Romantic comedy fans like us know a meet-cute when we see one. It’s when two strangers meet in a charming, unexpected way that in retrospect looks fated. A man and a woman trip and fall into each other on the street. Or sit next to each other on a train. Or strike up a conversation on a fateful elevator ride. Fast-forward three years and they’re married with kids. In romantic comedies, meet-cutes tend to bring together two white, heterosexual strangers through a series of slapstick moments and endearing misunderstandings when neither of them is looking for love. In many cases, the woman is actually engaged to someone else—but the universe has other plans for her.
In real life, of course, this all gets a lot more complicated. Meet-cutes might be cathartic—it’s comforting to think that you’re fated to find love—but we all know that those “how we met” stories edit out the tedious, unflattering initial conflicts that form the foundation of our relationships. And we want to know what couples achieve by leaving those details out.
Isaac and Nobl: “It Was Just… Magic”
We interviewed our friends Isaac and Nobl at their home in San Francisco; their young daughter was fast asleep upstairs, and Isaac periodically interrupted our conversation to go check on her. Isaac and Nobl have been together for nine years now, and their meet-cute is pretty classic.
“There was magic,” said Isaac when he remembered the night they met. “Undoubtable magic.”
Isaac and Nobl met in 2008, when Nobl went on a date with someone else at a hot new restaurant he was managing. It was a pretty casual scene—restaurant-goers wearing yoga pants, polo shirts and baseball caps—and maybe that’s why Isaac noticed Nobl, who walked into the restaurant wearing black gloves and a shiny, red babydoll dress. Isaac bantered with her throughout the evening, in front of her friends and her date. Eventually he gave Nobl his number. They went on a few dates over the next few weeks and started to fall for each other—but Nobl wouldn’t tell Isaac what she did for a living.
When it came up, she was vague. She eventually told Isaac she was an event planner, which wasn’t exactly true. Isaac started to get suspicious. Nobl was a beautiful woman in a baby doll dress who was hung out in the high end of San Francisco and was vague about her work—and he thought that could only mean one thing.
“Initially, when I thought she might be an escort,” Isaac told us, “I was surprised. I don’t attract this kind of woman.”
So when Isaac found out that Nobl was actually an MD-PhD neurologist, “I just melted,” he said.
Nobl told us she was used to lying about her profession. She and her friends found that they had a better track record with men if they omitted it. “Guys would come up to us and say, ‘What do you do?’” she told us. “And we would say, ‘Doctors,’ and they would just run away.”
Nobl and Isaac have been together ever since. And between the random, charming way they met and the comical misunderstandings that followed, the story of how they got together “was totally out of a movie,” Nobl says.
“I mean there were a lot of boring parts in between,” says Nobl, “but you can cut those out, which is what movies do.”
Lucas and Sierra: “It Set the Foundation of Our Relationship”
Isaac and Nobl’s classic meet-cute makes their relationship seem fated, and it can be cathartic to feel that the universe is looking out for you in some way. But like Nobl says, we all know that couples’ “how we met” stories are liberally edited. And some of the most complex and romantic parts of our relationships can be found in the tedium we rarely talk about.
At first, our friends Lucas and Sierra sounded like they had the perfect meet-cute. Lucas said that he fell hard for Sierra when he saw her in class, stalked her for about six months and then… threw up all over her. And then they got together. They’ve been together for a few years now and live in Oakland with their adorably fat cat. But the story of how they met is a lot more complicated.
Lucas first noticed Sierra in a 2012 election class at the University of San Francisco. “I made it my mission to find ways to be near her,” he says, “without her realizing I was facilitating it.” Lucas is also transgender, and he had just started his transition. “I had only been on hormones for like two months, so my voice was three and a half octaves higher than it is now,” he remembers.
Sierra wasn’t particularly interested in dating anyone, and Lucas was one of the first trans people that she had ever met. “I didn’t even think about gender critically, it didn’t cross my mind,” she told us. “I feel like I’d never even heard the word trans before.”
So over the next eight months, Lucas embarked on an awkward, eight-month campaign to win Sierra over. He offered her weed and walked her home from class, even though he lived in the opposite direction. He declared his love to her while they watched Arrested Development. And yes, he threw up on her at a Super Bowl party—then biked drunk with her through San Francisco and declared his love for her again. And each time he asked her out she said no.
After a few months, Lucas started to give up. “I was like, ‘This girl is playing a lot of games,’” he says, “’and I’m not sure of how to win.’”
Sierra and Lucas both changed dramatically over the course of these eight months. Lucas’ transition had put him in an emotionally vulnerable place, he said, and Sierra was trying to figure out what it meant for her. “It was the first time I’d ever thought critically about sexuality, about gender, about all of that stuff,” she said.
They finally started dating properly after graduation. And while their courtship may have been meandering, Lucas and Sierra say they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“To me it really set the foundation so we could have this kind of relationship,” Sierra says.
Falling in love can be a personal and messy process. There are all the doubts and weird tests that couples put each other through, the personal growth and compromises at the foundation of all great relationships. For Lucas & Sierra, and Isaac & Nobl, the full story of how they met is a little too private to tell someone at a cocktail party. And that’s where the meet-cute comes in. It’s a romantic trope that makes your story a little shorter and a little sweeter, with just a touch of magic