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Personal Essay: 551 milliliters of sugar and 35,000 Evangelical Christians

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FEBRUARY 26, 2016

The first time my best friend and I noticed Frappuccino Man, he was reading a book entitled “How to Get a Date Worth Keeping: Be Dating in Six Months or Your Money Back.” Stuck on the cover was a pink sticky note reading “Hope this helps :)” in a feminine scrawl. Between sips of his venti double chocolate chip frappuccino with extra whipped cream, he studiously highlighted and annotated his text. A quick Google search revealed that this man’s book was geared toward evangelical Christians, and it offered advice for those floundering in the game of love.

A week later, we saw him again. Same book, same venti frappuccino. His order, instead of being scribbled on the side of the cup, was neatly typed out on a sticker. (A sign indicating that he ordered his drink ahead so as to ensure that no time was wasted making small talk to a barista.) Through the window, I studied him. He not only had his book but a laptop, too. He switched off between the two. Was he taking notes? Could it be that he was trying to work, but the pull toward finishing the book was just too great? Perhaps it was offering him guidelines to perfect his online dating profile? Clearly, being schooled in the art of romance is no laughing matter.That’s why he needed 551 milliliters (the human stomach can only hold 990) of pure sugar. After all, there are roughly 350,000 Evangelical Christians in Orange County — if he had to woo every single one of them, so be it.

My friend and I bounced ideas off each other, wondering how he found himself in this predicament, lovelorn and addicted to sugar and the gentle encouragements of self-help.  Maybe it was the aggressive wrap-around sunglasses? They made him look cold and unapproachable. Could he possibly be unemployed? After all, he was at Starbucks at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday. The Abercrombie and Fitch sweatshirt may have mislead potential partners into thinking he was a teenager. We speculated for more than an hour. My friend was concerned about his well-being, but I made snarky remarks about his book and its promises of romantic fulfillment.

Like other “millennials,” I consider myself a pessimist when it comes to love. I find the notion of soulmates ridiculous and cringe whenever the term “making love” is used. That’s why I was so fascinated by this guy. He’s a hopeless romantic, an anomaly to our generation. The media has declared us twenty somethings to be on the brink of a “dating apocalypse.”  Every few months, each major publication contributes think pieces, penned by middle-aged journalists, focusing on the rise of open relationships and dating apps that offer to deliver sexual partners with Amazon Prime speed. Millennials are caricaturized as cynical, lazy and selfish, discarding partners left and right because the promise of something better is always on the horizon. We’re purported to avoid defining relationships in the interest of not being tied down. Yet despite falling into this demographic, this narrative of “millennial dating” is completely foreign to Frappucino Man and me.

After all, there are roughly 350,000 Evangelical Christians in Orange County — if he had to woo every single one of them, so be it.

I’ve been dating the same person since I was 17. I sat in front of him in our senior English class. He stared at the back of my head, and I would crane my neck in the fake pretense of eyeing the door, while actually trying to catch a glimpse of him. Four days after our first date, I asked him how I should introduce him to my sister. The next day we were “Facebook official.” A few months later, I told him point blank: “I know you’re in love with me. You can just say it already.” Based on friends’ accounts of their own relationships, this is far from typical. With us, there was no feigned disinterest. No dating other people on the side, no nebulous definitions of what we were to each other. Our relationship was out in the open and everyone knew about  it.

Two years later and well into college, we’re still together. I didn’t plan on this happening. In fact, from the beginning I thought it was going to last only a couple months tops. High school sweethearts don’t have the best track record for lasting beyond graduation. That doesn’t mean I didn’t want it to work out this way, though. For each time I’ve thought about what would happen if we were to stay together until we look like wrinkled potato skins, I’ve also contemplated what would happen if we broke up. How would I adjust to today’s dating culture? Me, an an adult equipped with the tools of a 17-year-old and the mindset of a septuagenarian?

Initially, there would be some stumbling on the path to mastering the latent rules of modern dating. I’m sure there’s lots of terminology for me to catch up on. Only within the last couple of months did the terms “Netflix and chill” and “fuckbois” enter my lexicon. Whenever my picture gets taken, my face contorts into either a chubby-cheeked grin or a look of not-so-mild disgust. That would be the first thing to change: From what I can tell, perfecting how you appear online is critical to success, even more so than what you may actually look like. The hardest part, though, would be learning to not anxiously scream out “What are we?” after the first few dates. Subtlety does not come naturally to me, nor does the ability to deal with uncertainty.

How would I adjust to today’s dating culture? Me, an an adult equipped with the tools of a 17-year-old and the mindset of a septuagenarian?

After all that trial and error, though, I think partaking in modern dating culture would feel liberating. My sister once compared my partner to cheese. She asked, “What if he’s just cheddar and if you stay with him, you’ll never get to experience brie?” This would be the opportunity to find that out. I could explore my way through the world’s catalog of curdled milk. Gouda one weekend, manchego the next. It would be unpredictable and exciting, attributes that are harder to come by in a long-term relationship. It would be nice to keep things casual, to not have things be so intense, to finally not always have to incorporate anyone else’s plans into my own. As my sister pointed out — I have the rest of my life for serious relationships. Your twenties are the perfect time to grow into yourself without the intervention of another and learn how to be comfortably alone.

Even though this is true, I think that being with one person has taught me crucial lessons. Without this relationship, I don’t think I could’ve understood my capacity to show so much compassion and cruelty toward the same person, nor would I have seen how greatly my words could affect someone else. Having someone know you so well is weird and unnerving, but they can reveal to you things you wouldn’t otherwise see. I like spending time alone, like, a lot, and to think that I can’t be independent and do things on my own because I’m in a relationship is a gross misunderstanding of what it is to be in a relationship.

I haven’t seen Frappucino Man since winter break, but I think about him probably more than I should. While I may have outwardly made fun of him, I think I may have found a kindred spirit in him. We’re both relics from a bygone, pre-Internet era of dating. In the end, I’m a closeted romantic brought up on an overly-sweet diet of Nora Ephron movies and Magnetic Fields songs. Dating one person during my formative college years might come back to bite me one day. But for right now, I know for certain that my partner is a genuinely good person. He calls me out on my affectations and reminds me that I’m not an idiot, just forgetful. He gives me what I need, and then some. And maybe that’s what Frappucino Man is searching for. While my significant other offers me reassurance in a world full of uncertainty, maybe the funny self-help book offers that too. Others may not believe in it and it may not work for them, but for him it offers a gentle reminder that things will be all right.


Contact Nora Harhen at [email protected]

FEBRUARY 26, 2016