My wife and I celebrated twenty years as a couple this past weekend, so we thought we'd revisit our old haunts. It was fun to see the places that had been so significant to our early relationship, to stay at the hotel that twenty years ago I had considered a benchmark for future success. Funny how the young adult mind works.
Sometimes I wonder if we would have met if our circumstances had been different; if Kara had gone to college in Des Moines, where I grew up and which she considered. Or if our mutual friend Chris hadn't made a point of connecting us to one another. Such alternate realities are nothing more than thought experiments, but they're also the stuff of such an unlikely couple as science fiction and romance--films like The Adjustment Bureau or Sliding Doors, where the ending is always happy because, despite the whims of circumstance, the destiny of one person is always revealed to be mingled with that of another. I got to thinking that if Kara and I had both been born twenty years later, we probably would still have wound up together, but the story would be completely different.
So, in the spirit of love, and science fiction, and blog maintenance, I hereby present my counterfactual romance.
Kara was getting excited as the start of her first year of college quickly approached. She had applied all over and finally settled on Illinois Wesleyan University; they had a killer library and a good sociology program, not to mention a variety of choirs she could sing in. She went to church that morning and bumped into her friend Chris, who after two years at her chosen school had decided to complete his degree online so he could work full time at the church. "Any tips for me?" she asked him.
Chris pulled out his smart phone and opened the Facebook app. "You'll want to connect with these five people," he told her, calling each up in turn and suggesting Kara as a friend to each of them. Then he called up the Bump app and passed along their contact information to Kara so she'd be able to contact them directly. Kara was excited; it'd be good to begin college with some friends in place. She sent them each an e-mail introducing herself and looked forward to the year to come.
Dave noticed that Chris had made friend suggestion to his Facebook account and called up Kara's profile to check her out. She was cute. Liked "music, people." Seemed to like the Beatles an awful lot. He made a mental note to connect with her once they were both on campus again.
The school year began at its usual brisk and hectic pace. Kara got an Eventbrite e-mail inviting her to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and quickly got involved with that group. Not really a joiner, Dave had never gotten into InterVarsity, favoring more activist-oriented social clubs like Amnesty International (which he quit shortly after learning he'd have to write a lot of e-mails) and Habitat for Humanity. He and his friends, however, had formed their own little Bible study and prayer group, and eventually they got their meetings on the calendar at the IWU website and sent an invitation to Kara. They met for the first time on the stairs leading to the small chapel above the information desk; that would become a regular meeting place for the whole group, and Dave and Kara in particular.
Dave and Kara's friendship grew over time, and they had many late night IM sessions in which they'd chat for hours about all kinds of stuff. But Dave had this weird thing about not dating friends, which never really made sense, come to think of it. Then Spring Break came. Dave went to New Orleans with Habitat. He came to look forward to the daily, lengthy e-mail from Kara while he was away, and as he walked along Bourbon Street in the evenings he found himself thinking about her over and over again. She was his friend, but he thought he'd like her to be something more.
He texted Chris and told him what he was thinking. Chris texted back that he had wondered all those months ago, when he was connecting Kara to his IWU friends, whether Dave and Kara would ever get together. Chris was one of those Holy Spirit guys, so when he said stuff like that, you kind of payed attention. So Dave started to work up the courage to ask Kara out.
It took a while. But eventually Dave got it together and called Kara's room. Her roommate, Reena, answered and told Dave that she was out, would be back later. Dave tried to hide the disappointment in his voice; asking girls out had always made Dave exceedingly nervous, and he wasn't sure he'd be able to go through with it later. But he asked Reena to have Kara call his cell when she had a chance.
Reena texted Kara, but Kara thought it was an April Fools joke. So she waited till she was back in the room before calling Dave. He picked up on first ring; it took a bit of hemming and hawwing, but eventually he managed to invite her to a movie after his concert that Friday night. She said yes. He hung up and added it to his iCalendar. And then he changed his Facebook status to "In a relationship." And the rest is history.
OK, so new technology doesn't change the story as much as I thought. But this is sort of how I imagine kids today getting together--the same amount of social clumsiness and testing emotional connections, spread out over a number of alternate technologies. Back in the day I had one phone number and a wall phone with a cord. Today I could reach out and touch Kara any time, any place. I'd still do so awkwardly and anxiously, though, and we'd still have to do the hard work of connecting. It'd still be worth it too, for the record.