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A quick warning, there are curse words that are unbeep in today's episode of the show. If you prefer a beeped version, you can find that at our website, From WBEZ Chicago, it's this American life. I'm Tobin Lowe, sitting in for Ira glass. There's a story in my family that I love. It's actually a story about love, and it's one that I both fully enjoy and is also the source of many years of romantic frustration. It starts with my mom as a teenager growing up in San Francisco Chinatown. A woman at the church she went to comes up to her one day.


And says, I have a nephew who's just perfect for you and I'm going to set up this date. I mean, you're just made for each other. You have to meet each other. And she was determined to make that happen.


Maybe you can see where this is going. This is, in fact, my very own how I met your father story. Anyway, my parents were both invited to a party where they could see each other for the first time.


So there's a room full of people and I don't know which one he's going to be. And so I'm sort of scanning the room and I look at some people and think, oh, well, maybe that one has a really good personality.


So you're saying there were some real ugos in the room?


Well, they were just. They probably have a great personality. And so when I finally got introduced to him, I just was so relieved that he was good looking. It met my expectation of what I hoped it would be. It was like this huge sigh of relief.


My dad was 19 at the time, my mom 18. Their first date was at a french restaurant. She liked his good looks and that he was kind. He liked how quietly assured she was. Afterwards, they went to the movies, saw the graduate, watched Dustin Hoffman bust Catherine Ross out of that chapel, her bouquet still in hand. By the end of the date, they knew they had something special. But the part of this story that has stuck with me is this moment my mom talks about. A couple of months after that, my mom and dad ended up at the same college and they'd spend every night together hanging out at each other's dorm rooms. One night he walked her to the elevator and he kissed her.


We were saying goodbye at the elevator and had a hug and kiss. It was like something magic about that moment was like, this is going to work.


They were married within the year and they just have one of those marriages. They've been happily together for 53 years. The part that gets me they both knew it was right as I grew up into an adult who dates. My dad was the one who said, don't worry, you'll figure it out. But my mom, on the other hand, she had more specific advice whenever I called about how a boyfriend and I had broken up or that dating was hard. Her advice? If you're with the right person, it should just feel like magic. If you don't feel magic, then it's time to bail. Can you tell me what you meant by magic? As best as you can describe it.


You look at the person and you feel that against all odds, that's the one for you. And there's no way of defining what that will be, I think, until it happens. And if it never happens, then I'm just not sure that's the relationship, at least that I would want for you.


So the bar for magic is high?


Yes, the bar for magic is very high.


I wanted what my parents had, so I followed the advice. I'd go on dates. Dates that were perfectly fine. Mind you, the conversation would be easy, the company enjoyable. But at the end, I'd think, nope, didn't feel it. No magic. Or I'd convince myself that I did feel the magic and then think everything. Even warning signs were proof of that magic. Case in point. For my 25th birthday, an ex boyfriend of mine gave me a card. Inside was a couple of buy ten, get one free coupons he'd filled up from his work lunches. He was giving me his freebies. And I wish I was lying when I say that. My response was, wow, he ate ten hail and hearty soups for me. Magic. This is how most of my dating life as a 20 something went. But if my mom was on one shoulder telling me to look for magic, on the other shoulder was Elizabeth, one of my best friends. When it came to dating, she adopted a very different attitude. Her thought was, you have to be practical. It's not about searching for a big feeling. It's more about data collection. Elizabeth was sometimes going out on three first dates a week from Okcupid.


It got to a point where when we talk about the guy she had dates with, it was easier to nickname them as, okay, like, I met them on Okcupid plus adjective.


So it was like, okay, stand up.


Because I think I went on a.


Date with a stand up. Or like an aspiring stand up. Okay, med student.


Okay, occupy Wall Street. I don't know if you remember right. I remember that guy. I do remember that guy. He kept pulling out his phone during their date to tweet about the movement. Let's see how many retweets we get for this.


I remember him saying on our second.


Date, and I was like, this isn't going to have a third. This is very strange. Elizabeth's advice for me went something like this. Dating is like being an anthropologist. You go on a bunch of dates, you notice the bits and pieces that maybe you liked from each guy, slowly sharpening the picture of what type of person you might have a successful relationship with. For her, going on a lot of bad dates was just part of the process. You're saying it's a numbers game? I'm saying it's a numbers game.


I'm saying you can't be disheartened by the fact that your numbers are going to look bad.


You have to feel like, what have.


I got to lose?


A little bit less precious about every.


