It started like a meet-cute in an obnoxiously themed rom-com. We were both Southern transplants in a Midwestern grad school; we had both been away from home for nearly a decade and had forgotten what that truly entailed.
He was a handsome enough guy. He had a regularly-scheduled "cheat day" but worked out religiously on the other six. He rocked a q-ball look to hide his thinning hair, and had an accent that made Foghorn Leghorn sound like a Yank. A childhood injury him with damage to his iris that made it impossible not to look (stare) him directly in the eye.
I was the daughter of a blue-collar, second-generation immigrant, which meant I was more Steel Magnolia than graceful southern belle. I was not known for tact, for immaculate Southern hygiene, or for my high-minded manners. But I did grow up going to church on Sundays and showing deference to my elders, so I had all the necessary potential for a Starter Girlfriend.
In his heart, Foghorn knew that I was a Good Southern Girl, and that if I found the right man, I'd straighten up, bleach my hair blonde, and start getting my nails done weekly. I just needed someone to treat me to good ol' fashioned Southern manners after such a long stay on the godless golden coast - if somebody bought me a couple of dinners and opened a couple of doors, I'd be wife material before you could say, "Yes, ma'am."
Because I was young, naive, and enthusiastic about making unsound romantic decisions, I found the idea intriguing, but was too busy with school to do much about it. We flirted a little at school, and a little more at bars.
You can see where the third-act conflict came from already, can't you?
Well, you're wrong. Foghorn circled me like a shark, making suggestions about my appearance ("Heard of a highlights?"), my attitude ("Considered smiling more?"), my choice of degree programs ("Considered something more feminine?"), and my choice of friends ("They drink a lot and are bad influences."). We got along swimmingly!
... That's not true at all, but it sounds nice, doesn't it?
Foghorn decided that the best course of action would obviously be to work out some of his romantic frustrations on my roommate, whose life-long obsession with the dirty south lead her to be - questionably? - in love with his Old World Charm and his Ridiculously Romantic Accent. Because she wasn't a "good Southern girl," he felt no compunctions about sleeping with her.
I don't know how y'all do things outside the South (just kidding - I totally do! but run with it so I can say "y'all" and act like I'm foreign!), but back home, we have this thing called Girl Code. It's a lot like Bro Code, but instead of no-crossing-swords, the rule is: no double-dipping in the gene pool. This includes sisters of the heart, as well as sisters of the blood.
Foghorn made himself off-limits - and broke the heart of my closest friend - all with one pelvic thrust. (Did I just imply the secret sex was bad sex? I hope not. That would be very unladylike.) Naturally, he handled the rejection like a champ.
He and the roommate had repeated conversations about how I was completely un-dateable. I didn't know my place! I always had something to say! I was too independent! What was with that hair! He could never date someone my age, because he'd want to marry her eventually and really, by their mid-twenties, you'd missed their whole life - and then what was the point? (I followed up on this one and yes: women expire at the stroke of midnight on their 26th birthday. Like milk. Make sure to observe your use-by date, girls!)
Don't ask me why the roommate put up with these conversations - or why she felt the need to repeat them. I haven't the faintest.
We took to verbal-sparring matches at bars. At lunches. Any time my wonderful roommate tried to put us in the same place; his were defensive because I had rejected him. He'd say something designed to make me look and feel stupid; I'd poke holes in his logic and then cackle about it.
The real twist of the knife came two or three months into the relationship with my roommate; with me sitting a few feet away, Foghorn sneered, "I could never date someone like FluterDale. She'd make me feel like I had to be all dominant and shit."
All dominant. And shit.
I was too close to the situation to see it before, but I realized then: he was so controlling because he was intimidated. The harder I tried to show him that I was my own person, the more he needed me to behave in a way he could understand. The more he needed me to behave in a way he could understand, the harder he tried to control my behavior, and the more I fought to prove that I was, in fact, my own person.
It was a cluster-fuck, and not in one of those cute they'll-get-together-someday ways. In one of those you-literally-make-my-eye-twitch-at-the-sound-of-your-name ways. (On top of all this, he was treating my roommate like a piece of garbage, and the overprotective friend in me could not let that stand.)
He introduced me to FluterDude, who thought I was neat. FluterDude also grew up in the South, although his background was sufficiently different. He had a "dominant and shit" mother, and thought it was neat that if he sassed me, I sassed right back. We hit it off (almost) immediately.
Much to Foghorn's chagrin. He gave the "dominant and shit" speech again. Several times. He actually pulled me aside once to explain that FluterDude was "sensitive" and wouldn't stand for "any of my Yankee airs and ill-mannered sass."
He ended up graduating before he could sabotage our early stages, and moving to another midwestern state (the same as our current one!) to teach. We ran into him last weekend and he seemed - surprised? fascinated? - that we had lasted. That we were married.
He also introduced us to his new wife.
She's from South Carolina and is a natural blonde. She's 25. She teaches at an elementary school, and she thinks my sense of humor is "so colorful."
"So colorful" is Southern code for rude.
Bless both their little hearts.