When I was younger, getting swept off my feet meant alot to me. In fact, this was my #1 criterion when it came to looking for potential soul mates. My daydreams were the stuff of romance novels and I really believed that Mr. Right could take the form of a Fabio. And throughout my 20s I met my fair share of Fabios – sexy men who knew how to talk, confident men who made me feel like Cinderella. The only problem with these types of men was that always the clock struck 12, and always my carriage turned into a pumpkin. Butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, heart palpitations – those were quickly doused by a case of the commitment jeebies that typically reared their heads at month 3.
When I was 29 and I imagined my biological clock getting ever more deafening, I began to wonder about the logic of my thinking. My older friend Marisel, a sexy 39 year-old who was calling it quits on her long dating career to marry a quiet computer programmer, said to me, “Cecilia, the fireworks aren’t real. Your mother is right. Stop looking for it or you’ll be alone forever.” I never believed my mother when she told me this. However, hearing it from Marisel, I immediately turned my thoughts to Henry, my oldest friend since kindergarten and my best male friend for the last 10 years.
Henry grew up in the house behind mine. We went to school together for 13 years until we attended separate colleges and our friendship grew as we got older. We would talk on the phone for eight hours straight and we would cry on each other’s shoulders over lost boyfriends and girlfriends. Henry had just finished medical school, training to become a pediatrician after serving two years in the Peace Corps. He was tall, good looking, and my mother loved him. The reason I never considered dating Mr. Too Good to be True was because the thought of kissing him made me think of my little brother. Given that I had met Henry when we were both 4, in a sense, he really was like my brother. But I believed Marisel, and now my mother. Fireworks may not be real but my ticking biological clock was.
So I mustered up the courage to shoot off a 3-page letter to Henry, asking if our brother-sister relationship meant we were destined to be together as lovers.
Given that he lived just 20 minutes from me, he called me the next day, presumably the moment he received my letter.
“Wow, I was really surprised.”
“Oh?” I was tentative, nervous.
“Yeah, I mean, really surprised.”
“I don’t know…maybe there was a time when it could’ve happened…but…you weren’t interested then, so…now I can’t look at you as anything other than a sister.”
“Actually, I’m driving down to New Jersey Friday night. I met this stripper at Paul’s bachelor’s party last weekend and I got her phone number…”
If this were a movie this would be the part where the sound effects of tires screeching and glass crashing would be heard. I know I’ve scared some Fabios and Casanovas in the past with my desire for commitment, but now I’ve also scared a nice Peace Corps doctor too – straight into the arms of a sex worker.
As the only person among my friends not amused by the irony of this situation, I secretly swore myself off men from then on. And that, in part, contributed to my ability to move to Japan later that year. The absence of commitment, whether real or imagined, freed me to pursue my personal dreams, untethered to anyone or to the dream of anyone.
And much to the pleasure of my wagering friends back home, I would indeed fall in love when I least expected it, personifying the favorite cliche of the 20-something crowd.
I still remember the first time I met Max: handsome, gentle, smiling, clean cut. He was a Fabio in the sense that he caught my eye quickly and had a smooth, confident way about him. But different from my past playboys, Max possessed the tenderness and humility of a computer programmer, engineer, accountant, kindergarten teacher. He was the Prince without the pumpkin, the Henry without the incest. Before we ever spoke, I knew that he was The One.
And luckily for me, Max felt the same way. Those early months of our relationship were indeed fireworks: stolen kisses in stairwells and subway stations, 4-hour dates followed up by 2-hour phone calls followed up by 3-page e-mails. We were walking public displays of affection in a culture that doesn’t even peck at weddings. Not only did the butterflies fight another world war in our stomachs, they continued long after our first “I love you”s. And they continued after we met each other’s parents, after we sent out the wedding invitations, even after I was practically tipping over with a 6 lb. Fred camping out in my uterus.
Last night, I walked out of the shower with my shoulders glistening with drops of water, my thick, oversized towel barely staying over me. I walked over to Max’s side of the bed to pick up my glasses and gave him a sideways glance. He got out of bed, shot a quick look in my direction and headed to the bathroom. I smoothed lotion over my damp body as Max made his way back to bed and pulled up his right knee. He opened his nail clipper and began picking away at his foot corn. I pulled my $4.99 leopard print pajamas over me and climbed into bed next to him, opening up David Sedaris’ Naked to the last essay on his experience with the senior citizens in the nudist colony.
Well, it is nine years later. I guess the fireworks don’t last, but the embers still glow. And I’ve still got my Fabio.