My grandma got married at 15, and I'm sure my aunt got married somewhere around that age, too. So I can only assume that, at 12 years old, I needed to be prepped for impending matrimony in their eyes.
It was the summer of 2002, and I excitedly accepted an invitation to go with them to a family reunion in Arkansas. It was a whole bunch of family that I had never met before, so my aunt and grandma both thought that it would be a good idea to also have one of my cousins (one I didn't know) tag along. I assumed that this wasn't anything other than introducing two family members who might be able to make things more fun and young-person friendly. This was a relief to me, as I figured most everyone else at the reunion would be over 60.
We picked up my cousin — he was my great aunt's grandson, which would have made him my third cousin (I think) — from a small Oklahoma town. He was smart, friendly and handsome. I could tell that he wasn't as delighted as I was to go to our family reunion, but he didn't have a bad attitude about it. We talked a lot about music, movies and books. We seemed to like all of the same things, and we got along swimmingly.
Along the way to the reunion, we stopped at a Walmart and we were sent inside to pick up a package of laxatives and some toilet paper. Considering the fact that neither one of us knew this was supposed to be a romantic set-up at the time, we both thought it was sort of awkward to be sent on such a mission. I mean, can't you get your own laxatives and toilet paper?! Constipation is a road one walks alone. But looking back, I think my aunt and grandma wanted to give us some alone time. Granted, we were buying laxatives and toilet paper, which wouldn't exactly set off amorous feelings for anybody.
My cousin picked out some extra-strength laxatives as I stood far away from the purchase in embarrassment. We walked back outside to the car, and I noticed my aunt and grandma were watching us and giggling in sort of a "Aren't they cute?" kind of way. This caught me off-guard and immediately made me feel awkward (as if I could feel any more uncomfortable). However, I quickly brushed it off as Grandma just being Grandma, probably smiling at how much she loved her granddaughter (which she did often).
After several hours on the road, we made it to Arkansas. There were aunts and uncles galore — distant relatives, the majority of whom, as I'd guessed, qualified for the Early Bird Senior Special at IHOP. I didn't have a problem with this — I've always admired the wisdom and conversation of older folks — but I was happy to have my cousin with me. I watched him play basketball, and we swam in the pool. He bought me a knife with a cross on it. All fun, fun, fun.
After the swimming and basketball festivities, we walked back inside the event center to have dinner. It was at this time that one of my relatives exclaimed that my cousin and I looked just like Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing. Neither one of us looked anything like those actors.
"Yeah, just carry this watermelon and you'll be just like her," another relative yelped. I didn't understand the reference — I had never seen the movie.
This is when things started to click for me. Why were people telling us that we looked like two actors in a romantic movie? Why were my aunt and grandma always trying to get us to spend time alone?
My face turned red with embarrassment. Surely I'm wrong, I thought to myself.
The weekend reunion ended, and we made the trek back to Oklahoma. While we dropped my cousin off, my aunt and grandma awkwardly forced us to hug. And it didn't feel like they wanted us to cousin hug — it felt more like an end-of-a-weird-first-date hug.
A few days later I got a call from my aunt and grandma.
"So what did you think of him?" my grandma inquired excitedly. I was stumped.
"Uhh... he was cool," I responded with humiliation in my voice. I knew what was coming.
"Well, your aunt and I just thought since you're third cousins and that's really distant... if you liked each other... maybe".
I hung up. On my grandmother.
I immediately told my mom about the set-up, and her response was as nonchalant as they come.
"So what? You're third cousins!" was her exact response.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Was this planned by everybody in my family? I was disgusted. I vowed to myself right then and there never to allow a family member of mine to play matchmaker.
I looked at my mother, with her perfect cheekbones and beautiful blue eyes. I used to think those features came from strong genes. Now I started wondering if they might be a result of inbreeding.
"Stop acting ridiculous," my mom continued, flatly. "Your grandma and aunt were just trying to be nice. I think you're being a little dramatic."
I picked up the phone to call my grandma again. I felt bad for hanging up on her.
"Hey, sugarplum," she said. "I didn't mean to embarrass you, I just thought that maybe your cousin might be a nice boy to begin a courtship with. Nobody would have to know you're related," Grandma explained, in her sweet, Southern voice. She said this all at rapid pace as soon as she picked up the receiver, for fear I might hang up on her again.
"Grandma, he's my cousin," I replied. "That is super-weird. We actually kind of look alike." I couldn't even believe I was having this conversation in the first place.
"Alright, baby girl, think not anymore of it," she sighed.
The set-up was never mentioned again.
Years later, I connected with the same cousin over Facebook. He was just as cool and smart as I remember, but even today, I am not sure if he knew our first meeting was supposed to be a love match. I won't bring it up to him — even 14 years later, I am still so embarrassed! Maybe one day I will recover.
But to this day, I won't even let my mom set up a Match.com profile for me.