Interaction and her practicality. It worked. Elizabeth eventually did meet someone. All that dating she did. She says it allowed her to pay attention to all the small things she liked about him. They got married a couple years ago. I officiated the wedding. So why am I telling you all this? Because I feel like for anyone who has ever been single and wanted to find love, and I'm talking about people that want lifelong partnership. You have received advice from at least one of these two frustratingly opposed camps. Camp one, the look for magic people like my mom. And camp two, people like Elizabeth who say it's more like math. Math is inexact, but I think you get my drift. They say, use your head, not your heart. Be practical. Two warring factions, both with their champions and a bunch of us in the middle just trying to figure out which way is up, who has it right. Will love find a way? Stay with us. Ten things I require about you. So we're going to start off the show today with someone who is very much in the math camp and who finds herself challenged by someone who could not disagree more.


The math person. Her name is Zarna Garg. Her story starts when she was in her 20s. She was single, living in Cleveland, and the fact that she was single totally bothered her. This was in the late 90s, by the way.


You know, those years were the peak years of the tv show friends. Do you remember that show?


Of course.


That show was the scariest show to me.


Wait, why?


Because no one was ever getting married. They were dating. They were not dating. They were dating. They were on a break. They were off the break. Then they were dating other people within the same friend group, like, to somebody like me, who came from the world that I came from, that was a horror show.


Sarna moved to the US on her own when she was 16, leaving behind her family in India and a likely arranged marriage. She wanted to be independent and to go to college. She got into law school in Cleveland, so she was very much on track. But at the same time, she still had this idea in her head that marriage provided a solidness. It was something she wanted deeply. So she found an online dating site for indian singles and decided to post an ad for herself. Posting an ad to find a husband. Not so unique in the world Zarnett is from. But what was unique was the fact that she was hosting for herself. The other ads were from aunts or moms trying to arrange matches for their daughters and nieces, not Zarna. She was taking the reins and her ad was, to put it lightly, specific. What she wrote was not a singles ad so much as a list of qualifications. It was like a series of bullet points. She remembers it like this.


You have to be very serious. You have to have proof of your seriousness. I want to see what you do. I even would like to see some tax returns and what job prospects you have. It was nuts.


She also said, you have to be brilliant. That was a big one because I.


Figured if I met somebody brilliant, life would be fun and whatever problems would happen, we would work them out together because he would be brilliant enough to figure that out.


So brilliant. Like book smart.


So I was very specific about that. I was like, I need to see proof of your brilliance. I need to see where you went to college or whatever you're doing with your life. And also I was like, you must have a good mother, because I don't have a mother. And this is my one chance to fix that.


She also figured they should have accurate data about her. She said, I'm a student. I'm short, only 5ft tall. I'm not the skinniest person.


I do think that my ad, as obnoxious as it was, had an element of honesty to it. Like an indian ad would have been fair and lovely, peaches and cream complexion, tall, skinny. I never used any of those words because none of those words would have been true for me.


There might be somebody who hears your story and thinks like, wow, that is like kind of a ruthlessly practical way to go about finding a partner and finding love.


But they're right, it is a ruthlessly practical way. And it should be, because marriage is a contract, and like all contracts, you should think twice before getting into it. I don't believe that just falling blindly in love is the answer.


Apparently there were a lot of people who felt they met the criteria. Her inbox became flooded with messages, all from men who wanted to meet in person. Sarna picked a few of them said, sure, let's meet, but you have to come to Cleveland. And a surprising number said, yes.


Men flew from all over different parts of America to come meet me in Cleveland. And I was actually pretty clinical about it. And as were they, mostly, once they realized what the vibe like. We met at a mcdonald's in Cleveland that had open windows so it felt safe. And they were all highly educated doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and for one reason or another, it wasn't working out. They like me. I didn't like them or whatever. Or I like them. They didn't like me.


What did she care? She had an inbox of hundreds of messages from other suitors who were just as qualified for the position of husband. What's that saying? I think it comes from Shakespeare or maybe the Canterbury tales. Thank you. Next. It's in the middle of all these messages that she gets a different kind of message. And this person does not offer up his credentials or his tax returns. He simply writes, this isn't a real ad, is it?


Are you a real person?


The message goes on to make fun of her. It feels like a troll. And if this were a movie, the camera would zoom out of Zarna's window at her house in Cleveland. Maybe we would see a crude animation of a globe rotating on its axis, a dotted line moving from the US, going first to Europe, then zeroing in on Switzerland until the camera would zoom in on an office building in Zurich. Because that's where the message came from. A computer programmer working late one night at his office. His job was fixing a y two k bug for his company. I know. So 90s. His name was Shalab. He was single. And when he found Zarnazad while randomly surfing the Internet, he thought it was ridiculous. He called over his colleagues, said, hey, get a load of this girl.


