Reviving Boy Meets Girl

Living the Resistance in a Techno-Material Age

Consider a familiar scene: It’s autumn. Early morning. The air is crisp and welcome after a sweltering September. At such an hour—6:45 am—only those who have some semblance of regular work schedules can predictably be expected to attend the same local coffee shop and order the same expensive espresso drink, which now costs over five dollars, thanks to inflation. The barista is familiar with his customers, which confers a sense of meaning and order upon this otherwise meaningless and fallen world.

The order comes up.

Barista: Oat milk latte for Sabastian! With half shot of vanilla!

Sabastian: That’s me.

But he is not alone. His voice is doubled by an elegant yet firm soprano, a feminine voice that he doesn’t recognize. He is already at the counter and reaching for the drink, when his hand collides with hers. She is apparently running late and has ordered the same drink. When Sabastian was seven, he was mildly electrocuted by a faulty plug socket, a feeling he had almost forgotten until this moment. The accidental touch of her hand and the runway of long lashes landing his gaze safely upon her green eyes left him speechless. He was seven again – and catching his breath from the shock.

Sabastian: I…sorry…just thought…

Girl: Oh, was this you?

Barista: looking at Sabastian with the authority of a school recess monitor. Hold your horses, buddy. It’s hers.

The girl smiles.

Sabastian: Of course! Thank you, I mean, by all means, you can steal my drink any time.

Girl: eyebrows raised yet smiling and playful, Sorry! It’s just I’m late for work. I owe you one. She begins to move away.

Sabastian: No worries. I’m not late, so…

Girl: now walking backward and spinning to exit, Lattes for days! She raises her drink and holds his gaze with a parting smile before disappearing into the bright world.

Sabastian stands still looking out those tall shop windows. He is undone and does not hear the barista who is now shouting his name because his order is up – which, of course, no longer matters because he is undone. Hope fills his heart. She is a regular here. She just works earlier than he does. Apparently, the universe is not meaningless, and the sun doesn’t simply rise again and again. Apparently, these two souls have been frequenting the same coffee shop for who knows how long. Apparently, it only took a faulty charging cord to cause her to miss her alarm, which in turn was the only reason for their fortuitous meeting that morning, a meeting which Sabastian could not wait to repeat.

Matchmaking in the Modern Mating Market

Such a scene is known in film and storytelling as the “meet-cute,” the charming and often awkward first encounter of a man and a woman that inevitably leads to their redemptive romance. Though it is stock-and-trade of many a rom-com, it is not simply a wishful ideal. Such encounters are compelling and believable because they are a fair representation of reality. It doesn’t take a Matthew McConaughey or a Ryan Gosling. The meet-cute is simply one of the many moments in life that is full of potential, brimming with qualitative possibility of surprising encounters in a fish-full sea.

But things have changed. No more “running into” your mate. Dating apps have changed all that. Why go through the hassle of asking a random stranger out, when you can search the profiles of eligible singles online and then make an informed decision, free from the immediate and sometimes public risk of rejection?

This question remains especially poignant for men. As the disintegration of cultural standards continues apace, a man can no longer assume the moral or religious presuppositions of the woman he just ran into at the local coffee shop. Simply asking her out in an awkward yet endearing way might result in his incarceration. He needs help.

But the woman needs help too. For those Christian ladies longing for marriage, a good man is exceedingly hard to find. While many women may feel more “empowered” these days, a majority of them can testify to being “harassed” or feeling unsafe when it comes to dating.

Enter the values-based dating service to facilitate romance and expedite love.

If we can reduce the in-person difficulty of dating and courting to a just another form of market economics, then it makes sense to construct a competitive and advantageous forum. Or so the modernist thinks. While dating apps such as Tinder seem to be the digital equivalent of an earlier time when shameless persons took out a “looking for love” ad in the local paper, other dating apps and services promise better, nobler, and more lasting results. Christian Mingle, Crosspaths, Catholic Match—the list goes on. And the most recent attempt, Ryann McEnany’s The Right Stuff, a dating app aimed at purported “conservatives” in search of a like-minded spouse, is no different. But it didn’t take the ensuing criticism of this conservative attempt at matchmaking to prove it a bad idea.

Most such attempts at love—conservative, Christian, or heathen—are a kind of Faustian exchange. Augustine says, humans want two simple things: to love and to be loved. Many who think the “swipe right” option brings a better purchase of those twin desires find they are frustrated, burnt out, and disillusioned with dating apps in the end. But maybe those are the crazy people who just want to “hook up,” not the “conservatives” who want to meet others with the same sense of moral decency, respect for the truth, and love of traditions and customs.

What, however, are we “conserving” if the organ of normative social interaction is removed and replaced with the risk-free version of Amazon? What are we “conserving” if we simply become more discerning consumers of each other? What are we “conserving” if we relegate the gloriously human meet-cute to mythology, a bygone era when a man and a woman could really find each other amid the rubble of society and in the natural convergence of their still blushing days?

Recovering a Flesh & Bone Meet-Cute

In order to answer these questions, we must remember what the meet-cute means anthropologically. And to do this, we need to see the theological glory of that cringe-worthy scene when the confident man is surprised by the beautiful woman and for the first time doesn’t know how to act, or how the shy boy finds both his voice and virtue when he unexpectedly meets the girl with green eyes.       

