Love Before the Internet

Reality refused to meet my sky-high expectations. So, I lowered them.


I was born a hopeless romantic.

Due to my life circumstance and trajectory, I was — for good or ill — enabled to stay that way much longer than most kids are these days, what with “sexting” and porn and the Internet.

The Internet was something we didn’t have in 1996, at least not in the polished, user-friendly form we know it today.

Back then, the formula for young love was simple:

Wear something cool + have cool friends + be pretty.

Sometimes, being edgy could make up for the latter, which was great for those of us yet to fix our god-awful teeth and get wise to contact lenses.

I hoodwinked both of my 6th-grade boyfriends with a pair of bell-bottom jeans featuring a sporty black stripe up the side and a rainbow crop-top. Oh, and multi-color platform slides. Holographic ones, mind you.

Yeah, we were pretty cutting-edge at Big Springs Elementary.

All a girl needed were a few hot-ticket items from The Limited Too and Claire’s to avoid being a basic bitch.

At church camp just a few months later, things got a bit more complicated. 

There’s nothing quite like the balmy heat of a scalding Tennessee sun to make your face break out like the chicken pox.

Then there was the small issue of my hair — self-dyed at home to a lovely orange sheen — and makeup, which consisted of blue or green eyeshadow topped with purple mascara.

When it came to my beauty routine, I took my orders straight from a circa-1960’s hooker.

It was my only way to woo the attention of one Blaine Watson.

With a name fresh out of a romance novel, I KNEW we were destined for some hardcore hand-holding behind the arts and crafts shed…

He was funny. He was handsome. And — his fatal flaw — he was nice to me.

Desperate to forge a connection, I read into every. little. scrap of attention he threw my way. Each commonality meant something:

He’s best friends with my cousin! We’re practically already family…

We both like that Limp Bizkit song from Mission Impossible II! We’re destined…

We’re both at the same summer camp! It’s fate…

I thrived on the high’s and low’s of our (completely fabricated) relationship.

Until, at week’s end, I was unceremoniously torn from his side (or, rather, his extremely peripheral view) and forced to return home to Texas.

I couldn’t stand it. There were so many miles between us and still so much to say…

So, I wrote him a letter. 

Yep. A real, hand-delivered-by-a-living-breathing-person piece of snail mail.

Back then, there was no email, no texting. Hell, AIM chat wasn’t even in play.

I was forced to put pen to paper in order to declare my undying love, which probably sounded something like this:

Hey Blaine, 

Sup? How’s your summer? Mine’s pretty good. I had so much fun at camp. Did you have fun at camp? Well, time to start homework. See ya.

I hope to God I didn’t sign off: “Love- Lauren.”

But, knowing me, I probably did.

There was simply no room for subtlety when my emotions were so real and my destiny was so clear. I probably even kissed it with a sparkly lip-glossed pucker.

Eesh.

My nerves electric with the promise of fresh love, I dropped the letter in the mailbox and waited… for weeks. And months.

I’m 33 and I’m still waiting.

I didn’t even have the guts to ask my cousin if Blaine had mentioned the letter. I just swept it under the rug as though it never even happened, and I swore off letter writing forever.

But that didn’t stop me from doing lots of other ludicrously misguided things in the name of romance.

Like getting a phone number from a (reluctant) college freshman when I was a sophomore in high school, and calling him dutifully every night for a week.

He’d most likely given me his number out of pity, as I was downtown having dinner with a few friends (AND MY PARENTS) for my 15th birthday… sporting what could’ve passed for an old-school bowl haircut.

It’s true. I went full 1991 Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

(Don’t ask).

Unsurprisingly, after that first awkward phone conversation — which was honestly just me spouting nonsense and him barely listening — he stopped answering entirely.

Not that it deterred me from calling six more times.

Then there was that day I walked around school all morning with my eyes open super wide. Like a fucking alien in heat.

I thought it gave me a more come-hither look — sort of like the time in 3rd grade when I walked around with my head cocked back because I thought it made my hair look longer — and I reeeeally wanted Alan Kraft’s attention.

It worked, too.

Just not for the right reasons.

I didn’t realize this, of course, until he passed me a carelessly folded note in History class asking why I looked surprised and was there something wrong with my face?

Then, boom: the Internet happened.

Which enabled me to do things like post uber emo John Mayer lyrics as my AIM away message, willing with every fiber of my being for Caleb Krouse to read it and rush right over to hold up a boom box outside my window…

Or some shit.

I could have met you in the sandbox, I could have passed you on the sidewalk, could I have missed my chance and watched you walk away?

Oddly, nobody ever seemed to pick up on my blatant signals.

Until Reagan.

My first actual, non-imaginary boyfriend.

In college.

(Yeah).

We dated for about 3 seconds. I sang to him on the phone every night over spring break. Yes, you read that right — I actually SANG. Horribly gushy songs about love and missing each other. It was some real Sheryl Crow shit.

Despite that, he was agreeable to being my first kiss… at 18… and it was AWFUL.

It happened outside my dorm entrance, and all I really remember is saying goodnight and then beating a hot exit to find my friends and ask if kissing was supposed to be spitty…

He tried to kiss me twice more, on two separate occasions, but I demurred. At that point, he was nothing to me but a sweet ride to In ‘n Out burger.

Which he must’ve noticed, because he dumped me shortly thereafter for a (much more mysterious and broody) gal in his bio-chem class.

Then I dated a guy who turned out to be gay.

When that ended, I took a hiatus from relationships for a year before diving headfirst into a very touchy-feely romance with a guy two years younger than me.

I was Westmont College’s first official cougar.

This younger model was a much better kisser, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a replacement mom… I found myself incessantly cleaning up after him and asking him if he was really hungry, or just bored.

So, a month after graduation, freshly returned from a month-long overseas trip, I ended it. At the beach. Where all of my relationships seemed to end.

Real-life romance just couldn’t ever match up to the glorious movie-version I created in my head. Reality refused to meet my sky-high expectations.

So, I lowered them. 

Which was when I met Nick.

He wasn’t at all what I had in mind for a life partner.

He didn’t profess a faith of any kind (although at that point, I really didn’t care), he drank like a fish, he was into bands like Insane Clown Posse and Kottonmouth Kings, he wasn’t rich, and he was knee-deep in some serious emotional pain after losing his brother and battling the inner demons left behind after his military service.

A real prince charming.

But I wasn’t looking for anything serious, so I went along for the ride. He made me laugh. And he didn’t take shit from people the way that I did. He was always himself, no matter the occasion.

And because my expectations were so low, I didn’t struggle with that crippling inadequacy and fear that makes the beginning of relationships so stressful and hard.

We got to know each other pretty quickly that way.

And then we had sex. 

As a 22-year old virgin, I felt like the clock was ticking on an experience that would only become sadder and weirder the longer I waited.

There was no pomp or circumstance. I believe the command “just go ahead and do it” was issued.

After my endless string of romantic let-downs, I simply couldn’t manage the energy for making love. At least, not without rolling my eyes and gagging.

All I wanted was to cross this task off of my life agenda, take some of the pressure off of a milestone that everyone hypes to the point of madness.

It was far from the perfect romance I’d dreamed of since 6th grade.

It was way better.

It was real.


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