Plotting My Love
I found love wearing a worn University of North Carolina baseball cap and jeans. Part of a small group of young adults from my church, he and I had joined our young associate pastor for a volunteer day to help restore an underground railroad stop on a living history farm near Germantown. Our group met in the parking lot. He and I smiled. We shook hands. We probably said something generic like ‘nice to meet you.’
On that sunny morning of July 2004, I met my match.
Working together on a team in the basement level of a rickety barn, with dust swirling about and pigeons in the roof, we stacked rugged, stray wooden boards as we talked. In dust masks neither of us looked our best. I commented on his cap after all I was born and spent most of my childhood in North Carolina. So we had three things in common.
Later, we both wanted to try the new coffee shop in town. That first cup of coffee together he latte, I chai led to me his band’s show at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Days later, dinner. Within the week, we were talking on the phone every night and spending all our free time together.
He says he knew love was ahead from the moment we met. I knew weeks later, when I found myself wishing on twilight’s first stars.
Love led me to endure smoky bars on late nights to hear his trombone in the rock-ska band 23 Skadoo. Love led him to spend many a weekend even cold ones out of doors with me. Love led us both to work out misunderstandings, value differences and discuss everything.
“It’s meant to be,” we say, echoing most happy couples.
That didn’t lessen my surprise when he made his proposal on top of our favorite stargazing hill, the one where we talked for hours on that first date while searching for shooting stars.
The next chapter in our love story is getting married this September.
The Plot Thickens …
My own love story is not so tumultuous as Sampson and Delilah’s, nor so dramatic as Romeo and Juliet’s. Nonetheless, I’ll call my own love story Magnetic Love. In this story, the couple is drawn together like magnets. No drama, no fuss, just straight to the point.
My fiancé’s certainty is not the plot of most love stories.
“When I start writing, I never ever know what’s going to happen,” says Sharman, whose latest novel, Growing Up Little, comes out in May. “Sometimes I do a little plotting; then I’ll go back. I never know how a story’s going to end.”
Wylie doesn’t know, either. “I don’t know how the story will end. I let the characters take me on their journey,” she says. “I write by the seat of my pants.”
So fiction evolves much like real life. We just don’t know where the story will take us.
Love stories are each new editions of an old book: the outline of love’s plot is already written. Even if each story unfolds with unique twists and turns, there’s a common sequence of romantic events. The stages are The Before, The Meeting, The Crux (where one or the other decides to pursue or not), The Complications then fast forward to happily ever after or a whole new story.
“Yeah there is a semi-standard love plot,” says Sharmen. “Boy gets girl, boy loses girl. Most love stories start out happy, then something happens, there’s a misunderstanding or third party who’s coming in to disrupt.”
Stage I: Before
The Before sets the stage in any love story. That’s the time before Tyras and I met, attending the same church, probably even services together, as strangers though Tyras claims he once saw me taking communion. I say I’d remember that handsome face if I’d seen it before. Back then we were two people on courses that hadn’t yet converged, anticipating.
Before Audrey Hepburn’s character meets Paul Varjack in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, she’s just a lonely New York socialite (of course there was still another Before in that story). Before Tarzan met Jane, he was content to swing through the trees.
Stage II: The Nature of the Pull
Stage II is the spice of love. As the magnet pulls, lovers discover all the ways they’re alike and like each other. Coincidence, signs, special connections enrich the plot. They share a passion, a childhood dream or the same strange craving for Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream.
There’s hundreds thousands of small moments of romance, generosity, chivalry and laughter that bond the players and make each love story original.
In the film It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey lassos the moon for Mary. In Little Women, Laurie promises to kiss a young Amy before she dies before they know that she will live and their love story will bloom.
Woven into my love story was our unknown proximity: We’d attended the same church in Olney for two years before ever meeting. Once we met, we discovered dozens of confirmatory signs that we were a good match: We both love our families, adore dark chocolate and delight in studying the sky at sunset.
The magnet pulled us ever closer until we evolved from he and I to we, during an afternoon spent in Annapolis, sitting on corner of the Naval Academy’s seawall.
Stage III: The Crux
After such delicious samples of love, who wouldn’t want to stay for the whole meal?
But in real life and literature good love stories must weather a few storms.
“Nobody’s life is perfect. My husband is my best friend, but still we disagree on things sometimes,” says romance writer Sharman. “To read a harlequin romance where boy gets girl and everything works out that’s unrealistic.”
In literature, the conventional test of love comes as the black moment.
“Near the end of the story there’s the black moment, when it looks like all will be lost,” says author Kate Dolan of the test that relationships pass or fail. “The characters are separated by something, like fear of commitment. Or if everyone they’ve become close to has turned on them, they think that the person they love has turned on them.”
Only if a tested couple passes the black moment do they earn their happy ending.
In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the black moment comes at the very end, in the back of a taxicab, when Audrey Hepburn finally allows herself to love and belong, desperately searching an alleyway in the pouring rain for her drenched Cat, all before the big The End kiss.
In real life, where plots are often subtler, the tests come as pop quizzes rather than climactic make-a-love-or-break-it finals. Even so, the black moment is a rite of passage many a real life lover remembers forever.
Whether the differences a couple has to surmount are small his towels on the floor; inconvenient; or tragic war, plague, famine complications are the crux of the story of love.
If the couple can get through the obstacle if the prince does indeed find his lost Cinderella they live happily ever after at least as far as that part of the story goes.
Stage IV: Happily Ever After
“After the resolution of the problem, the hero and heroine get together and live happily ever after,” says Diane Wylie, a historical romance author from Havre de Grace. “Snow White and Cinderella get their princes. Harry stays with Sally. The beauty marries the beast. True romances end happily.”
In real life, the statistics aren’t quite so good. Within 15 years, 43 percent of first marriages end in separation or divorce, according to a 2001 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even so, 57 percent of marriages endure, and their love stories continue to evolve. That’s pretty good odds for an age where true love seems as old-fashioned as fairy tales.
As Tyras and I read the book of love, the Magnetic Love Story gets a happy ending. We’ve planned our wedding for later this year in full expectation of living happily ever after though we’ve barely cracked open the book.
Have a love story to share? Send in your tale of love to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll pick a winner to feature next year in our Valentine’s Day special issue.
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