The Spark Theory originated when I was in eighth grade. Safely ensconsed in a tent in our backyard -- our parents relaxing on the porch a few feet away -- Michelle, my younger sister, and I decided to come up with the makings of what we called the “perfect” boyfriend.
“He has to be cute,” Michelle had said.
“Obviously." I’d rolled my eyes, thinking how dense sixth graders could be at times.
“Blue eyes,” she’d added.
“I like blue, but green’s nice, too.”
“What color hair?”
“Um, brown, definitely brown,” I’d insisted.
“That’s dumb. You’re only saying that because you have brown hair.”
“You’re dumb. Fine, what color hair do want?”
“Blond, like me. Or brown. Honestly, I think it doesn’t really matter,” she’d said in a worldly tone, as if she had it all figured out.
“So, you want someone cute, blond or brown hair, blue or green eyes. What else?”
“Magic,” she’d sighed.
“Yeah, you know,” she had said, looking through the tent flap at our parents. “What mom and dad have.”
Our mom and dad. They’d known each other since they were college sweethearts. Both of them had these bold, larger than life personalities. Full of spirit. Both type-As trying to assert themselves. There was always some sort of lively discussion at our house, as they both fought to get their point heard. To an outsider, it might seem that our parents fought a lot. I’d actually talked to Michelle about it once when we were teenagers, but she’d looked at me like I was crazy. “They aren’t fighting,” she’d said. “They’re just talking. What do you mean?” It figured. She was a lot like them. Me, I was the meek, quiet one of the family. Never one to rock the boat. Shying away from any confrontation.
The story my mom always told us growing up was that when she’d first met my dad, she’d taken one look at him and that was it. She’d fallen head over heels. And, if you watched them carefully, even when they were in the midst of one of their “discussions,” you could still see the look of love and respect they had for each other. They could be mad one second, and in each others arms the next. In a way, Michelle was right. It was a sort of magic. A sort of energy between the two of them.
“A spark,” I had said to Michelle. And, then the theory was born. The Spark Theory.
The Spark Theory had carried me all of the way through high school and college. If I met a guy, and I felt what I thought was a hint of spark, I was interested. It didn’t always work out, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
First, there was my high school boyfriend, who I’d fallen for during our junior year. We were “in love” and were going to spend the rest of our lives together. That is, until he broke up on me on the night of our senior prom because he wanted to go to college as a “free man.”
Freshman year of college, there was Drew. He was a DJ. Cute, sophisticated -- he was a senior, after all -- I knew he was interested, but I’d chickened out when I figured it was all about sex.
Then, there was Jack. Jack was a guy I had met my Sophomore year of college. He, like my best friend, Emile, was a musician, and also an aspiring film maker. Now, with him, I was sure I felt a spark. We’d had a great relationship for almost two years -- until he slept with a Freshman girl who had been trying to get him to notice her all year long. This I had to find out when I came to his apartment early one day. Talk about confrontations!
The next spark, or so I thought, was Charlie. Charlie was the ex-drummer of my friend Emile’s band. Also an “artist,” as he called himself, he pursued me for three months before I finally agreed to go out with him. After I made the dreadful mistake of having sex with him on our first date, he suddenly decided he didn’t want to get involved. Hurt and dejected, I was glad when he had packed up and moved to California a few months later.
As I progressed through my early 20s, I held out hope that one day, that special someone was going to come along and sweep me off my feet. I’d had a handful of other dates here and there, but nothing to write home about. So, I had basically given up on The Spark Theory as a load of crap.
Then came Mike.
We had met at a party I went to with Emile and his wife, Charlotte. Mike was dark haired and muscular, and when I first saw him, I thought he was cute but seemed a little too full of himself. I found out that he was an analyst on Wall Street, and he was there with a few of his friends, also Wall Street types. I could tell he was a little drunk, and I saw him out of the corner of my eye, trying to talk to a girl who didn’t seem to want to give him the time of day. I watched him throughout the conversation, which was mostly one-sided. After a while, I got pulled into a conversation with Emile and Charlotte, who were telling me about an upcoming show for their band.
Later that night, I went into the kitchen to get another drink. Mike was there, alone, drinking a beer. He looked so lonely that my heart went out to him.
“Hi,” I said, trying to be friendly. “Do you know many people here?”
He looked up at me, startled. He hadn’t heard me come in the kitchen. “No, none, actually. I came with a couple of friends.
“Oh. Where are they, now?”
He gestured with the beer bottle in his hand. “Out there somewhere. I just came in here to get away for a while. Crowds actually aren’t my thing,” he said, shrugging.
I remember thinking his shyness was endearing. I was sort of a loner myself sometimes. “Well, my name’s Kate,” I said to him. “There. It’s official. Now you know someone.” I don’t know what had gotten into me. Maybe it was one too many beers. Maybe it was the size of his biceps. Putting myself out there like that was just not my thing.
“I’m Mike,” he grinned back at me. “Nice to meet you.” He had a great smile.
And, just like that, as he smiled at me, there it was. That little tickle at the back of my neck. That zing. A spark.
We spent the rest of the party holed up in the kitchen, talking and laughing, and when Charlotte came to find me an hour later to share a cab home with her and Emile, Mike asked for my phone number.
We went out a week later, and then that date had morphed into more. And more still. Until it seemed like Mike had always been a part of my life.
Now, we had been together for eighteen months, Mike had reminded me. During that time, our lives had slipped into a familiar routine. Usually Wednesday nights were spent at my place. Thursday nights, I hung out with Emile and his band at the bar down the street, where they were sometimes the headline act. Mike came, too, if he could get off of work early enough. Friday nights, Mike spent “with the guys” and that was my time to catch a movie with friends, dinner with my sister, or just stay in.
But, we usually spent Saturdays together, either on my side of town or his. On Sundays, after sleeping in, we relaxed indoors, him watching sports (not my favorite), or maybe went to a movie or to a museum (not his favorite).
The best was when the weather was nice. Then, we went to our favorite cafe down the street from where I lived, found a table on the patio, and spent hours drinking coffee while trading sections of the Sunday paper.
Lately, my friends and family had started asking questions about Mike, wondering where the relationship was headed. I guess part of me had wondered about that, too. But, I have a confession to make. To say that I hadn’t seen this coming wasn’t exactly true. Lately, things with Mike lately had been sort of -- stale, I guess you could say. Or, maybe predicatable is a better word. Not that anything was wrong with that.
I guess what it all boiled down to was expectations. I think Mike went into the relationship expecting to fall in love, stay together a long time, and maybe even get married. Me, I was still unsure. You see, after my previous dating disasters, part of me was still holding back. Waiting to see if that initial spark with Mike was going to grow into something more.
But, I had a hard time imagining the actual marriage thing. I mean, I was only 27, so technically still young and didn’t really need to rush into anything. Then again, over a year was a long time to be with someone, so I guess it could have come to marriage eventually. The thing was, I was fine with the way things were, with him on his side of the city, me on mine, meeting “in between” a few days a week.
I guess he’d felt, too, me holding back. I think he stuck it out more out of a sense of loyalty than anything. I should have ended it long ago, but I’d been chicken. I hadn’t wanted to let go of my security blanket. Plus, as I said, I hate confrontation. I supposed if tonight he’d asked me to marry him, I would have smiled and gone along with it. Spark or no spark. Instead, life had other plans for me.