the essay formerly known as romcom (act two)
When the author has a breakthrough about his own relationship, things start to get a little crazy!
This is Act Two of a classic Three Act Romantic Comedy. Enjoy!
Last time on…
As you’d do with a pen after jotting some ideas down, let's recap.
In Act One, Lauren and I met on Bloody Homecoming, the film that keeps winning Oscars. Halfway through the shoot, all of us in the cast and crew went out on the town called Austin, TX.
I then took everyone to a little-known Austin dive called Waffle House. Here’s the two of us and some idiot sound guy who was hitting on her with that The Thinker ass pose I have no idea why I am being mean to this guy I’m sure he was nice anyways let’s move on.
Lauren and I stayed up all night laughing and kissed the next morning. That was 6am. By 9:30am, I’d ended it with the other girl I was sorta seeing. By 12:30pm, I was back on set, sitting next to Lauren, when I said:
“I ended things with the other girl (who I was just casually dating by the way lol)”.
Lauren snapped her head towards me, eyes wide and expression unreadable.
That’s how Act One ended. A cliffhanger. There we were, hanging at a cliff.
A quick quonfession
I’ve rewritten this essay like 22 times. Blah, I screamed each draft - this sucks. Then on Michael Jordan’s 23th draft, I figured out why.
Act One was a bonafide, creme de la cream of the crop meet-cute. If that meet-cute went to romcom college, it would do very well for itself. It’d fit in, make friends, find love (what happens, when two meet-cutes...meet-cute?), etc.
So I tried writing this part - Act Two - like a romcom too - the lovers fall deeper and deeper in love, but there are obstaclesExcept I couldn’t figure out any real obstacles.
Where’s our ‘She’s Julia Roberts super famous and he owns a dumb little bookshop in Notting Hill”?
Or “She’s Julia Roberts a sex worker and he’s a rich business man how will they ever make it work?”
Or “She’s Julia Roberts a food critic who is in love with her best friend, but there’s just one problem: - he’s getting married?”
Take The Graduate. The movie ends with NOTICE OF UPCOMING SPOILER FOR A 1967 FILM TAKE HEED!!
Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) makes a Grand Gesture to stop the wedding of his true love Elaine, who's also the daughter of Mrs. Robinson (of ‘Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you’ fame).
Next thing ya know, the two of them are running and giggling toward a bus that just so happens to be picking people up at that moment, thank the lord. They get on the bus and everyone’s looking at them like “who the heck are these free spirits!?”
Then, there’s this final shot. As Simon&Garfuncles ‘hi darknesss it me’ song plays, we see the romcom rush high wearing off. Reality sets in. Durpdadurp, they both think, what now?
This moment wasn’t scripted. It was supposed to end with them smiling at each other, but when director Mike Nichols saw their faces sink, he kept the camera rolling. We’re literally seeing what happens after the script ends, after reality sneaks its dumb little head in and goes, “hey, did u guys pay the bills?”
The romcom is the easy part. It’s what happens after you get off the bus that interests me. After you’ve answered the romcom’s question of ‘will they won't they?’ question in the affirmative. Yes, we will and yes we have.
The good the bad the ugly
I asked Lauren how she felt after I told her that I’d ended things with the other girl. Here’s her response:
Only thing I’d add is that I really laid it on thick by also saying “my grandma waited for my grandpa while he was in the war for three years, so if they could do that, I’m sure we can do this.” Yes, I was saying that I thought of Lauren and I already like my grandpa and grandma even though we’d only known each other for a few weeks. And yes, I also was comparing three years in the army with our time apart trying to be little artists with infinite ways to communicate with one another as well as the ability to see one another via 3 hour flight.
Classic potato, potatoam I right folks?
World Wide We
Most of those first few years were spent online. We all take that for granted now, but it’s the real magic of Beyoncé’s internet: no matter how far away you are from someone in real life, online you’re right next to each other. Together.
Across texts, emails, gchats, facebook messages, even a google doc or two, we flirted, fought, and fell in love.
The good (morning)
Lauren lived two hours ahead of me in ‘the future,’ a joke I’d make way too often (‘Now this is time travel’!).
Except it wasn’t really a joke - she was my future (classic romcom line eat em and weep!).
An early bird searching for many worms, I went to bed around 9 or 10 pm in Austin, which was 11 pm or midnight in North Carolina (that’s called GEOGRAPHY, kids). Lauren, an owl (we don’t need to say night owl, all owls are night owls — that’s called ORNITHOLOGY), went to bed after midnight usually and so, already, we were defying the rules of space and time.
Every morning, I’d wake up to an email from her, subject line “Gooooooood morning,” which she’d written the night before. I loved waking up to these emails, and I’d always respond so she’d wake up to one too.
Besides the cute ass emails, everything else about the distance sucked.
It felt like playing Relationship on ‘god mode.’ But, we did have one cheat code, and no that does not mean we had a strict set of rules about how we could cheat on each other.
