The Progress of Love? The Stages Stay the Same, It’s the Content that Gets the Update

45 minutes after meeting each other, they were off in the corner of the lounge lip-locked. A few days later, text messages inquires attempted to arrange a proper date — neither had the time and the exchanges ceased. A week passed and she awoke to a Facebook friend request, a miracle considering she never game him her last name. As she clicked “accept,” it occurred to her that they might have done things totally out of order…

Back when I was a bright-eyed student enrolled in Art History 101, I was given an assignment to write a short paper on a painting housed in New York’s Frick Collection. I settled on a series of 18th century baroque panels by the French artist Jean-Honore Fragonard entitled “The Progress of Love.” Floral-ridden and chocolate-box-esque, the 4 tableaux track love from its uncertain beginnings to a happy ending. Beginning with “The Pursuit”  the artist takes us through “The Meeting,” “The Lover Crowned,” and “Love Letters.”

It’s been a long time since I thought about these paintings, but as I compared dating notes with a few girl friends who recently acquired/deactivated boyfriends, I decided the scenes set among the frilly, baroque gardens of earthly delights needed a 21st century make over…

The Pursuit (the attempt at seduction):

She's out with her girl friends, but that doesn't stop him from making his approach.

In Fragonard’s day, when masquerade balls were probably the 18th century’s closest approximation of OkCupid, The Pursuit really only happened in the flesh. Today, technology grants us endless ways to approach (stalk?) our future lovers, but at the end of the day, we still prefer a good chase in the real world…

Much Like Fragonard’s leading lady, today’s heroine is out with her girl friends when He makes his approach. He catches her off guard — the last thing she had on her mind tonight was getting lucky. He nonchalantly slips in next to her at the bar and leads with a corny pickup line because he figures  it’ll make her laugh.  It does. The usual questions are asked and answered. He offers to buy her a refill. She accepts. There’s an occasional arm touch or shoulder tap. Her friends drag her away – they have places to go! She won’t give out her number. But shouts back her name, spelling it out for him. If you want to find me, you’ll find me, she tells him. Lucky for him, he has a good memory. He tracks her down on Facebook. A friend request. Accepted.

She’s out again with her friends, a drink down the hatch when they convince her to message him and find out what he’s doing that night. The doors are wide open. Messages fly back and forth for the next few days. He’s busy. She’s busy. He’s busy. She’s busy. Radio silence. A week passes, then finally he tries again. They agree to a proper date…

The Meeting (the moonlit assignation)

The Moonlit assignation, or the First Date

First dates don’t happen on weekends anymore. Weekends are reserved for real friends. Weekends allow you to behave out of character. Weekends have consequences.

They agree to meet on Tuesday night, after work, for drinks and dinner. She has a 9AM meeting Wednesday morning with a big client — the perfect built-in out for when things start to go rough. He’s decided she’s worth impressing and takes her some place upscale but understated. By now, they’ve both forgotten what the other person actually looks like in real life, and are surprised to find they’re attracted to each other.

He’s nervous and spills her drink. The ice is broken, literally and figuratively, and the subsequent conversation is lively. Before they know it, the maitre d’hotel is kicking them out — it’s closing time. He wants to kiss her. She’s sorry it’s a Tuesday, hugs him instead (what restraint!) and they agree to meet again.

Love Letters (the continuation of a happy union)

after the meeting comes the love letters... or love texts

In Fragonard’s series, this actually comes last — the happy couple send letters to reinforce their eternal love for one another. Today, I’m not sure how many people exchange handwritten love letters any more. However, the exchange of love notes in 2010/11 take on many forms, thanks to BBM and text messages. Fingers shoot across miniature keyboards in rapid-fire, concise exchanges. “Wanna come over?” “what r u wearing”  “;)” NC-17 camera phone images strengthen the lust, while the occasional “i miss u” or “dinner 2nite?” tug at the heart strings.

