The story I’m about to tell you is true.
When my husband and I first met, he was really mean to me.
It was a Sunday night in October, 2004. My grandmother was in the hospital and I’d just found out that an ex, for whom I may or may not have still had feelings, had invited a girl from out of town to spend the weekend with him. I was sad. So my friend Mike* decided to cheer me up in the only way we knew how, in our early 20s. He took me to a bar to get hammered.
The bar was in a college town about 45 minutes away, and on alternating Sunday nights, Mike, a bass player, played a few acoustic sets with some friends. This Sunday was his night off so we ended up seeing the acoustic band who filled the other Sundays. One of them, the drummer, was cute. I’d seen him around, cover band follower that I was. I knew who he was. He had blond hair and wore more eyeliner than I did (which is a quality I liked when I was 23. I might or might not still like it). Worried about my grandmother, feeling rejected by the ex and bolstered by liquid courage provided by copious amounts of Bärenjäger, I said hello to him.
He said hello back. Then he told me my hair needed a twist-cut.
(For those who don’t remember/don’t know, a twist-cut was a technique popular in the early 2000s and still used today, in which sections of hair are twisted into ropes and then cut, rather than cutting straight across. It provides a lot of texture.)
He insulted my hair style. He wore makeup and he knew what a twist-cut was. I should have written him off then – as someone who was mean, and as someone who, by all appearances, probably didn’t even like girls. So I did. To the best of my recollection (which I admit is fuzzy – Mike set out to make me feel better and he did his job well) I ignored him for the rest of the night and never gave him another thought.
Until a year later when we again found ourselves at the same bar, this one closer to home.
I remember standing in the middle of the dance floor – not dancing, because I’m a terrible dancer, but socializing – when a friend named Emily*, with whom I’d been chatting only a few minutes before, approached me again.
“I have a guy I want you to meet,” she said. “Do you know Steve Jones*?”
I did. Steve Jones was the guy who told me I needed a twist-cut.
“He saw us talking and he thinks you’re cute,” she went on to say. “Come over and meet him.”
I don’t know why I went. He was mean, and maybe gay. It would be a colossal waste of my time. But I did, and he acted as if he’d never laid eyes on me before. We chatted. He gave me his phone number. I still thought he was cute (he still wore eyeliner and dressed better than I did) but knew he didn’t have a prayer. Even when my mom spotted his phone number on my dresser and asked about him, I said “He’s adorable. But it’s not happening.”
These were the days of MySpace, and it felt like mere minutes after we met that he was adding me to his friends list, sending me messages, asking me to hang out. I blew him off for as long as I could – which ended up being about two weeks. I finally consented to going on a date with him. That same night he told me he wasn’t seeing anyone else and didn’t want to. Two weeks later he told me he loved me.
Eight months later we were engaged. A year after that, married.
We’ll celebrate our ninth anniversary this October.
I don’t remember when I reminded him about our first meeting – the night of the twist-cut – but once I did, he remembered it. He told me he was mean because he thought Mike was my boyfriend, and couldn’t believe a girl would hit on him with her boyfriend standing there. (To be honest, I don’t actually remember hitting on him, but I had consumed a fair amount of alcohol, so it’s possible that he thought my attempts to focus were actually flirtatious eye movements.) At any rate, we now have a story to tell whenever someone new asks “How did you meet?” And we are a rare kind of couple – we experienced both hate at first sight and love at first sight.
As a writer of stories that have characters in romantic relationships, I’m always reading that the “at first sight” plot device is overdone. That’s not how life really is (except in my case, apparently). But is it boring to write a realistic relationship? One where two people meet, maybe hang out a few times as friends, then progress to dating, then exclusivity, then either break up or get married? In a novel with a limited word count, it can be difficult to make a relationship realistic, and if they waffle too long, your characters can seem wishy-washy. Love or hate at first sight, on the other hand, can show that your characters are fiery. Passionate. People who know what they want, or don’t want. But how often does love or hate at first sight really happen? And does it happen too often in romance novels?
I’m curious to know what you think. What are some novels you’ve read that have employed the love/hate at first sight device? Did it work? Or do you prefer to see a realistic progression of a relationship, even if the story’s pacing suffers? And I’m not saying it has to be one or the other – I actually prefer a more realistic approach. But it’s hard to do.
What are your thoughts?
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent (and not so innocent, in some cases.)