Lauren’s mom was a flight attendant, which meant we could fly to see each other way more than we could afford. Any story about Lauren and I’s relationship does require a gigantic THANK YOU to Allison. Without her, I truly do not know if we’d have made it.
Those visits though. Intense! Like two emo teens who’d just gone to their first 311 concert and then went to a party at Michael and Matt’s house (they’re twins) and there’s spin the bottle but its not clear who is or isn’t allowed to play!!! Like that.
When we’d have a weekend together after being apart for so long there would be PRESSURE to make it perfect, to make it Big and Meaningful and Memorable which, given the formula for happiness being reality minus expectation, made us unhappy. The expectations were too high! We figured that out pretty quick and committed to making our visits as boring as possible, which was also fun.
See what I mean? Even the bad was good, and it never felt like we had to work hard to keep things going. Or maybe we did and I’ve blocked all that out? I dunno man!
This chapter of our lives culminated in us both moving to LA. We both tried to convince ourselves and each other that we were moving for ourselves, for work, but looking back, that was a defensive mechanism. At least for me. I didn’t want to tell people or myself that I was moving ‘for a girl’ and then have the relationship crumble.
Little did we know the fate awaiting us - and frankly all people and things who dare to enter Los Angeles - trouble.
Because it was here, in this city of ‘angels,’ that Lauren and I did the worst thing a couple could ever do: we started feeling secure with one another. We took off our nice clothes and put on sweatpants. We farted, often. And we took each other for granted. The love was just about as unconditional as one could get (see footnote), and still we’d gone from being each other’s break rooms (relaxing, eat lunch, maybe a lil tv in the corner) to each other’s breakdown rooms.
Meet Crit (the ugly)
Now’s a good time for y’all to meet my inner critic, Crit (an actual name that’s somehow RISING in popularity).
Crit’s a day oner - been with me since birth, a real one, etc. He started out simple, mostly criticizing me / him, a nice base layer of self-loathing upon which so much else great work could be built. Soon though, he learned there was something way easier felt way better: he could stop criticizing himself (painful) and start criticizing the people who loved me unconditionally (family). I hated that, but he didn’t seem to mind.
And as I matured into a man who was living with a woman named Lauren in LA, Crit had found his next obsession.
There were many things Crit focused on, so let’s take one as an example. Pre-Wilder, Lauren loved hanging in bed. An ideal morning for her would be to wake up and lounge in bed for an hour or two, scrolling or reading or dozing back to sleep.
I’d see this and would – I am ashamed to admit – get upset. Crit believed that if I ever relaxed, I wouldn’t be successful. Ergom people who did relax were persona non grata (persons not good at grating cheese). Crit was full of judgments of anyone who spent time in bed. They were lazy, unmotivated, sloppy, even! I’d watch as negative dark thoughts sped through my mind like trains going in all directions, these opinions masquerading as capital T Truths about the world.
Imagine all of the below speeding through your head, half with the voice of Jim Carrey on speed and the other with the slow gravitas of James Earl Jones.
who is this person who stays in bed all day!
that right there is all that is wrong with america right now people just being lazy on their phones eating junk food
can i really be with someone like this?
doesn’t she see how bad this is?
why doesn’t she want to do more stuff?
does this mean the relationship is doomed?
With those raw ingredients, Crit would spawn an offspring—a super compact little ball of indignant rage. A demon seed.
That critter would get stuck under my skin suit for the next hour, day, week, etc. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, like an injustice I not only saw but had to make right. That critter would fester like it was in the Adamms family as it morphed into The Biggest Deal In The World and also a Problem I Must Solve.
But of course there was no problem to solve. It’s not like I was running into the bedroom saying ‘Hey Laur do you wanna go for an all day hike that ends at the top of a mountain where I’ll have a picnic ready for us and all our friends will be there and it’ll be amazing’ and she just says ‘no.’
Here’s a dramatic reenactment of what one such incident might have looked like (please note I AM pitching this to Netflix so do not steal it):
Meanwhile, Crit the lawyer is already presenting a new argument in the courtroom of your mind with the poise and chutzpah of Julia Roberts in Erin Brokovitch, “It’s not that Alex wastes so much time online that’s the problem, no sir. The problem, your honor, is how much time Lauren spends on her phone!”
For a self-loathing black belt like me, the critters were aplenty, crawling around in my mind muttering about the many injustices of my life perpetrated on me by Lauren:
My worries about me not being smart enough became, ‘Why don’t we have smarter books in the house?’
My anxieties about me being fat became, “Why doesn’t Lauren want to eat healthier food?”
My self flagellation that I wasn’t spending time with our son became, ‘Why do they watch so much TV?’
It is much easier, it seems, to stare into one of those two-way mirrors that, rather than show you your own face, show you someone else's.
Notice how that last one is about our son? Meaning it happened like, this morning. The critters are still around, though I do believe becoming aware of them robs them of power. Maybe one day I can even like myself enough that they have no self-hate to feed on and die but for now, I’m not there. And I doubt most of us are. It’s a life’s work, my therapist once said. A life’s work indeed.