The meet-cute is rooted in an enchanted epistemological vision of the cosmos. It looks on the world with the eyes of charity and poetic expectation, not with the jaundiced glance of suspicion. It receives the substance of being as gift and believes, in spite of the “bleared” and “smeared” fallen condition, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” If “nature is never spent,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it, then the serendipitous encounter of boy-meets-girl is not so hard to accept, even for skeptics.

Modern man needs the meet-cute, for it is an embodied testimony of the inexhaustible instantiations of the Good in the world. The meet-cute reminds us that God’s kindness may at any moment “flame out,” as Hopkins says, “like shining from shook foil.” Who knows, for instance, if Dante’s own life was not interrupted by a divinely arranged meet-cute as he walked along the Arno and bumped into Beatrice? How else are we to imagine Jacob and Rachel’s encounter at the well?

Indeed, the meet-cute is biblical. It’s not too difficult to imagine the first meeting of our original parents as a meet-cute, for when the drowsy Adam looks on Eve for the first time, he sees himself in the mirror of Eve’s being: “Part of my Soul I seek thee, and thee claim / My other half.”[1] Surprise and wonder are the sine qua non of the meet-cute, which G. K. Chesterton portrays well:

Our God who made two lovers in a garden,
And smote them separate and set them free,
Their four eyes wild for wonder and wrath and pardon
And their kiss thunder as lips of land and sea:
Each rapt unendingly beyond the other,
Two starry worlds of unknown gods at war,
Wife and not mate, a man and not a brother,
We thank thee thou hast made us what we are.

Perhaps Adam’s own poetic utterance— “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23)—was just the right response to soften his otherwise awkward first meeting of Eve, a kind of romantic comedy that even the angels enjoyed as they looked on.

Without the in-person reality of two souls, man and woman, meeting in space and time, there can be no true rom-com, no beautiful human futures leading to the generation and blessing of the family. Dating apps, even if they are for “conservative” people, are destroying the meet-cute. Again and again, we may make the bargain with our digital tools, seeking to facilitate, accelerate, or circumvent some human difficulty and trade it in for a more immediate human reward, but we are ever the losers in that exchange. For human difficulties are often mysteriously bound to human delights, and when human joy is mediated through inhuman means, it always loses something of its original integrity.

Nature is Never Spent

For those living in the resistance, it’s not enough for us to simply say to them, “Boys and girls, don’t join the dating apps. Go forth to meet and fall in love.” It’s easy to say, “Be warmed and filled,” as James points out, but quite another thing to provide for those who have need. And the young people of today have great need. The normative institutions have broken down and the shared values of a Christian social order have disintegrated almost entirely, leaving a harvest for these next generations that is the cultural equivalent of a frozen tundra, where love is cold and sex is barren. What is needed is for those married Christians to resuscitate the organ or normative social interaction.

This means families and churches must set the scene literally, creating in both time and space, enchanted places where the fortuitous meetings of boy and girl can thrive. Let him who has a garage throw a party. Let him who owns a barn, throw a hoedown joyous and elegant enough to make the Bennet sisters forget Netherfield Ball. Let the church who has space and an empty floor open its doors to teach the kind of dance that leads to the best of awkward moments, because the form itself compels and calls forth in us everything that is rightly human—touch, nearness, manners and sentiment, desire without privation.

And before we entertain complaints, such as, “I can’t dance” or “But my two left feet,” let’s remember that the beauty of partner dancing transcends the individual. It’s not about you. This is especially important for men, whose tradition it is to lead, for it is often the responsibility and effort that matters most in the end. Civilization depends upon dance that is ordered around something higher and more transcendent than the spontaneous and self-directed expressions of the dancers. Let these singles learn what Yeats meant when he said, “O body swayed to music, O quickening glance, / How shall I tell the dancer from the dance.”     

But it doesn’t have to be just dancing. Let us commit ourselves to rehabilitate the preconditions for the meet-cute to return once again. Let us avoid creating the hackneyed “singles group” at church. This must be something families themselves have a considerable stake in, where the attractive forms of a husband flirting with his wife of twenty years become the instantiation of divine beauty, strong enough to move a young single man to risk talking to a young single woman. And instead of hosting the same network of couples and families, bring singles together into a home brimming with the festal dimensions of Mr. Fezziwig. And then watch and enjoy the romcom unfold, entertainment enough for the more benign spirits to behold and say with charity,Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Though meeting people in person may now feel a dismal prospect and finding love may seem impossible without the aid of a digital marketplace, we can’t forget that “nature is never spent” – that even if “the last lights off the black West went,” the morning of the world still eastward springs and

the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Long live the meet-cute.  

Devin O'Donnell is the Vice President of Membership and Publishing at the Association of Classical Christian Schools. He is author of The Age of Martha: A Call to Contemplative Learning in a Frenzied Culture (2019). He was the Research Editor of Bibliotheca in 2015 and has worked in classical Christian education for 20 years. He and his family live in the Northwest, where he writes, fly fishes, and remains a classical hack.

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