If you’ve read one of those romance novels — mostly teen romance novels, but the trope bleeds through into adult fiction, too — where two main characters believe at once when they meet each other that they’ll fall in love, and by the end of the novel, they end up together; and most of the bad things that happen in-between are actually their fault because they do something stupid — if you’ve read one of those, you’ve basically read the story of part of my life.
I say part of my life because there was a chunk of my experience that could be turned into one of those novels, if you ended it at the right point. See, people complain about that kind of story being unrealistic, but what they don’t think about is the fact that the characters’ lives would keep rolling on, potentially to an entirely different ending, if only the writer saw fit to continue the tale.
Writers don’t do that, though, because that’s not what makes a good story. That’s not what people want to read. They want the lives of the characters they read about to be trimmed down into something that’s easy to digest, something that has a predictable arc, no matter how hard some people try to decry predictability as a negative.
Toward the end of high school, I had one of those romance-novel-romances. I met Luna, whose family moved to my town the month before she started her senior year. I immediately wanted to know her, and for the most shallow of high-school-boy reasons. She was beautiful, and she smelled nice, and I liked her smile.
Plus, that first time she looked at me, I saw a spark in her eyes. I’d never noticed that before from a girl. I was pretty oblivious, throughout most of high school, as to whether girls liked me or not. I was never sure if they thought I was cute or smart or funny or anything work liking.
With Luna, I knew. That was special. It put a huge smile on her face. I still remember how she laughed. I must have looked like a complete goof. But for some reason, she liked that.
We hung out that week. Not that day, because neither of us were that brave. Well, I wasn’t. Luna was always braver than me, but it was her first day in a new school. She told me later that if it hadn’t been, she might have asked me on a date right there, right when we first met.
I’m sort of glad she didn’t. I wouldn’t have known how to respond. I think I would have shut down and stuttered and been too scared to say yes.
We dated for most of that year, but it was surprisingly not easy. I mean, I had thought it would be, because we had such instant chemistry. Sometimes she would get irritated with me, and I didn’t know why. Sometimes she would cancel our dates without telling me what was up.
I found out that she was lying to me about two things. The first was subtle, and not really her fault, but I still felt horrible when I realized that she wasn’t being truthful with me. She wasn’t happy.
I guess it sounds weird to frame that as a lie, but it’s mostly the way that she presented herself that makes me think of it that way. She actively didn’t want people to know how unhappy she was, including me, even after we’d been dating for a few months. She put on a chipper, perky facade, and just about everyone was fooled. She covered up her unhappiness.
I guess everyone does that, to a certain extent. We don’t want other people to think we’re wallowing in misery even when we are. Luna didn’t ever hate our school. Well, not for being what it was. She hated being there, though, because she’d spend every other year of her education in her old state, her old school system. Our school wasn’t bad, and the people in it weren’t bad, but it wasn’t her old school and the people weren’t her own friends.
Luna put on a mask because she wanted to make the most of her senior year. She wanted to make friends, and she didn’t think she could do that as a cranky, moody kid who doesn’t want anything to do with anyone.
When she finally opened up to me about it, she cried. Hard. I’ve never seen anyone cry that hard outside of a funeral.
I can’t say she got happier after that, but I think it was a relief that she had someone to talk to about her frustrations. Even if I got mad sometimes when she would compare her old school to her new one, which was my old school. I didn’t even like it there, but I still got defensive when she pointed out something she thought was better “back home.”
The second lie was worse, and it almost broke us apart. The night I found out about it was ugly. You see, in high school, I hated drinking. I absolutely despised it, and I looked down on anyone and everyone who drank alcohol. I detested it with a fervor that rivals that of religious zealots.
Then I found out that Luna liked to drink. Moreover, she liked to get drunk, and she had spent some of the nights when she’d cancelled our dates doing just that at parties or with other sets of friends she had made, whose inclinations more closely aligned with hers.
I was furious. I yelled at her. She cried, and I didn’t care, because I felt that she deserved every single sharp word I sent her way. I went away from her ready to be done with her completely. I thought.
Then she called me, and she apologized, and like a movie we ran back to each other and kissed in the rain and told each other everything was going to be okay, and she promised me to tell me the truth from then one, and I believed her, and we walked happily back inside, laughing at ourselves for getting so wet.
When we graduated, we were still dating, and that’s where the movies ends, because our graduation day was happy and we were happy and the credits would have rolled right there, letting everyone watching think we had a happy ending.
I’m not going to say the end to our relationship was horrible, because it wasn’t. I’ve had worse. I’m just going to point out that our story continued. We didn’t stay together. We were a high school romance. How often do those really last past senior year? I guess some of them keep going, but ours didn’t.
Luna kept drinking. I should have known she would, in retrospect. We went to different colleges and while we tried out the whole long-distance thing, it wasn’t for us. We lost interest in each other. Honestly, by the end, I was bored with her and I didn’t really care much for her at all, and I’m pretty sure she felt the same about me.
So, like, think about those movies that you’ve seen. How many of them actually had a happy ending, when you think about what probably happened afterward? How many of those stories were just cut at the right moment to make you feel good? Almost all of them.