I mean, it was three of us that looked at it because I called my friends in and we were just making fun of it. We were like, I don't know who this girl is.


What were the elements of it that you were making fun of in the ad?


I mean, the seriousness. A girl who is like, this much work, like, even before she has met someone, can you imagine what she would be like into a serious relationship? It's like start to finish work, work and no fun.


Cut back to Cleveland, small house in the suburbs. Zarna types back, yeah, I'm real.


He replies, you know, what makes you think that you'll find someone? I doubt anybody would take on that amount of seriousness at such a young age because there's almost no fun in your classified.


I was like, yeah, and I'm actually on a mission to do something. What are you guys doing?


She was like, I don't know. Who is the bigger loser? Someone who is seriously seeking out a life partner like myself or someone who is just sitting in a random room programming and surfing young women on the Internet.


He's like, so have you gotten any responses? I was like, as a matter of fact, many responses. You want to see some? And I forwarded him a whole bunch of ads responses that I had. And he was like, I can't believe this. And I said, why are you wasting my time? I was then getting irritated because my ad clearly said, only contact me if you want to get married.


Shalab was not interested in getting married. His life was filled with travel and friends and skiing. Also, he lived an ocean away. He was not the solution to Zarna's problem. But they kept emailing. It was mostly them giving each other a hard time. This went on for weeks and he.


Would then be like, hey, did you end up meeting that guy, you know, the one you forwarded me? And I would be like, yeah, I met him, but I don't think it's going to work and whatever. So we became friends even despite my every intention to not make friends.


Oh, so he was a little bit keeping tabs on your progress too, then?


He was. I don't know why he was so.


Curious, but he was Ozarna. I think we all know why he was so curious. After so much back and forth, Shalab had this feeling like at this point, I can't not meet this girl.


Well, he said he really wanted to meet me. And I told him that I was moving to New York for my first job and because I thought I would have a higher likelihood of meeting an indian guy in New York than in Cleveland. And he was like, I really want to meet you. And I said, okay, you know, I can meet you at the airport.


Zarna says, this is when I'm landing in New York from Cleveland. Shalab says he can get a flight that arrives around the same time. Zarna says, okay, but I'm only willing to say a quick hi at the airport. She did not want to waste time.


On friend, you know, as I said, I was mission like the minute I reached New York, I had like, 02:00 I was meeting this guy. 04:00 I was meeting that guy. So there wasn't going to be a lot of time. And why was I meeting this guy from Switzerland anyway? Because there was no real interest there in that way. And he said, fine, I'll come to New York and we'll meet at the airport. It's fine. He said, I just need to see that you're real.


They found each other at the airport. Zarna remembers thinking he was cute, but also he immediately annoyed her.


He informed me at the airport that he had nowhere to go while in America. So now I'm like, now you're stuck with me. Like, I don't have a place to take you. I barely had a tiny apartment for myself. And he's like, but I don't know. I'm here with my toothbrush and my passport. I have nowhere to go.


Zarna says, fine, you can stay with me. She had made arrangements to stay at her cousin's apartment. He could crash. And then in the cab on the way there, something about the anticipation of meeting face to face and then finally seeing each other.


Something happened when we met. From that point on, all the way to the apartment, we couldn't keep our hands off of each other. It was really passionate.


They kissed. There was a spark. But they also both agreed there was nowhere for a relationship to go. Zarna was not going to let him get in the way. She kept her scheduled dates for that day. There were two of them. She dropped Shalab off at the apartment and said, stay here. Do not move. I have a husband to go meet. And just like her routine in Cleveland, she arranged for them to meet in public places, first in the lobby of the building she was staying at, then onto a coffee shop. What she had not planned on was that Shalab would not stay at home like he promised. Instead, he crashed. Both of her dates would just conveniently show up in the lobby or at the coffee shop.


He would just be like, hi, I'm Shalab, with no explanation. That made it even more suspicious.


Oh, he introduced himself to your dates? Yeah.


And my dates were like, is this your, like, no. You know, because it's hard to explain to them what exactly was the relationship? So I would be like, no, he's just a friend. He's visiting. But clearly it looked Od was your.


Intent, you think, to throw off the date a little bit?


A little bit to throw off the date. But remember, I was early 20s, even though I had not much to show for it. I was fairly arrogant myself, because at least in my mind, I was one of the top colleges in India. I was doing a job in Zurich, making good money. So I was certainly not insecure, if anything, on the other side of it in terms of being more arrogant.


