A child of the 1980s, I was raised on Nora Ephron’s romantic comedies. They led me to believe that love would come to me in the form of a fortuitous coffee spill on the sidewalk and that it was okay to stalk a lonely widower — as long as you were as adorable as Meg Ryan.
But a decade into my adult dating life, I had been swiped left and ghosted enough times to know better. My “meet-cute” was most likely going to be my 100th carefully scheduled drinks date after slogging through a sea of unfit candidates and unwanted pictures of male genitalia. No wonder there hasn’t been a decent romantic comedy in a long time — romance is dead.
At least that’s what I thought when I reported for jury duty at the Los Angeles Superior Court on a January morning two years ago and was swiftly chosen to serve as an arbiter of justice. The trial was a civil case, set to be five days; it lasted for 10.
The trial itself was a circus of incompetence, but I made some friends in the jury box. My clique included a graphic designer, an aerospace engineer and a chef from a prominent L.A. restaurant. It was nice to be surrounded by interesting people I wouldn’t have met otherwise and who never asked me to pass their spec scripts on to my agent.
The chef and I turned out to have grown up just miles from each other in suburban Detroit. He went to a private Catholic school while I spent two full years of middle school winning “Best Line Dancer” trophies on the bar mitzvah circuit, but we spoke a common language of Coney Dogs, Tigers baseball and Euchre. We used our excessively long lunch breaks to explore downtown L.A.’s food scene and talk about anything except the trial. He laughed hard as I pitched him jokes I was working on, and he assessed a recent cooking injury I’d sustained while frying Brussels sprouts.
Oblivious to the fact that I had become the love interest in my own romantic comedy’s first act, I was no Kathleen Kelly. I didn’t wear a stitch of makeup. I accidentally burped in front of him one morning as I scarfed down a stale pastry from the court coffee shop. I even came in one day and proclaimed that I had matched with my future husband on Tinder the previous night. The chef smiled politely as I mercilessly acted out the witty text banter — neither of us knowing that my so-called future husband would turn out to be a maybe-recovering drug addict who stood me up twice before the trial was over.
The chef finally made his move on the day closing arguments began. We had dipped into the Museum of Contemporary Art for a quick walkabout during lunch — one of our few jury “perks.” As we waited to cross the street to re-enter the courthouse, he asked if I wanted to get dinner “when this is all over”?
It had been so long since I’d been asked out on a date other than through a Tinder message of “U up?” that I started to sweat profusely in the 60-degree L.A. winter weather and blabbered on a lengthy diatribe about how the pressure was on for the chef to deliver a tasty dinner. He exchanged numbers with me, anyway.
The trial was finally over. (I was elected as presiding juror despite announcing my candidacy by exclaiming, “I volunteer as tribute!”) We dispersed back to our real lives, and the chef said he’d call. I wondered if he would, or if it was just a case of jury-duty goggles.
But he called me the next day. On the phone. To talk. He would continue to do so in the following weeks as our conflicting work lives made scheduling a date next to impossible. When we finally settled on Saturday brunch plans, I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had just asked me out for Valentine’s Day.
When I showed up, he stood and presented me with a single red rose. And suddenly, I understood. I had gotten my meet-cute after all.
Now, two years later, the chef and I are engaged and getting married in May. Our rom-com ends not with a crosstown chase and a midnight New Year’s Eve kiss, but with debates about whose turn it is to clean out the cat litter, belly laughs over stupid YouTube videos, and doing each other’s laundry when the other is too busy. It would be a horrible movie, but it makes for a pretty nice life. Romantic comedies are great, but eventually you grow out of them. Just ask Meg Ryan.