The Cute Meet

By Poison Ivy,

The cute meet is a cliché of romances. It goes something like this: The heroine is having a bad day. Not only has she snagged her absolute last pair of pantyhose already, but she’s late for an important business meeting—probably a job interview for a job she desperately needs in order to support her orphaned nephew, her ill mom, or the like. As she’s walking along the sidewalk, a car splashes her all over. Her clothes are soaked. Ruined. She yells invective at the driver, an arrogant-looking man in a sportscar. A few minutes later, still dripping wet and looking like she was pulled backwards through a barn, the heroine doggedly arrives to have her interview. Of course, it’s with the very man who splashed her. And maddeningly, he doesn’t refer to their first meeting at all. But he does hire her, although she keeps having to prove she’s competent because she made such a bad first impression. The unfairness of it all!

Or here’s another version: The heroine is distracted, and she pulls out into traffic without looking carefully. She slams her beat up old Volkswagen into a luxury or a collectible antique car. Out comes the owner, hopping mad. She and he have words. A few minutes or days later, she meets her new boss: Same guy, and now he’s determined to get back at her for her lack of respect for the injury she did to his prized possession. An office duel ensues.

Or how about this scenario: The heroine is dragged to a loud party, either at a bar or at a stranger’s house, and out of nervousness, she drinks too much. As a result, when a stranger and she hit it off, she lets up on her usual stern morality and goes along with a seduction. For a while. Things are getting hot and heavy when she panics and stops them. She and the man have unpleasant words. Soon after, he turns out to be her new boss (is this beginning to sound familiar?) or the new owner of her ancestral home which her useless brother has gambled away while somehow also indenturing her as a servant to the new guy. The hero treats the heroine as if she’s a slut, and she is too proud to explain that she’s a good girl. But he secretly is wildly in love with her.

Then there’s the opening scene in which a heroine is driving alone in a storm, stupidly not having checked the weather report in advance because she has been too busy crying over some problem. It’s either blinding rain with scary lightning thrown in, or incredibly heavy snow with ice. Either way, she loses control of the car and ends up in a ditch. At this point, a handsome a) trucker, b) cowboy, c) mountain recluse, or d) sheriff comes to her rescue. Although she intends to hole up and avoid all men, she and he begin a relationship instead.

Ah, and then there’s always the vacation cabin story. The heroine has been loaned or has rented the use of a cottage, an unused family apartment, or the like. She arrives late at night and throws herself into the first bed she sees. In the middle of the night, she turns over and there’s a strange man in bed with her, or trying to get into the room. Screaming and carrying on ensue. The man claims he has an equal or better right to the place. They end up sharing close quarters because she is too impoverished or desperate to have an alternate option available.

What is the point of all these cute meets? Obviously, they start stories with a dramatic bang. Literally, if it’s a fender bender. The hero and heroine share a dramatic scene of open emotion, often angry, before they officially meet. Some titillating nudity may be involved. They say or do rash, impetuous things. They each see how the other person behaves, as just one human to another, shorn of the privileges of money and power. This opens a world of possibility to an otherwise buttoned-down character.

But there are many reasons not to start a romance with a cliché cute meet. For one, they are incredibly contrived, because they depend on stupidity, on coincidence, and on lack of awareness of one’s surroundings. For another, they often introduce main characters who should be admirable as unkind or unsympathetic. And for a third, how important is it to know how nasty a loved one can get with a total stranger? Not very, really. In a happy lifetime relationship, how one’s spouse reacts during an unusual situation such as a car crash is not important. What if the man always flies into a rage? Or the woman always bursts into tears? What difference does it make to day-to-day living? None.

Because cliché scenes such as the ones described above have been repeated ad nauseam, the cute meet has fallen out of favor in recent years. That doesn’t mean they don’t still happen. We have our fair share in our stories at Yes, it’s always a struggle for a writer to find a plausible way to introduce the hero and heroine to each other. It’s even more of a struggle to come up with a reason for the two to live or work together and yet still have enough conflicts to sustain a story. But the contrived conflict of a cute meet just isn’t good enough anymore. A strained contrivance like getting into a bed not noticing someone else is in it is not good writing. Writers can do better than this, and readers now expect it of them.

I do like the cute meet in our “Gone Batty,” in which the heroine has herself delivered in a barrel to her boyfriend’s house—only she ends up popping out, scantily clothed, at the wrong house, in front of a complete stranger. It fits with the rest of the story, which is about a heroine who is actively trying to push out of her boring comfort zone. That’s a lot different from starting a story with a heroine steering her car into a snowy ditch. What kind of heroine steers her car into a ditch in a snowstorm? Every kind. And that’s why the cute meet has to be dragged from the realm of cliché into the realm of unique, character-driven behavior. And out of the ditch of mundane contrivance.