A love story about non-negotiable interests.
Do you remember that scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack’s character explains that it is what you like, not what you are like, that really matters? That’s an easy perspective to have when you’re a single twenty-something in one of the largest cities in the country. Objectively, we all know that relationships are more complicated than that – hell, High Fidelity rejects that very idea later in the movie – but with a plethora of people out there, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that this one thing is more important than the rest of your relationship. Music, theater, literature, sports; there’s always that one non-negotiable interest that both of you must share if you are going to get serious with each other.
Mine was film. Her name was Andrea.
Like many people our age, Andrea and I met online. I mentioned in my profile that I was a big fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor – I had recently watched Dirty Pretty Things and typically obsess over actors for weeks at a time – and Andrea, a production editor for a publishing company, complimented me on my spelling. Our first date began with the normal amount of white lies: we talked about her favorite movies and I told my handful of stories about growing up in small-town Alaska that didn’t involve the couch and VHS player in my family’s living room. On our third date, we went to a midnight screening of Home Alone at the Landmark Sunshine in Manhattan. We’ll probably do this all the time, I thought.
At first, Andrea seemed like the perfect blend of interest and inexperience. I dreamed of meeting that special someone who loved movies but had, paradoxically, never seen my favorites ones. Over time, though, I came to realize that Andrea’s apparent interest in cinema had been somewhat oversold. She became increasingly reluctant to spend our date nights at the movie theater, and when she did consent to a movie night, the results were increasingly disappointing. In our first year together, she fell asleep during a midnight screening of Alien, asked me to turn off Gross Pointe Blank, and apologized for finding The Thing incredibly boring. Andrea so frequently turned against my adolescent favorites that it became a running joke between us; her intense hatred of both Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Punch-Drunk Love was both disappointing and completely expected.
When it comes to books, Andrea was a ravenous and diverse reader, as likely to discuss Pulitzer Prize-winning literary fiction as the most popular of pop-fiction (whenever I bragged too hard about an essay or column, she was quick to remind me that her two sentence Goodreads review of Kate Middleton fan-fiction The Royal We was more popular than anything I’ve ever written). We also discovered a similar taste in television, ranging from highbrow shows like True Detective and The Americans to more populist fare like House Hunters and The Great British Bake Off. When it came to movies, though, we never quite found our common ground. She never shared my desire for complete focus while watching a film; neither was she drawn towards the elements of “pure” cinema – image, editing, and sound – that allow the medium to stand out from its small-screen counterpart. To her, movies were entertainment, pure and simple.
We fought about movies, too. Sometimes we fought about her disinterest in seeing specific titles with me; other times we argued over scheduling and money whenever my (then unpaid) freelance workload threatened to cut into our social calendar. My acceptance into Columbia’s graduate studies program certainly didn’t help. While Andrea was both proud and supportive of my accomplishments, she was upfront that she did not want to put our personal lives on hold for the sake of my professional development. Our conversations about the future – about getting married, moving away from New York City, starting a family – were not things that would be set aside until I was done with school. This became our nuclear option when things were bad. You don’t appreciate how important this is to me, I said. I’ve put my own plans on hold so you can do this, she replied
If you’ve never been in a long-term relationship, these seem like irreconcilable differences. The eighteen-year-old version of me would have taken these fights as proof that Andrea was the wrong person for me and bailed immediately. The thirty-year-old version of me, though? He rose to the challenge. I set out to prove to Andrea that I could juggle the responsibilities that I’d taken upon myself. I accepted a promotion at work, aced my classes, and transitioned fully into paid freelance work. Instead of allowing graduate school to be the success in-and-of itself, I took a holistic approach, building my resume and portfolio simultaneously with an eye towards the future.
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I also started to appreciate the perspective that Andrea offered as an intelligent moviegoer with little interest in movies. Film criticism can sometimes feel like a flawed social experiment; we take the opinions and interests of a passionate subsection of movie audiences and pretend they speak for Hollywood as a whole. With Andrea’s voice echoing in my head, I grew frustrated with insular outlets and wrote pieces that offered cinephilia as a large roof under which many different types of moviegoers could fall. I found myself less upset when people didn’t support the films or genres I wanted to succeed; it is our job as writers to provide the necessary context for independent and art films to thrive, and casual moviegoers shouldn’t be vilified simply because they don’t attribute film with the same degree of cultural significance.
Somewhere along the way, I started seeing all the little things that Andrea did to show that film mattered to her because it mattered to me. How she kept an eye on repertory screenings around the city and highlighted my personal favorites. How she would always incorporate a movie theater into our travel plans so we could check out independent exhibitors in new cities. How she read the plot synopsis of movies she had no interest in seeing so she could still participate in the conversation when I got home from the theater. We still watched films together, and we still worked our way through my backlog of favorite titles, but the burden of expectations was no longer there. I grew to appreciate how her dissenting opinion challenged me to better articulate why I love particular movies. And once in a blue moon, we’d both fall in love with the same movie, and I wouldn’t trade those titles for anything in the world.
Last week, surrounded by our friends and family, Andrea and I stood in a patch of sunshine and exchanged our handwritten vows. I told her that I would spend my life as her faithful traveling companion and surprised myself by crying big ugly tears. For her part, Andrea had written into her vows a promise to watch Magnolia in our first year of marriage. Much of that day is a blur, but I remember hearing a few of our friends chuckling in the background; three hours is a long time for Andrea to sit still for any film, and the frogs and the singing are a huge red flag for someone who values naturalistic characters over expressive filmmaking. But afterwards, we’ll talk about the film, she’ll bring up a few of her favorite parts, and there will be one more movie – for better or worse – that we both have in common. And I can honestly say I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Related Topics: Romance