I fell in love because of butt-rock.
Allow me to tell the tale of how I stopped giving a damn about everyone's beard-strokey, sophisticated tastes in music and found the man of my dreams thanks to Def Leppard and Skid Row and Poison and Mötley Crüe (superfluous umlauts and all); also, Guns-N-Roses, Great White, Damn Yankees, Warrant, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Slaughter, Queensrÿche (there's that umlaut again), Scorpions and Metallica.
I'm in love. On a glory night. Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams. With you and me. And nothing else matters.
To rewind a bit: I met my boyfriend on assignment for an alt-weekly Portland newspaper. The idea was to throw myself into the online dating scene and write about my adventures for the Valentine's Day issue. To rewind a bit more: I’d recently moved to the Pacific Northwest after a split with my partner of four years, and so I took the job with a shrug and a scowl. My breakup, while remarkably amicable, left me heart-sore and well past cynical. True love? A joke.
Anyway, in the past, love always had always hit me hardest on the funny bone. It was too mushy to be taken seriously. My previous partner rarely said he loved me without following up his declaration with a joke and a fart, or a joke about farts. I thought sentiment was for the stupid, for the dim bulbs who didn't know better; I thought romantic comedies were a lie, love songs just fluff radio filler at best and salt in a wound at worst. “Happy in love” spelled “borderline sex addict.”
And by this year I felt myself a jaded spinster and determined to stay that way. But I was also a journalist with an article to write, so, comforted by the fact that I could always cancel my account at a moment's notice, I created a Match.com profile. Like everyone else, I posted flattering pictures of myself. I wrote pithy captions underneath said photos. I hit a button and mumbled at the screen, “Here goes absolutely nothing.”
Cyberspace seemed eager to validate my preconceived notions. Soon my inbox was full of oddly worded missives from the land of the weird: long-haul truckers wanting a ride-along, bikers in search of a bitch, spiritual types who hoped we could “meld” together. I got a flurry of unsolicited dick pics from an HVAC repairman. One dude asked if I would like to meet his mother before I'd even met him. I started to shudder every time I logged on.
Then, a week into the experiment, Eric, a divorced father of three, sent me a polite message. His profile picture showed a handsome man with beautiful blue eyes and a sweet smile. He looked cute. He looked normal. Or, at the very least, not homicidal. With my deadline approaching, I agreed to meet him in a few days for bowling and beer.
It seems so ugly now that I thought about him only in terms of material. I’m cynical, but I don’t get much more cynical than that.
It's hard to say when he stopped being material and started being someone I wanted to know better. Maybe it was halfway through his second terrible bowling game. A former Marine with a great physique, he somehow couldn't throw a strike to save his life. Or it could have been when he talked about his kids, how he talked about them, with a mixture of pride and exasperation and unconditional love. Either way, we left the bowling alley behind for a local pool hall, where, much to my chagrin, the jukebox seemed stuck in a never ending cycle of butt-rock love ballads.
“Kill me now,” I growled, as the syrupy strains of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” began to leak from speakers above our heads. “Just put me out of my misery.”
While I smirked the smirk of the hardened snob, Eric grinned and said guilelessly that it was his favorite song.
“Really?” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Oh my God, yes.”
“You like Poison?”
“They're awesome,” he said.
“You mean in a 'nostalgia for your lost youth' sort of way? Not in a 'they're actually good musicians' way. Like sometimes you need a break from the Decemberists, right?”
“Who're the Decemberists?”
I couldn't believe it. I'd somehow met the only man in Portland, Oregon who had never heard of Colin Meloy, let alone made “Crane Wife” his ring tone. An alarm bell went off in my head. I was used to dating men with music tastes that were consciously “impeccable.” My last boyfriend lived on a steady diet of Miles Davis, Belle and Sebastian, Joni Mitchell, Wilco, Nick Drake, Nina Simone, and the Grateful Dead. Then again, that relationship had ended in tears.
