My first love, John, and I weren't meant to be. Of course, I didn't know this at the time we were together. If I had, I never would have dated him. What can I say? I was blinded by college naiveté and his Buddy Holly glasses. But looking back, I should have known something was off. Why? Because he never liked Madonna.
Not that most straight men I know do like Madonna. They just don't seem to "get" the Material Girl and her resonance with modern women -- her mercurial style changes, her penchant for weird sexual power dynamics, and her shrewd, calculated business approach. But John was much more vehement in his distaste; he seemed to downright resent her, calling her nasty names and making ludicrous proclamations about her.
Whenever we'd "talk" about Madonna, we'd inevitably end up in a fight. Of course, I was twenty then and desperately in love for the first time, so love meant drama (underlined, italicized, with a capital D): roiling, over-the-top passion, fire, and . . . fighting. Lots and lots of drunken fighting, about the state of us, the world, other people -- and Madonna.
When I first met John, I was a college junior . My obsession with Her, on the other hand, began at age six, when I first saw her flounce onto MTV. As a burgeoning music junkie, I was into everything from Tears for Fears and Samantha Fox to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, but there was something about this twenty-six-year-old new girl on the block that hooked me in a different way. After hearing my very first Madonna song ("Borderline"), I became a bona fide wannabe. She was just so . . . cool. (And supposedly she had a genius IQ! Not only was she cool, she was smart as hell.) It was love.
I memorized every lyric to every song, and I used my friends' birthday parties as an excuse to dress like her. (I still can't believe my mom let me out of the house in some of those outfits: black lace headbands, fingerless gloves, mesh tank tops, neon socks; I was a full-fledged Madonna mini-me). My obsession faded a bit as I grew up and my musical tastes changed, but I continued to follow both her career and her personal life. I kept her in my back pocket like a little guardian angel, and I turned to her for hits of strength and inspiration when I needed them; she always delivered. Whenever I felt scared or anxious, I'd think, What would Madonna do? She handled life with such swagger and self-respect. There were insecurities in there somewhere (um, right?) but she never let on; no matter what the personal hurdle, she maintained a perpetual air of invincibility, and I admired her for it. Particularly in high school, when I found myself steeped in insecurity and adolescent longing, drawing little to no attention from decent guys. I constantly fought off feelings of inferiority because of my sheer lack of experience in the dude department. Like lots of teenage girls, I'd given the idea of romantic love too much weight, too much power (aren't American girls taught, even encouraged, to think this way?). By the time I hit college -- Madonna still in my back pocket -- I understood intellectually that a woman didn't require a romantic relationship to be happy, but I found it difficult to apply that notion to myself. I believed other women were fine on their own, that their single status indicated nothing lacking about them, but it was different when it came to me and my painfully single status. At best, I felt attractive but damaged; at worst, lost and unlovable.
And so it was that when I first saw John standing outside a bodega on St. Mark's Place one muggy summer night in New York City (I was there for a summer internship), I was ready. I'd waited a long time to fall in love. It was his Smiths T-shirt that first sold me -- a longtime lover of the Smiths and Morrissey, I had a weakness for fellow fans. They were usually like me: maybe a bit socially awkward, but also tender-hearted -- misanthropes who thought too much, analyzed everything, and wanted love but had absolutely no clue where to find it (or even how to flirt).
Something tugged me toward him. I liked him immediately -- his lankiness, his pasty blondness and his blue eyes behind black glasses. (I was pasty and blond and wore glasses, too.) I got his number and called him two days later. Within a few dates, I was falling for him; it was mutual and heady and beautiful. We looked like brother and sister, which felt somehow sick and sexy at the same time.
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