And they bungle it.
Up to here, this is like real life — in reality, this also happens. Whether you realize it at the time or not, life offers up these oh-so-brief opportunities, where, if everything goes right, wonderful things can happen. Sometimes it does, and that's wonderful. But, many times, either reality doesn't coöperate (the party closes just as she was about to offer you her lips, the phone rings, the cat throws up, whatever), or you do or say the wrong thing, or freeze up, or screw up some other way. And then the moment's gone, never to be retrieved. And it socks you like a sucker-punch to the stomach. You realize what could have been.
I've gotten to the point where I occasionally recognize these cusps when they're happening. "Everything hinges on what you do at this moment", I'll realize. Unfortunately, that realization doesn't come with instructions as to what to do. Many times, it's far from obvious what would be the best thing to do. And I'll choose wrong. A lot.
"Quick!", the universe will tell me, "make the right choice — instantly — or lose out. Forever."
And that's the kicker. Many of these things, you only get the one chance. The odds were you'd never get a chance, and you're lucky to have had the one. And you blew it. And you'll never get a do-over.
And that, my friends, is my beef with romance movies. In these stories, the heroes always get another chance. Against all odds, another bizarre occurrence happens, and they get another crack at it. And it's always even more hurried than the last time, and they have to deal with the repercussions of the previous disaster, but they somehow make the right choice, they don't get interrupted, and they find true love.
I admit, otherwise, it would be a depressing reminder of how dismal real life can be. But it seems hollow. The characters turn from (sort of) realistic, human people with imperfections and failings, to this blessed couple that magically gets everything right, apparently because they "deserve to" or somesuch. We're all rooting for them, they're made for each other, we're willing to suspend disbelief so they can be together.
But that just makes it sting the more that we don't have our own cheering sections, we don't get the second chances, we just get that one fleeting sliver of possibility, and have to fend off all the external things that can go wrong, as well as make a snap decision on insufficient data and act on it immediately, or spend the next few weeks/months/years second-guessing ourselves and suffering the regrets of the beautiful thing that might have been.
I'll admit that there are films that are more realistic. Chasing Amy was one such. The hero got a cusp handed to him, and it was reasonably clear what he needed to do (good job, Kevin Smith), and he choked. He blew it. And he lost out. He never got a second chance. I hated it the first time I saw it. How horrible, how cruel. I read Smith's writeup, how he felt that his cusp was tied to that film, and his take on it was he could only get the girl in real life if the make-believe character didn't. I find myself having such superstitions beliefs myself, so I can't fault him for that. And I can't blame him for sacrificing the
companion cube film version of happiness for a chance of real life happiness. But it stung.
However, over the years, I've come to really like that film. It's painful, yes, but at least it's honest. Life is like that, like it or not.
I still wish I magically knew what to do in these situations. And I wish I was better at detecting them in the first place.
* The Ugly Truth, if you're curious