I drowned all my doubts in more beer and agreed to spend the next evening at Eric's place, listening to ‘80s hair metal. He'd play DJ. He'd show me just how awesome Poison really was. All I needed to do was show up.
“It'll be fun,” he said. “Trust me.”
I was still thinking about material. I was never trusting a man again.
“Sure,” I said. “It'll be fun.”
Butt rock is sincere as hell, the place where irony came to die. Sure, the studs who wrote them did so to get in girls' tight, animal-print pants, but the lyrics are straight-up romantic and unabashedly sentimental. They're sweet. They're also esoteric and contradictory and sometimes downright brainless. They can make your teeth hurt if you're not in the right mood.
The next night, I must have been in the right mood. We listened to ‘80s and ‘90s hair band love ballads and it was fun, sitting on Eric's couch and going from song to song, telling each other stories about where we were when we first heard “Cherry Pie” and “Livin' on a Prayer” and “Heaven.” We talked about first dances and first kisses and first times. We laughed our asses off.
At one point, still giggling, I said, “You don't believe any of this stuff, right?”
“This mushy love stuff. This longing stuff. The pining for The One stuff.” I laughed some more, but, for the first time all night, Eric grew serious.
“What's funny about love?” he asked.
I glanced at the attractive man sitting next to me. Chalk it up to a Def Leppard-inspired hysteria, to magical mysteria, to his eyes (the color of blue suburban skies), to a long dry spell I hoped would end very soon, but I started wondering if maybe love wasn't an illusion after all. I had the epiphany that laughing at love was, potentially, not a sign of intelligence or wide knowledge of the world but rather a defense mechanism used by the immature and weak to ward off hurt. I decided then and there, as Skid Row's “I Remember You” painted a picture of days gone by, to stop mocking love and start making it. With Eric. Immediately, if not sooner.
And thank Sebastian Bach I did. Six months with this boy and I no longer smirk at sentiment or gag at love songs. I walk around with a stupid grin on my face most days, amazed at how lucky I am to have found true love just when I'd grown convinced such a thing did not exist. They say you can't change a person, but Eric has changed me. I am no longer cynical. I believe in things again. Now, when I laugh it's with joy, not bitterness.
To paraphrase Axl Rose, there were times when I wasn't sure. Eric and I met when we were still very much on the rebound. And that wasn't the only challenge. At 37, I'm the not-so-proud owner of a throbbing womb. Eric is an over-worked single dad, not eager to reproduce again anytime soon. I'm a writer and a reader; he's an engineer who prefers video games to Vladimir Nabokov. I'm a pinko commie; he's allergic to politics. From the outside, we look oddly matched, but he's set my mind at ease. He's the kindest, most genuine man I've ever met. He's also smart and funny and hot. He makes me think. He makes me laugh. He turns me on.
It's like Heaven or something. I know, no matter what our friends might say, we'll find a way. And it’s all because of butt rock. Because I've met a man who takes love seriously. For the first time in years, I'm with someone who doesn't mock what we have together. Of course a love of “Love Bites” doesn’t immediately equate an ability to open up, to be vulnerable with another human being, and of course “sophisticated” music taste doesn’t equate an unhealthy dependence on romance-killing irony. But that's how it's played out for me. Eric tells me he loves me almost every day, and he refuses to turn it into a joke. Everywhere I look, flowers bloom in my name.
So, ladies, all you single ladies, believe me when I (and the guys from Tesla) say that love is all around you. Love is knockin' outside your door. If the dude knockin' confesses to a weakness for Warrant or Whitesnake or Bon Jovi, don't judge him harshly. Let him in. Invite him into your house and your heart. Give him a VIP pass to your secret garden, whatever that is. If he likes Beyoncé and the Boss too, that's just a bonus.
Never say goodbye. Never let him go.
Deborah Kennedy recently earned an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her work has appeared in Third Coast Magazine, Sou'wester, The North American Review, and Salon. Originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Deborah currently lives with her mother and obese Chow mix in Portland, Oregon. Names have been changed to protect all those libeled, slammed or otherwise dissed in the angst-ridden pages of her diary.