On Being Earnest
The impairment of being earnest
When a boy knocks on your door at some near-midnight hour and tells you that you belong together, there is only one right answer. But as I stared at just such a boy on one of the last sticky nights in August some summers ago, I couldn’t give in. I couldn’t bring myself to lean in and kiss him, as I know Nicholas Sparks would have bid me to. I also didn’t see fireworks or hear “Thank You” by Dido swell in the background while white-typed credits rolled. It wasn’t raining outside, and I was wearing neither a flimsy lace slip nor a matching set of girl-next-door flannels. Instead, I stood before him in a Hanes t-shirt and ratty shorts of unknown origin and wondered where I’d put my two X- chromosomes. Then I looked at the dingy tiled floor outside my apartment, and I told him he had to go home.
We had met the year before. Even then he’d checked every imaginary box on the wish list I’d never made. He was smart and funny. He had good hair. He knew enough about music that I refused to let him scroll through the contents of my iPod, which at the time revealed a damning affinity for The All-American Rejects. He was, in fact, perfect save for a single, fatal flaw. He was hopelessly, resolutely, uncompromisingly earnest. And I couldn’t stand it.
From the 2002 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
“You told him to go home?” demanded one of my best friends incredulously, eyebrows arched in gravity-defying horror. “I would have married him. Immediately.”
She would have. For as long as I’ve known her, romance has been the love of her life.
Scratched into the pages of her jealously guarded grade-school diary are impassioned poems dedicated to the boys she adored. Some of them have rhyme schemes. One of them is titled, “A Sonnet for Alex.”
My diary, when I kept one at all, is tellingly less effusive. A particular entry dated November 1998 reads: “I like Ben. He is cute. Today, I chased him around the room and tried to hit him with a telephone.”
I am not the anti-Christ. I rent Love, Actually at least once a year. I’ve seen every Cameron Diaz movie ever made. Three weeks ago, I had to block WebMD from my computer because I diagnosed myself with ovarian cancer. Again. I devour books that read like Hallmark cards, and I sobbed so ceaselessly the first time I watched The Notebook that a stranger leaned over to ask if I was okay. But I also know the difference between Allie Hamilton and the actress who plays her. More importantly, I know the difference between Allie Hamilton and me. For starters, she looks a lot prettier when she cries.
I’d like to be with someone who recognizes that he isn’t starring in the Hollywood version of his own life, and I’d rather spontaneously combust than appear on a stadium “Kiss Cam.” If I ever see my name in skywriting or am serenaded in a public place, I will stab myself. Serenading under any circumstances is actually a highly questionable practice. I once saw a ship docked in the Hudson River that had “Rachel, Will you Marry Me?” scrawled across its side in swirling font.
Let me just say: eeeeww. But also, what if the wrong Rachel walked by?
So please: No empty banter and grandstanding gestures and the stuff that movie montages were made of. I do not want a sepia-filtered relationship that looks good on Instagram. Give me paradox and wit and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Give me a shared New Yorker subscription with someone who understands that knowing the names of Britney Spears’ children is important to me.
Over Thanksgiving break, I sat around a table dotted with slowly emptying bottles of wine and talked to five of my closest friends for as many hours. We talked about college and The Future and how one of us had heard that headphones could give you brain cancer. We talked about the final installment of the Twilight franchise. “The ending was so sappy and perfect,” someone said, sighing audibly. “You would have hated it.”
Illustration by Charlotte Fassler
What is your idea of companionship fostered bliss?