After months of nudging from friends and sitting stagnant on my bookshelf, I have finally finished Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Hailed as one of the greatest books to exist on the tenacity of true love—and the fact that it has a stamp to advertise that Marquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature—I thought, what the hell, there is an 98% chance that this book will be beautiful.
The book has all of the working layers of my favorite sort of literature. A killer translation, an intriguing post-colonial setting and a clear message about the environmental dangers of globalization were some of the factors that really floored me about the book. However, one aspect of it made me sigh and blister profusely by approximately 55 pages in.
If you haven’t read the novel, Florentino Ariza is a standoffish poet and messenger for the first telegraph operator in the region. Fermina Daza is the daughter of a working class man who is desperate to elevate her status. One day, Florentino delivers a telegram to Fermina’s father and while walking back to the front door, he glances into the sewing room and BOOM—he sees Fermina.
Cue sigh. She glances up for a slight moment from tutoring her aunt on how to read and continues her work. She is 13. From here, Florentino becomes wildly fascinated—to the verge of stalking—and over the next 50 years continues to ‘reserve his heart’ for Fermina and waits diligently until her eventual husband dies to, hopefully, take his place… Even though after all these dramatics, they literally speak three full sentences to each other.
I am so over these substance-free love-at-first-sight narratives. I’m over that whole jazz of "I knew from the moment I saw you that I loved you!" Of course, this is classic literature and this brand of hyper romanticism is winding down, but it is deeply problematic and, in a way, the damage has already been done.
I was a child raised on romance films. Blame my sentimental mother or the fact that I was a romantically starved fat girl, but since I was about eight years old, movies like Titanic, The Notebook and Dirty Dancing have been fixtures in my life.
Look at the "love at first sight" element of The Notebook. Noah, a working class boy from South Carolina, sees southern heiress Allie laughing in bumper cars at the local carnival. Noah blatantly watches her as she goes about her night, and eventually he frantically explains his attraction to her with the line, “When I see something I like I gotta… I love it. I go crazy for it.”
The key word in this line is "something." Allie isn’t a woman or even a human being. She is an amorphous "something" that exists so well at just being a "something" that he can "go crazy" just looking at her.
Love at first sight narratives like this, like LITTOC, like most films listed above -- are all expressed through the male gaze. The male character sees the female, and due to some primordial necessities he thinks, "Her, I have to have her."
Across the board with Jack in Titanic or Augustus in The Fault In Our Stars, the male-centered love at first sight framing of a story resembles a man entrapping his catch, never of the girl who realizes she is, dare I say, being hunted.
Even if consent is eventually provided, it’s still hella awkward to see that a huge foundation of our pop culture consists of love stories where the women have no say in calling the shots. Rather, she is the shot. She is his shot.
Love at first sight stories put no preference or stock into the heart of a person, into their whole, true being, and the tangible idea of it is the fakest thing I’ve ever seen.
Second, love at first sight stories are only meant for those who, frankly, look like people we are constantly shown they happen to in movies, television and books—young, thin women.
I have thick, curly red hair that is impossible to wear natural (no, really, I’m serious). I didn’t learn how to straighten it alone until I was 14, and it took even more years to perfect. I’ve always been fat, varying degrees of fat, but still fat. And when you’re fat and have characteristics that are wildly different from anything resembling the characters in love-at-first-sight stories, you simply know those things aren’t meant to happen for you, no matter how much you wish they could.
So what did I do when I was a kid ingesting all of this stuff that I knew couldn’t happen? I embraced words. I embraced writing, singing, being loud and rambunctious and really making my personality visible to overcompensate for what was socially deemed to be a mess of a body. But really, this blooming personality was just a ticket to the friend zone for dudes who thought I was approachable enough to give advice on how to date my best friend.
I’ve never been religious, but I distinctly remember praying in the shower at 11 years old, standing still with my back to the showerhead and my forehead against the linoleum thinking: “God, I don’t know if I believe in you but if you make people see me for who I actually am, I will believe.”
I know this sounds melodramatic, but I’m dead serious. I would pray to a God I didn’t have any background in, asking him not to make me change or get skinnier for acceptance, but to just make people give a shit about the fact that there was more to me than how I looked. I didn’t even FEEL fat or ugly but people kept telling me I was, enforcing the idea that I should be ashamed.
This is the damage caused by a never-ending parade of love-at-first-sight narratives: They make you think that the first physical impression is the only thing that matters, and it’s not. This goes the same way for guys, too.
Do you ever see a man or woman who is fat and conjures a love at first sight relationship? No. Do you see fat people actually fall in love authentically? Better yet, how often do we see ANYONE fall in love authentically instead of just being crazy preoccupied with each other’s bodies?
I’m fully aware that there is an industry pushing for silence against bodies like mine. They don’t want to see a fat girl fall in love. People don’t want to see an imperfect person fall into a perfect love, because according to the world I should be busy losing weight. But I’m not and I don’t know if I ever will.
When it comes down to it, love—in all of its syrupy connotations—isn’t determined by how a girl’s eyes flit back down to homework. There is no true love story if there is no narrative for people actually wanting to find the heart inside, to get through the awkward shuffles and smiles to figure those things out.
True love comes from doing banal things with everyday people. And hopefully, the media and literature of the future will invest in stories of girls with hair they can’t figure out, skin that splits and bodies with bulk and heat.
I’m not saying a self-respecting woman can’t like, or love, or appreciate these stories, but I want to make the point that these stories have been worked to death. They’re bland. They’re finished. They isolate people, and I spent my whole adolescence feeling that way because of them.
We are in a piece of American history where the media-consuming public is demanding diversity of race, culture and body types. These conversations are happening.
All people deserve to watch movies and television and read books about people that look like them and ACTUALLY fall in love in weird, awkward, exciting ways. Because that’s the way that the actual world works. I want to see and read women finding their way through all kinds of love that I can look at and say, "Yes. That, maybe, could be me."
But until then, I have my own love to think about. And frankly, I’m proud we didn't fall in love at first sight. We're way luckier than that.