The Insomniac Special: The Plight of the Romantic

Miguel Angel Contreras III, Staff Writer

Transitioning to warmer weather also means being transported back in time to the first days of high school summer vacation. Guessing ‘C’ on my last final exam. Throwing my backpack in the closet and slamming the door like it’s some horror to be forgotten. Burning that year’s worth of papers and, at last, being rid of my incorrigible classmates.

Except for the group that I affectionately dubbed: “The One Percent”. The small collection of people I actually could stand.

I spent those early summer nights with them. It was huddled around a pit of smoldering english, math, and science papers that our history wrote its first few lines.

It inscribed pretty sounding and idealistic falsehoods about how we were a family and how long we would last. But what invariably danced in the back of everyone’s mind was hope. A hope of summer love.

Something romantic, and secretly desperate. Burning privately like a contraband cigarette. Yet, despite our best intentions, still as fickle as these short summer months that grew larger than life within our minds.

In high school we became masters of admiring from afar. Averting our eyes just as theirs flickered in our direction, memorizing where we hoped to notice them walking the halls on our way to class, and stalking social media posts. All the while praying to the universe for a convenient reason to say ‘hello’ and for everything to conveniently fall into place.

Erroneously, it became far too easy to become infatuated with an idea of a person. An idea cultivated within the mind without really knowing anything about them.

My first experience with this feeling was because of a girl named Sidnie LaMotte. She entered my life the same way that she left it: with a text message.

I carefully scrolled through pictures on her Instagram profile. Content to leave the world blissfully unaware. Then my thumb slipped. A faded, white heart blipped on the center of a months-old photo. My cover was blown: the ultimate teenage misstep. Even if I unliked her picture, she kept the notification.

I was scrounging up my nonexistent funds for the first flight over the border. Then my phone buzzed and stalled my pulse.

Sidnie Lamotte: “You creepin?”

In a panic-stricken, nerve-induced moment of brilliance, I made the only sensible decision. To like ALL her pictures and comment on every one of them. I suspect they were all less than intelligible.

Somehow that worked and Sidnie befriended me. She became an omnipotent influence in my life, and probably saved it. Incomprehensibly, she tolerated me at the onset of my teenage angst. In innumerable ways she inspired me, and for the first time in my life I toyed with the idea of love.

She did these things from within a fortress though. One of breathtaking selfies, ceaselessly witty comments, and perfectly articulated text messages: her internet persona.

For an insecure and transportation-less 15 year old the nine mile distance from my house to hers was impassable terrain. Lest I let her see me in my, by comparison, far less perfect form.  

I sparsely met her face to face, and even when I did my nervous impulses directed the flow of the conversation. Incidentally, I only really learned about her from an outside perspective.

Our relationship eventually buckled beneath deafening collisions of awkwardness. Concluding with a scapegoat text-contention when neither of us had the emotional intelligence to say what needed to be said.

She was wonderful, and I’m glad that whole experience happenedin retrospect. At the time, managing the overwhelming and contradicting longing for contact was profoundly awful. This only grew worse in the summer.

For many, high school meant time constraints, crushing workloads, and inhospitable environments. Despite those things, an awkward but innocent twinge inside of us missed seeing ‘that one person’ five times a week and letting our imagination surround them. Now, our imagination was all of them.

Left to our own devices with seven additional hours of freedom, those hours could be more like an emotional revolver loaded with just as many bullets. Suddenly, it was difficult not to imagine all the fantastic things that wonderful person must be doing. When compared to our own mundane lifestyle, there was a feeling of inadequacy. More than that, we really just wished we could be there with them.

Even while in the thick of it, that all seems like it changes after high school. After years of being disregarded, disappointed or destroyed, it’s easy for many to arrive at a similar point of romantic cynicism. We also live amidst a world where every new piece of pop culture is either a grandiose love story or it romanticizes the glory of being single and promiscuous.

I’m not sure about everyone else, but there’s a distinct lack of both a partner to go sprinting into the midnight woods with as well as a severe shortage of accessible booty calls that befuddles me. Even if that were different, it never shakes out how it does in the movies shocking I know.

The result is being suspended in a sort of romantic illusiontrapped somewhere between our imaginations, our true desires, wanting to find the love of our lives, but also just wanting to spend a weekend with someone new. So little of that becomes grounded in reality, it can become difficult to know where to turn.

Frankly, meeting people can feel pretty difficult. Especially for those of us who are less extroverted and not proficient flirters. Even in a room full of people, it’s possible to feel alone and hopeless against the odds. No matter the number of pretty faces in the room, it can still feel like an infantile chance that we could be compatible with any of them, or that this time could be any different. We can say to ‘just take a chance’ in a vacuum, but after years of keeping our head down, raising our chins may as well be scaling a mountain.

Putting down inhibitions and reservations is a big step. As is learning to relinquish intentions and expectations when we’ve only ever known just that. Learning to let go of them and caring a little less about how events proceed, isn’t a death of youthful love. It’s a triumph of the heart to realize that it’s not that serious, and that’s liberating.

Meeting someone new doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s that pressure that we put on ourselves which makes that so difficult in the first place. We tell ourselves that we’re going with the flow and whenever it happens, it happens. But how else is it supposed to if we never meet someone new?

The ironic twist to the story is that perhaps the best way to sate our longing hearts is by not trying so hard or thinking so much. We live in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with horror stories of rape culture and unplanned pregnancies. We learn to protect ourselves and be cautious of everyone. Still, I’d like to think a piece of that kid standing around a summer’s eve bonfire still lives on in each of us.

One of blissful and unshattered, trusting innocence. One that wants to gaze across the courtyard from a balcony and serendipitously meet the eyes of a silhouette in a white dress billowing gently in the Mexican heat.

One that wants to hop in the car, roll down the windows, crank the radio, and scream. Not stopping until the car needs gas, and then we figure it out from there. Someone wild, real, and ultimately yours.

One that wants to believe you can find love buying roses in the club and dancing with a stranger.

Years later, yes, the rules are different. Although I’d encourage anyone to fantasize, the time for staring across the room is over. The rules are different because the training wheels are coming off. When we grow up we somehow forget that it’s still okay to fall down a few times.

Perhaps, tragically, that’s the best anyone can do.

There’s something beautiful about the plight of the romantic though. One that compels and transfixes us. A collective struggle that could become easier if we would all talk about it a little more, and this is my contribution.

The setting has changed, but the familiar desire for intimacy remains. The only thing left is mustering the courage to let go.