I’ve never been in anything close to a relationship. I’ve never gotten to change my Facebook relationship status. I never had a guaranteed date to a school dance. There was never any “bae<3<3<3” in my phone contacts.
It’s not that I was never given the opportunity. I could get just as many Tinder matches as the next high school girl. But any time a boy showed me even a modicum of attention, I became a middle school boy — completely clueless.
I thought I could blame the movies. Between “The Notebook,” “Titanic” and “Dirty Dancing,” my standards were set unbelievably high and no actual offer felt nearly satisfactory. I was waiting to accidentally bump into a Ryan Reynolds and have our hands touch as we both bent down to pick up all my scattered papers. As badly as I wanted to be in a relationship, it was easier to pretend-date celebrities — Chris Pine and I could never disappoint each other if we never actually met. The only interaction I ever had with romance was through film, so I needed Hollywood-level proportions to cue me in on when to say yes.
Eventually, the powers that be gave me the cinematic romance I had been longing for: a dazzling, breathtaking first kiss with the perfect boy next door.
Anthony and I were no strangers. We had tried dating in 2014 (after our sophomore year of high school), but I had turned him down, uncertain if we were really right for each other. We went on to lead very separate lives during our junior year; we rarely spoke to each other. We had a lot of unresolved chemistry, but I was simply too busy to think about him very often. Still, every now and then, I would feel a pang of regret and imagine what might’ve been.
Cut to July 3, 2015. Anthony and I spent the evening at the local amusement park, just the two of us. It was the first time we had really spent time together in more than a year, but we talked as if we had never been apart. Our conversation was delightful and effortless. As the scene unfolded, the subject we kept rolling back to was how much we both longed to be in a relationship. The stage was set.
We wanted to skip the crowds and get out of the park before the nightly fireworks started. But by the time we had found my car, we decided that we might as well watch from the parking lot, so we climbed onto the hood of my Ford Focus.
It was a summer night. I was in a crop top. We were on top of a car, for god’s sake. We were both young, single and hungry for intimacy. He slid closer to me.
“You know,” he began, “this moment feels like it belongs in a romantic movie.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“How about we finish the movie?”
A summer night, fireworks and a line straight out of your mother’s favorite novel. I couldn’t have written a better first kiss story for myself. But for all its cinematic glory, I knew that I shouldn’t have let it happen. I had indulged in a movie moment fully knowing that I wasn’t prepared to deal with the aftermath of its implications.
I didn’t text him for two weeks. Eventually, he reached out and asked me how I felt. He wanted to give our relationship a second chance. I said no.
There was nothing wrong with the script, but I felt I was being miscast. The dreamy ingenue just wasn’t in my repertoire.
Imagine if Troy and Gabriella had never spoken again after singing “The Start of Something New” the night they met. Imagine if Sandy in “Grease” had showed up to the carnival, ready to sing “You’re the One That I Want,” and Danny was just there for the cotton candy. Imagine if Prince Phillip had kissed Sleeping Beauty and she had snored loudly back.
When I realized that my first kiss scene had been a box office flop despite its top-tier casting and elaborate emotional budget, I had been devastated. The moment I had said no, someone cut the music, unplugged the green screen and sent the extras home. I was terrified that there’d never be a sequel (or worse — there could be a dreadful remake.)
The thing that I’m just now beginning to figure out is that my Rotten Tomatoes score doesn’t matter. Intimacy and relationships aren’t supposed to be about selling tickets. Falling in love is just as awkward and confusing as it can be tender. You don’t need to rub yourself in body oil for every sex scene. Nicholas Sparks doesn’t always know what’s best for you.
And even if nothing good comes out of a relationship, sometimes the worst movies are still our favorites.
Shannon O’Hara writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on growing up through entertainment. Contact her at [email protected].