Ten years ago this summer, I was sitting on a window ledge in Vienna, fantasizing about the book I knew I was destined to write. I was twenty years old and in Europe for the first time, so of course it would be a Liebesroman, filled with sweeping romance and the requisite handsome, mysterious foreigner. My protagonist would discover him moodily playing an acoustic guitar in a smoky bar, and his inherent goodness would save her from the mediocrity of her life. I glanced down at the local passerby, consumed with thoughts of this dashingly perfect foreign savior.
“Life gets in the way” is quite the cliché, but I knew it to be true when two years had passed without my epic romance novel coming to fruition. I stalled at every attempt to put pen to paper. I kept trying to envision this handsome stranger with a heart of gold and a dedicated adherence to chivalry, but I was instead flooded with vignettes of shitty past boyfriends. Any attempt to picture Handsome Foreigner playing the guitar was rudely interrupted with visions of an ex who played the guitar and also—unbeknownst to me—was married the duration of our relationship. Fuck it, I decided. Rather than be saved by some perfect specimen of a man, my protagonist would be crushed by an amalgamation of my exes. I could picture her snorting coke off a coffee table with reckless abandon and hating herself, à la a Lana del Rey track.
A few years later, my angsty hate scribbles had amounted to little more than catharsis. Despite filling up a dozen or so journals and blogs with snapshots, I was no closer to a coherent text than I’d been on that summer day in Austria. Maybe my idea needed some adjustment; instead of Handsome Foreigner or Shitty Fuckboy Amalgamation, what if my male protagonist needed some balance? As a 26-year-old, I had started to outgrow my all-men-are-evil phase and I had long outgrown my Prince Charming phase. Maybe my female protagonist should meet an okay guy who may be imperfect, but he brightens her world. That’s a balance that can be struck, right? I thought to myself as I waded through the onslaught of “Dtf?” messages on Tinder.
Unlike Shitty Fuckboy Amalgamation, Realistic Man didn’t inspire voluminous journal entries. In fact, he inspired writer’s block. As the years went by, I sat at a blank page and…nothing. I was beginning to lose the “point” of the story. When I was twenty years old, I thought I could meet a perfect stranger, and he’d make my life worth living. Happiness and singledom were mutually exclusive to me back then, so ten years ago, I needed Handsome Foreigner to save my protagonist from the mundane. Then, I was broken hearted but thought that finding someone with a modicum of kindness would erase the pain of my past. I had believed that my protagonist needed Realistic Man as much as I did.
Now, as a near 30-year-old, I realize that he no longer has a purpose in the narrative. As I look around my office, decorated with degrees instead of wedding photos, I know that my protagonist is going to be just fine on her own. I also know that, finally, this will be the year.