The Lover Crowned (they finally get it on)

When she was 18, her mother gave her a copy of “The Rules.” Recently, she’d been watching “Millionaire Matchmaker.” Both advocate waiting until a relationship turns monogamous before sleeping with the guy. She always felt this approach got her into more trouble than it was worth, but she’s been trying to stick with it. They’re a few weeks into things and out to dinner when he asks her if she’d like to join him at his sister’s wedding next week. Gulp!

“So..um…what’s up with us?” she asks, knowing that she’s about the meet his whole extended family. Is she “a friend” or “the girlfriend?”

The verdict? She’s the girlfriend…

They go back to his place. Clothes fly off — in the morning, there’s shirts in the kitchen, pants in the living rooms and trails of random garments hanging off the furniture. Thank goodness it’s a Sunday morning.

Finally, she gets to close the book on The Rules.

Next stop? The Swing?

Fragonard's "The Swing"... I don't think this one needs an update 😉

Board Games & The Brothers Grimm, or, When I believed Happily-Ever-After Meant Tiffany’s and Vera Wang

In 1993, I was 8 and Cadco had just released “The Perfect Wedding” — a simple game where 2-4 giggly girls roll dice to move florescent engagement rings around a heart-shaped board. Each roll brings the future blushing bride to a square labeled “ring,” “dress,” “cake,” “music,” “reception,” “flowers,” “honeymoon,” or “tuxedo” where she then use her allotted budget to assemble the wedding of her prepubescent dreams. I played “The Perfect Wedding” with the same vigor and competitive edge that I approached more weighty games like Clue and Monopoly — I had a clear idea of what I wanted for “the most important day of my life.” I was going to have my red rose bouquet, string quartet, cushion-cut diamond, and sweetheart crinoline-confection of a dress, and I was not willing to compromise.

I had totally forgotten about this game and completely blocked out that phase of my childhood when I used to have “practice” weddings and design my future bridesmaids’ dresses. Today, an unwelcomed flashback through my younger years reminded me that once upon a time, I was a true-blue, diehard, unshakable romantic.

the dress an 8-year old me wanted to get married in

Oh! To go back to the days when I could draw my “soulmate” for you on a piece of paper! To go back to the days when a daydream wrapped in white lace and set to the tune of “Here Comes the Bride” was fantasy enough! How simple young girls are, how pure our vision of love and how ready we are to believe that happily-ever-afters means eternal perfection!

For 17 years “The Perfect Wedding” has been gathering dust in my toy-box (ironically, a 19th century dowry chest), and with it, so has my eight-year-old’s vision of romance ever lasting. I shelved daydreaming about engagement rings and white dresses a long time ago. Don’t get me wrong, send me into Tiffany’s and I’ll beeline right to that legacy band, but today I’m what I would call a Pragmatic Romantic.

I don’t envision being swept off my feet anymore by a prince charming type, though, I do believe that a significant other should feel like an escape from the ho-hum of la vie quotidienne. I’d rather have a Prince Albert than a Prince Charming anyway. I can’t draw you a picture of Mr. Right anymore, but I can describe, pretty well, what values/likes/dislikes I’d prefer him to have.  I don’t have delusions of finding my one true soulmate and living out the remainder of my days in trouble-free, blissful peace. I could keep going, but it’s not important. The punchline is that at 24, I’m already more of a Alex Goran than a Natalie Keener.*

the grown-up me prefers an understated Valentino (perhaps in a tea-rose pink?)

Don’t worry, I’m not jaded yet — I’ve got at least another 5 years before I hit jaded. There’s still a romantic in me. I still cry every time Big and Carrie stand on that bridge in Paris and he tells her, “Carrie, you’re the one.”  And I will have red roses at my wedding — I can promise you that much. Whether or not my dress is white, well, the dice have yet to be rolled on that one.

——-

Dating is like…

My trusty wing-woman: being single is like being an anthropologist
but not like a cool anthropologist like indiana jones
but, like, jane goodall
….

Just started dating someone new? better get your gas mask ready

My trusty wing-woman: dating is war

me: yes. dating is trench warfare
you come out of hiding for battles
and then duck away again until the next one
it’s ugly
sometimes you’re ambushed
and they’re causalities
total carnage
you think you’re safe in your trench… but then bam! you get a text message
and it might as well be mustard gas