I’m a massive fan of birthdays. I believe in broadcasting it to everyone for a good two weeks beforehand, and spoiling myself silly on the day. That doesn’t mean spending lots of money – it means on this one day I do whatever the hell I feel like. Mostly I feel like pancakes.
When I turned twenty-three I had a nuclear group of friends who were like family to me. They also liked drinking beer at the park in the afternoon. Twas a golden era.
The boy I’d been breaking up with for about nine months threw me a birthday party – and by party I mean small, intimate dinner with my ten closest friends. There were homemade pizzas. I didn’t find out until I was there, that one of my friends was bringing her boyfriend’s friend who’d come over from Glasgow, Scotland. (I’ll give you a second to get that one straight.)
This did not make me happy.
I remember very particularly thinking: At least if he’s big and ginger with a thick Scottish accent there’ll be some novelty value.
Special k looks like this:
(Heh. He’s so cute.)
And like this:
And also this:
Big and ginger, he is not. Also, his accent could pass for American. Or Irish. Or maybe Danish, on a bad day.
I think all I said to him the whole night was “Hello”, and I don’t think I said it in a nice, welcoming sort of way.
The next time we met the first thing I saw were his boxing boots, which were just like mine. Then I heard him beatbox. And then I tackled him to the ground in a game of footy and cut him open with my fingernail.
The first time he hugged me, I felt this shock of surprise, like, “Huh. He’s so human.”
I was reading a review on Dear Author the other day that got me thinking about the way love interests tend to “hate” each other when they first meet. The first two thirds-or-so of a romance is taken up with bickering and insults and arguments. And kissing, of course.
In the context of a whole life together, my period of conflict with special k is pretty tiny. But it goes to show there’s something to the idea that dislike can be the earliest incarnation of really-like.
It’s the way we express attraction as kids, isn’t it? Hair-pulling. Seaweed throwing. I once called a very pretty boy a dickhead, for not logical reason. Why do we express attraction through insult? WHY???
(That’s a serious question, by the way. I’m stumped.)
The review made me think of it, because the bickering of the hero and heroine just sounded pretty odious. The hero won’t leave the heroine’s restaurant until she agrees to hook up with him, even though she’s asked him to leave many times. He spouts clunky innuendo at her while she’s serving cake to some old women. Ugh.
A couple in a romance have to challenge each other. They have to expect unreasonable things, and unsettle and push each other. Romance and love couldn’t happen without it.
But I can’t help feeling we get so used to reading “bickering” as “attraction” that we lose track of what’s beneath it – what it actually means. What drives a person to be awful when they most want to be lovely?
(Again – no answers here.)
I was cold to special k because I was immature, and I thought I knew all there was to know about him sixty seconds after I met him. Falling in love was a bit like following lanterns down a dark path. Piece by piece he surprised and delighted me as my expectations were overturned.
I watched him eat ice cream. (There’s an ice cream cone engraved on the inside of my wedding ring.) I watched the sun rise with him from the roof of the Pascoe Vale swimming pool, and he looked at me from under the brim of his blue Glasgow cap. He hid from me at Heathrow until I was forlorn then hugged me for twenty whole minutes without letting go.
Maybe people are just better, when you have misunderstood them entirely.