The rom com part
The critter who thinks about Lauren being in bed is, I am happy to say, dead, may he Rest In Peril.
The story of his death is so stupid that it could definitely be in a rom com.
About a month back, I was listening to Tim Heideker’s podcast Office Hours (that’s Tim of Tim&Eric fame). Tim is one of my heroes, an absolute legend at the both-are-true work of blending absurdity with truth.
So I’m listening and Tim’s talking about how he spends most of his day in bed. It’s the most comfortable place in the house, he says, so why wouldn’t he be there when doing his writing or on calls or whatever else.
My hero…chills in bed all day??
And he’s still…somehow…my hero??
I am not exaggerating when I say that right there, in that moment, I was born again. Gone, and I’m talking truly gone, were all of my fears and judgments about it. Well if Tim Heideker does it, then it’s cool and obviously Lauren can do it too and she’s not lazy and all is great in the world.
This being pathetic makes it no less true.
I hate that I couldn’t have figured this out on my own, but I am glad that I figured it out at all.
Also, I shit you not, while writing the very paragraphs above, I had to go to a commercial callback audition for a fast food pizza chain.
A callback is like a second round part deux interview. It's down to you and a handful of others. You’re close, yet infinitely far away.
I walk in and awkwardly say hello to the people who are making the commercial: producers, agency people, and, I shit you not, Tim motherfuckin Heideker. He was directing the commercial.
I messed up a few times in the audition – we were supposed to be eating food, and I pantomimed the eating which, longtime BATheads know, has been heretofore my acting downfall – but after that, I think I did a pretty good job.
I did not get the part in the commercial.
It was as if the romcom lords were trying to really make sure I’d gotten the hint about Tim Heideker in the Office Hours pod, so they brought him back at the audition. Nice.
Then Lauren got a job working on Tim Heideker’s alt-comedy On Cinema Oscars Special and I screamed “I GET IT!” in the backyard and also on several busy intersections around town.
There have been no incidents since.
💰😬 Help me save my marriage
I told Lauren that I make hundreds of thousands of bucks on Substack. Please help me make that lie a reality and subscribe. Also u can subscribe for free too its all good I’m just in a world of hurt.
🗣 Share if you DARE
💬 Party in the comments
What’s one of your top moments in a film or tv show? Doesn’t have to be a romcom even I don’t care.
Would you name a child Crit?
Do you have any advice for me, Alex, about marriage or life or really anything??
How do you hope this romcom story ends in act 3
There’s already ALOT of controversy about this joke in the blogosphere. Some call it a stroke of genius while others ask “wait, what’s even the joke?”
I gotta make this movie. A meta commentary on meet cutes!
He’s country and she’s rock n roll. She loves cheese but he’s lactose intolerant! They are actually half siblings but don’t know it yet!!
Most people, myself included, thought the line was ‘Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?’ but it isn’t! Why is that? The misquoted lines of the collective unconscious, now that’s a title (i will write this essay soon enough).
we NEED to figure out how to pull this off in written text
I didn’t say there’d be NO rom/com
They say you are supposed to love one another unconditionally, which is horseshit. If Lauren robbed a children’s hospital and then, high on crime, went to a family restaurant to eat some pasta primavera, and chose NOT to sing Happy Birthday for someone at the next table over even though everyone else in the restaurant - dems, repubs, librarians even, all losing their shit singing happy birthday, well I’d obviously have to rethink things.
she says she’d pay money to once again have this experience. I’m realizing I can make that happen for her pretty easily so note to self - take Wilder for the morning and give her some time in bed ya idiot.
love you! love this! love "Classic potato, potato"! and the rest of it!
1) What’s one of your top moments in a film or tv show?
princess bride sword fight
any time john mccain says yippikiyay
all of everything everywhere all at once
and much much more!
2) Would you name a child Crit?
i'd think about it. and then i'd probably decide not to? unless the child asked me to name the child Crit.
3) Do you have any advice for me, Alex, about marriage or life or really anything??
yes. one thing at a time!
4) How do you hope this romcom story ends in act 3
i hope it Doesn't end
I was wanting to make some joke about how typically tone deaf awful The Tree of Life is for a date movie but as I kept trying to find the hook I realized it's probably the best date movie there is:
You don't have to pay attention to it. You can alternate between paying attention to your date and glancing at the lovely imagery.
Bonus points if you're paying attention to your date during the dinosaurs and Jessica Chastain parts, because you're communicating to her that she's more interesting than dinosaurs and Jessica Chastain. Also the dinosaur parts are the worst parts.
If your date actually genuinely gets absorbed by it and wants to talk about it later, you can get "good listener" points by letting them talk about basically whatever. And, less you worry that you may come across as "not getting it" or incurious, literally just say, "What struck me were the Sean Penn parts. What do you think those were about?" Boom, great conversationalist.