rolling off desks.

“Alright, Ms. Shankar,” (She never called us by our first names.) “Tell us what three things you look for in a romantic partner.”

Rayna (aka Ms. Shankar) smiled confidently – always the extrovert and always fiercely unembarrassed by any situation.

“I said, funny, smart, and fine af.”

There was a ripple of small smiles around the room.

c147433502cc7315336af85edc3b3645.jpg

“Most young people – teens and preteens – look for physical beauty in a significant other,” Dr. Bissett spoke carefully, “but in doing so, you can be limiting yourself from several compatible romantic partners. Additionally, as you fall in love with someone, everything associated with them – their appearance, their personality, their passions – these all become beautiful to you. So I wouldn’t worry about physical attraction as a top priority in looking for a relationship.”

“However, I do agree with your first two criteria. It is easy to share your life with someone who won’t bore you, who has the mental capacity to understand your complexities. And it is even easier to share your life with someone who has your sense of humor, who can make you laugh.”

I looked down at my piece of paper. Of course. That would complete my trifecta of Mr. Perfect’s character traits. I wrote down “sense of humor” next to “intelligence” and “kindness.”

cf5a3d970e7b8fe685847a014ea5d0db

It’s been about a year since that spring day when we were all just struggling through another class period, counting down the days until graduation. I didn’t realize then how keeping in mind a three-point criterion for a date would help my love life. But I think I get the purpose of it now. It’s helped me avoid chasing after the wrong guys or chasing after romantic notions of “this guy isn’t exactly Mr. Right, but I can change him!!” It’s helped me avoid wasting my time on kindling relationships that I know won’t work out. It’s put something concrete and objective to a very abstract, subjective thing – love. And at least for now, the organization helps. Because the rom coms, the chick flicks, and the Romeo/Juliets hardly prepared me for the reality of romance. This did.

I’ve modified my list a bit. It’s now “intelligence,” “humor,” and “compassion,” because not only do I want my S/O to be a nice person, I want him or her to be a person who cares deeply about humanity and the world.

And here’s my two cents of experience. I’ve found guys who are tear-inducingly hilarious. I’ve found guys who are arousingly smart. (Intelligence is the new sexy after all.) But I have yet to find someone truly and genuinely compassionate from the micro level of caring for a baby brother to the macro level of worldwide politics. At least, it doesn’t show itself often.

5e88b0a6e1d51cfc1e3e0f111ad8e81f

So why is this? Why isn’t a passion for kindness something that we promote in our outer personalities, something that shines out of us radiantly? Boys will make stupid jokes to catch a girl’s attention (their version of humor). Boys will show off their sharp wit and acute cleverness by cracking more stupid jokes and occasionally answering a question correctly in class (their version of intelligence). But, from my experience, few boys will go out of their way to perform a random act of kindness or stand up for someone against their friends or rail against the evils of homophobia or even simply offer their jackets when it’s cold to impress a girl. What is it about fiercely, bravely, and confidently being nice that is so scary? What is it about compassion that is so damn hard?

But I suppose it’s unfair to blame it on the male population. Looking at it all on a grander scale, the world isn’t totally short of funny people or smart people. The rarest element of all is compassion. I know my special someone will be special, because he will be compassionate. And if it took one day in a 12th grade English class to learn that, then hey, maybe my entire grade school education wasn’t a waste.

 

 

Not Another Teenage Love Story

7db336a877627b7b4e833365dc34df83

It’s hard trying to reconcile my desire to write the perfect, brutally honest, realistic, absolutely adorable, #1 New York Times bestselling, when’s-the-movie-going-to-come-out YA romance novel and my desire to not write another cliche teenage love story. Yes, it’s quite difficult because “teenage love story” is in itself a cliche, the cliche to end all cliches, the one you roll your eyes at and walk past in the bookstore unless you happen to be in the mood for that kind of cheesy stuff. The cutesy title in the cursive font with an artsy picture of a Brandy Melville model-esque white girl on the cover. Scatter in some hearts or flowers or candy and boom you’ve got yourself an entire book genre.

I know the frustration, because I am a cynic when it comes to the YA romance section. I hate how easy love is portrayed. You see someone across the room and you know. You bump into him/her around town and a beautiful relationship blossoms. A few roadblocks happen, but it doesn’t matter what life throws at you, because true love conquers all, and what else could this adolescent self-centered infatuation be but true love? Who cares if the roadblock is a tyrannical dystopian government? And why are these dystopian governments so concerned with teen dating habits anyways?

