Where We Met

“So…how did you guys meet?’ It’s the infamous line that every couple faces, allowing (or forcing) them to relive that first moment that brought them together. It’s the basis of every romantic comedy, and there are even entire blogs built around it—the Instagram account, thewaywemet, has 385 thousand followers and counting (and yes, I am one of them). In a way, a couple’s first encounter, the one that changes everything, has achieved enough power in our modern romantic culture to stand as a definition of a relationship. But should a partnership really be defined by its conception?

With the norm of arranged marriages far in our past, our society has acquired a modern fascination with the circumstances under which two lovers meet. Our media shows that we want them to be mythical, whether they involve two teenagers from rival families, or a wealthy business man and his weekend prostitute. It seems that we don't judge, as long as the story is worth telling (and, of course, ends with a passionate makeout session). We’ve even fastened a term for this legendary meeting: a “meet-cute,” or a scene in which a future romantic couple meets for the first time in a way that is considered adorable, charming, or amusing. Just think of Troy and Gabriella, two strangers picked to sing a romantic duet together on New Year’s Eve—how could it not end in love?

As society favors the meet-cute, it frowns upon our more realistic and increasingly common ways of meeting partners: dating sites and parties. This is because of intention; most young adults download Tinder or step into a party looking for a hookup, and there’s nothing adorable or charming about that. However, the hookup culture of today is nothing surprising to us, and with a growing freedom of sexuality and all of its expressions, it’s not shameful, either. And, despite intention, it actually has steady output of successful relationships.

According to a 2012 study led by Stanford sociologist Dr. Michael Rosenfeld, “close to one-fourth of Americans now make initial contact with their spouses online.” And it’s not always because they’re looking for a life partner, either. When Cosmopolitan asked Katherine, a person just like you and me, the illustrious “how did you guys meet” question, she responded, “Both my husband and I had joined Tinder to get back into the dating scene after having just gotten out of long-term relationships. Neither of us had any intention of getting into a serious relationship through Tinder, but alas, fate had other plans.” Similarly, my roommate met her current boyfriend at another sleazy Saturday-night house party, when she approached him saying, “Aren’t you the kid that super-liked me on Tinder?” They’re going eight months strong as of October, somehow finding a loving relationship from the double negative of a dating site and a party.

So is a meet-cute really all that it’s cracked up to be?  I used to fawn over the idea of meeting the love of my life while transcending social barriers in Saturday detention, or by being overheard singing by a hot rockstar at summer camp, thinking that a “what are the chances” meeting would make the love so much more meant to be. But it can’t be proven that these stories have any correlation with what happens between two people after the inciting incident. Meet-cutes don’t actually always have happy endings: during a walk in the gardens last spring, I witnessed a jogger run up to another jogger and ask for her number. “We met while jogging in the Boston Commons, surrounded by flowers” sounds cute in theory, but, as the woman revealed when she turned him down with a furrowed brow, sometimes we just don’t want to be bothered.

Love is unexpected, but that doesn't always mean that it’s sparked by a tantalizing stranger at Bloomingdale's reaching for the same black cashmere gloves as you. Sometimes, somehow, it comes in the heart of a hookup world. And, even less mythic, often the way we met is as simple as “through mutual friends.” So does the story truly deserve the weight our culture gives it? In the end, it doesn’t matter whether the meeting was sticky-sweet, cringe-worthy, or plain boring—relationships only work with the right person. That’s not going to be affected by whether the first eye contact takes place while standing in pouring rain versus on top of beer-flooded floors.

It doesn’t matter how we met, only that we did.

Photograph by Ann Zhang.