Much as I would have wanted to keep my been-there older-woman composure, it was hard not to be carried away by the highly charged youthful romantic energy in the darkened theatre. I was with girls who had probably not been kissed yet (although I wouldn’t really delude myself about that) or, at least, have not yet had their heart stomped on, kicked around and left in the dust by a heard of African elephants; their greatest loves—and the attendant greatest heartbreaks--were still ahead of them. They were still at that stage where everything is possible—yes, even the idea that they could be swept off their feet by a gorgeous, brooding vampire who would be heroic for them. Before I knew it, I was squealing along with the girls, clutching my dad’s arm whenever I got sooo kilig, aaaaaaah!--and he was laughing at me.
Throughout dinner last night, I couldn’t help dissolving into fits of kilig-induced girly giggles, causing the grown-ups (my dad, my mom, my sister) around the table to give me pointed looks. But even as my body was shaking with giggles and the grin on my face was beginning to make my face hurt, I was thinking, What’s going on? Have I perhaps lost it? I felt like…ah, shet. I felt like a fucking teenager.
In an attempt to shake off the excess romantic teenager vibe I seemed to have carried with me out of the cinema, I popped a “grown-up” DVD into the player—Then She Found Me, a movie written, directed and starred in by Helen Hunt, who plays a 39-year-old woman whose husband leaves her. I thought, OK, that should sober me up with a dose of reality.
Soon after her husband (Matthew Broderick) leaves her, a stressed-out yet utterly adorable single dad (Colin Firth) comes into the picture. And so there I was again, screeching and writhing and kicking in my seat like a freak—Aaaaaaah, he’s so cuuuuute! I had no excuse this time. There were no more teenaged girls around me. I had to face the fact that, yup, all this silliness was just me now. All me.
I would have thought that after more than a decade of being in relationships and having my romantic notions knocked about by the daily reality of being with another person and trying to work it out, I would no longer feel this excited about the possibility of falling crazy in love again. I mean, shouldn’t my attitude about love and relationships by now be a flippant “Yeah, sure, OK, why not?” Haven’t I earned—and learned--such sobriety? Why do I still suspiciously sound like that high school girl who fell madly in love with the character of Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves and said, “I want a man just like that”, and honestly believed someone exactly like that would saunter into her life? Why did I sit in that dark theater, cheering on Edward (the vampire) and Bella (the human) with the fervor of someone who felt personally invested in their love story? Why did I beam as Helen Hunt got her happy ending with Colin Firth as if it were my happy ending?
Surely, by now, I should have already outgrown all that teenaged optimism and romanticism, right? I’m not young and wide-eyed and innocent, anymore. I no longer have the excuse of youthful inexperience and ignorance to believe the cliché notions about luuuurve.
Having some kind of romantic crisis after watching a vampire movie was the last thing I had expected when my dad and I, the most film-crazed members of our family, left everyone at home and headed for the neighborhood mall’s cinema. But there I was, leaning back in my chair in the living room after I’d finished with the Helen Hunt DVD, pondering my situation, feeling a sensation that seemed like fear except that it was accompanied by something resembling…stubbornness.
I was afraid that I had not changed at all, that I had not learned anything from my experience with being in relationships for the last fifteen years, and that I would throw myself at the next one with the same all-or-nothing (a.k.a. kamikaze) attitude. At the same time, I felt stronger—and in fact, more militant—about my mindset. Instead of experience tempering me, sobering me up, I felt emboldened by it even more. Sure, experience showed me that love and relationships can ask impossible things from you, but getting in the ring every time, slugging it out for all I’m worth also showed me that I can do the “impossible”.
“You can get good at what you need to to serve what you believe in,” wrote Po Bronson. And, man, do I believe in big things. Yeah, like loooove. ;) And I believe you don’t shrink it, you don't make it small and insignificant just to match what you think of as your current capacity—you have to expand your capacity to make more room for it, rise up to it, get good at it, do whatever it takes to be as big and bold as it is. We never really know what we’re made of until we’re tested, until we pull ourselves out of our comfort zones and throw ourselves into the deep end. Frankly, I don't know a lot of things that are worth all that trouble.
As I sat there in my chair, absent-mindedly swirling my cranberry juice in a long-stemmed glass as if it were wine and listening to Dave Matthews serenade me with Joyful Girl, this truth rushed to me: I will always be that girl who skipped the prom in high school just because she had an idea in her head about what that night should be like for her—and if it couldn’t be that, then she’d rather have none of it. They can have their prom. I had not outgrown that girl at all…nor, I suspect, will I ever.
It was really nice to discover that, no matter how many legitimate reasons I have for being otherwise, I will always be that idealistic, romantic girl who would hold out for the real thing—for the thing that was real to her. Because she had decided long ago that nothing less is worth it.
I had to smile at Dave Matthews. His timing was perfect. “Would you prefer it the easy way?” he sang. I shook my head. “No? Well, OK, then, don’t cry…”