Some romance novels entirely miss the point. And what’s the point? To ask the questions no can answer about love. How do you know you’re in love? How does love translate to marriage? What do you do if you’re in love with someone who simply does not love you back? Why love anyone if it’s going to bring you pain and heartbreak? After all, Sigmund Freud said the tragedy of human life is that we love beings who will die.

6985ef59269284f6e6d647c2029887f2

Love is something no one totally knows about because everyone experiences it a different way. If there’s an infinite number of types of love, why isn’t there an infinite number of types of love stories? Why are they so damn cute when love makes us so damn sad? Why are love stories so cliche?

This is the kind of teenage angst that I want to put into my own YA romance novel – if I ever write one. I want to write characters who, like me, have been disillusioned by the portrayal of romance in the media and who are attempting to reconcile it with real life. I’ve begun to explore the concept in bits and pieces of writing. I’ll share some of my bits and pieces right now in an attempt to (hopefully) eventually write the world’s best non-cliche teenage love story.

Love is a whirlwind of feelings and thoughts and insecurities and pain and failures and ecstasies and fantasies. It doesn’t have a beginning or middle or end, it simply is. It’s made up of all the wrong turns you took to finally reach your destination. Finally, two wrongs can make a right. And the road isn’t a straight line either. And you don’t really know what your destination is, even when you’ve already arrived. It’s an utterly confounding adventure that few believe in and almost none accomplish.

No, it’s not a straight line- no formulas, no straightforward procedures. So that’s the way I’ll write my story. It’ll be in bits and pieces with no order, rhyme, or reason. Because that’s love.

“Isn’t he cute?” she gushed. Literally gushed. Like spewing love, hearts in her eyes, head in the clouds gushed.

“Uh, I guess…in a McHottie way.”

“McHottie?” she stopped gushing for a minute to give me a half-amused, half-confused look.

“Yeah, he looks fake and processed, like a McDonald’s meal – attractive but detrimental to your health. Basically he looks like how every ‘hot guy’ looks nowadays. It’s like they all come from a factory or something. Big, bright eyes, tanned skin, tousled hair, flawless skin, swoon-inducing smile/smirk. They’re products of pop culture and victims of the teenage pressure to ‘look hot.’”

She looked at me exasperatedly, “Indie, you should hear yourself talk sometimes.”      

No need to ask who “him” was. David McKennon had been her dreamboat date for the past two years (which is forever in high school dating time) until their little boat sprung a leak. Well, more like multiple small leaks that you don’t even realize until it’s too late. You know how couples split up. First it’s annoying habits. He chews with his mouth open. She laughs too loudly. He’s a slob. She’s an attention whore. Then you get tired of each other, and you start to notice the imperfections of your significant other. And you realize that you really hate those imperfections. And then along comes another boy and another girl. And you guys get suspicious and jealous. Pretty soon you’re sinking into a whirlpool that can only end in break-up.

See, that’s the scary thing about getting in relationships. There can only be two endings: you either end up married forever or you split, both of which are terrifying commitments with very permanent consequences.

“I realize…” I started to say, eyes glued to my reflection in the water. I saw the pimple on my nose, the leftover scars of my fungus infection in the corner of my mouth, my uneven eyelids, and my scraggly-looking eyebrow hair. “I realize I’m not that kind of girl. I’m not that romanticized girl in radio songs and I’m not that girl you’ll find starring in the latest TV show and I’m not that heroine in YA novels that ends up with the boy AND the dystopian-free life.” I turned around abruptly. “But I am so much more than that. And I know someday I will find some guy who will appreciate a girl who’s not necessarily the girl of his dreams. Or anyone’s dreams. Because I’m not a girl who can be dreamed of.”

I jumped down from the railing. “So, mister, if I’m not perfect enough for you, you can bet your ass that I don’t need anyone who doesn’t need me.”

I never really got the concept of “the one that got away.” I figured that if you had loved him, you wouldn’t have let him leave. You would have found him, fought for him, again and again, because that’s what lovers are supposed to do. I never realized that sometimes the best way to love someone is to let them go.  I never realized that sometimes you have to stop holding on to people tightly because their overloaded dreams are too heavy for your arms to carry.

 …

“You’re the kind of girl that deserves to be poetry,” he said.

 I turned to face him without hesitation saying, “Every girl is that kind of girl.”

f41f854c8efd7da7777e5ab5ec05f263