Do you have a favorite real-life “love story”—your own or that of someone you know? A romance that simply makes you smile whenever you think about it…no matter how long it lasted, be it a few days or multiple decades?
We’re all inspired by the heartening love stories of our beloved Jane Austen characters, and we read/watch them over and over, but nothing quite tops the thrill of remembering our own, does it? That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. For a number of reasons, I’ve been on a quest to clean my office and, in the process, came across my old high school and college journals. This month, I’ve reread many of them.
There’s so much to appreciate about the energy of youth (and nearly as much to be embarrassed by, if my journals are any indication, LOL), but I’m finding there are gifts that come with aging as well. Being able to look back on the years with a significantly longer lens. Gaining a clearer perspective. Recognizing patterns. Knowing with certainty that, while there may be lows on whatever path we’re walking, there will also be highs.
I can recall more than one romantic escapade from my past that had real-life scenes reminiscent of a plotline from one of JA’s novels—including the start of my relationship with my husband almost twenty-five years ago. 😉 But the young man I’m thinking about today came jitterbugging (literally) into my life seven years before my husband and I even met…back in the mid-1980s when I was just sixteen and was spending a summer halfway around the world.
I’d read Pride and Prejudice a couple of years before this trip and had been blown away by that masterpiece of fiction. The astute observations about human behavior. The self-righteousness of some characters and the sheer arrogance of others. The delightful recognition that we’re complicated beings who are capable of learning, growing, changing our minds and, in fact, being flawed but still heroic. JA’s insight from across the centuries was like being handed a treasure chest of wisdom in high school.
But, when I left Madison, Wisconsin to become an exchange student in Brisbane, Australia, I soon met such a fascinating cast of characters that this, too, was a special kind of treasure. More than once, I imagined myself living in the midst of some sort of modern Austenesque comedy, and the entire exchange experience marked my life in a positive way from that point onward.
For those of you who’ve read my debut novel, According to Jane, you know the heroine Ellie subdivided the guys she’d dated into Austen-character categories, i.e., the Wickhams of the world, the sweet Bingley boys, the Mr. Darcys, of course, and more. Well, the spark for that story thread originated back in high school because, between the people I knew at home and those I encountered on the trip, I felt I’d met all of these types.
One of the guys, however, was truly unique. We were introduced at a private dance, held at the house of a mutual friend. I’d been hearing about him from my Aussie classmates incessantly prior to the party, and was convinced that he must be some sort of sun god to have elicited such adoration. He, in return, confessed he’d heard something of me as well. When he first walked through the door, he stuck out his hand to shake mine and told me with a grin, “My friends said I hadn’t lived until I met you.” I laughed, and we were instantly bonded.
We spent much of the night talking and, alternately, twirling each other around the parquet floor. In my “expert” teenage opinion, he had the intelligence and handsomeness of Darcy, the charisma and charm of Wickham (along with a couple of his vices), and the good nature and social facility of Bingley—all braided together. And, ohhh, that boy could dance! I remember thinking that Jane herself would have fallen for young Mr. Awesomeness if she’d ever met him.
I surely did.
Now, I love romance, and if this were a novel, I could spin the plot accordingly, letting the tension escalate as my trip drew to a close. I would write about our long philosophical chats and the difficulty in saying goodbye when my exchange ended. Our promises to stay in touch. The overseas letters and phone calls that followed and, though we were both dating other people, his sly “marriage proposal” a couple of years later. (A funny tale for another time…) Our plans to see each other, and the reality of meeting once again four years after I’d left.
Were this a romance novel, I would know to end the narrative right there—at that magical moment when he and I were face-to-face again in Brisbane.
From the perspective of decades, though, I’m able to tell you the rest of the story. What happened after that. How, during our reunion when we were both in college, we knew immediately what we’d already suspected while we were apart—that a relationship between us wouldn’t work long term. That more than geographic distance separated us. That we were undoubtedly better as friends.
I can also tell you that we stayed in contact for a while before drifting apart. That we each married other people in the 1990s, became parents, and pursued the careers we’d talked passionately about as teens but didn’t choose the first time around. He eventually studied to become the doctor he’d dreamed of being, and I finally followed my heart back to writing.
But for the briefest segment of time and space—when our paths first crossed and the daydream of a long-lasting love story was still possible between us—it was a memorable, exciting, and utterly joyful little romance. And those memories are made a tad more poignant for me right now because he just recently passed away…
Life, my friends, is far too short.
The lyrics—so beautiful and bittersweet—to the Garth Brooks song “The Dance” have been floating through my mind all week. (You can see the original music video HERE.) Alongside the sadness, though, I also get to remember my friend as the vibrant young man he was thirty years ago, and I can honor his humor, his cleverness, his musicality, and his Austenesque qualities in the characters I create. I more than suspect JA did the same with the friends and loved ones she’d lost. The very existence of certain people inspire us, and our gratitude for that gift is part of what drives us keep them alive—both on the page and deep in our hearts.
And how about you? Is there someone special who springs to mind when you think of a real-life love story? A fleeting dating relationship or a romance spanning half a century and beyond? As always, I’d love to hear about it. <3 Wishing you all a wonderful weekend.