I see. But there was an energy of, like, let me see who this guy is.


Yeah, let me see who this guy is. And what is so special about a doctor guy?


Zarna could have been annoyed by all this, but she found somehow she wasn't.


By then, I had a friendship enough with him that even when I was on a date, I was thinking about him. Like, I wonder what he's doing. So my brain was already, like, all over the place about what exactly are we doing here?


Zarna ended up spending a couple of days with Shalab. They walked around the city, talked about their lives, debated about politics and how they felt about America, shared how they both grew up in India, how they had both left home.


He had his own loneliness. He had his own really difficult journey. He is an ambitious guy. I think something about my ad and my world made him feel like, oh, my God, this sounds like my world. And something about dealing with him made me feel like he's not so dissimilar from me.


And how I think they both remember a turning point in that first visit. Which brings us to the classic part of stories like this. When it starts to rain.


Titanic had just come out. I remember we went for that movie in the rain. She used to love getting wet in light rain. Would refuse to carry an was. You know how New York rain is, right? It was pouring rain. And we just finished a three and a half hour long movie where Jack was dead and Rose was going to go on with her life. And I'm like, that was probably the moment. And I'm thinking, to know that is how fickle life can be and do I really want to not have this woman in my life? Probably that would be the one moment when I thought that this might be the woman for me.


And then, of course, as everything we do ends up in a fight, we fought about it, too, because there was space on that raft. He could have been saved. So then we started fighting about that and whether she should have thrown the necklace into the water or not.


It sounds like you kind of even enjoyed disagreeing with him.


Oh, my God. To this day, my favorite thing to do is to fight with my husband.


If you haven't caught on by now, I suppose that's a spoiler. Within a couple of months, of that visit, Shalaid Bhatzarna and emerald green ring. They were married a little over a year after he sent her the message that made her so mad. They've been together now for 25 years.


If I can do anything, I want to go on a long walk and have a robust fight with him about everything. About the politics, the movies. Yes, of course. Absolutely.


Yeah. What is it about the fighting that you enjoy?


He's really brilliant. That's the one thing I got right.


Sarna admits that, yes, some magic snuck into her life, but she sees this whole story largely as a victory for math. She wrote down exactly what she wanted and she got it. Shalab actually does match a bunch of the things on the list. For example, he has a good mother and Zarna really loves her. Shalab, though, sees the story totally differently. He thinks the fact that they met through this bizarre set of circumstances, it's an argument for magic, which is funny. I'm used to couples disagreeing about why they broke up, who said what and who's to blame. But I've never known a couple who disagrees about the thing that brought them together. And this disagreement over math versus magic, practicality versus romance, it's continued into everything about their lives. Zarna still considers herself the pragmatic one in the family. Shalom. More of the dreamer. And now that they're parents, it means they're giving their kids competing advice.


He will tell my kids, oh, you should go fall in love. Like, no, don't fall in love. This is what has caused all the problems in the world, everybody falling in love. So, yes, he is the romantic, and it's like I can't stop it. And I have to work around it with my kids and remind them that their dad is wrong, entirely wrong. And our life is proof that I'm right.


Well, and I could also say our life is proof that my romanticism has provided me with a very great career, a great family, good health, kids that are healthy. So what's so wrong with that?


I mean, you see why he's a problem. What's wrong with that is actually my deep thinking and planning is what made all of that happen. It's not your romantic thinking. Am I right, Tobin?


I mean, I don't think he can.


Take sides like that.


I am scared to take sides here.


If Ira was here, he would agree with me.


I don't know that I can authoritatively say who has it right here, but watching them each dig in their heels on their own point of view, it seems like together they balance each other out. And I imagine they force each other to see the world a little differently. Or if not, at least they can argue about it. So this episode is actually a rerun. And in the year since we spoke, Zarna and Shalab have started their own podcast about love and family. It's called the Zarna Garg Family podcast. It's hilarious, and you can find it on your podcast app or YouTube. Coming up, a case for magic from the luckiest and maybe most unrelatable among us, those jerks, sorry, people who fell in love at first sight. That's in a minute from Chicago Public radio, when our program continues.


I'm Elise Hugh.


And I'm Josh Klein. And we're the hosts of Built for Change, a podcast from Accenture.


On built for change, we're talking to.


Business leaders from every corner of the.


World that are harnessing change to reinvent.


The future of their business. We're discussing ideas like the importance of ethical AI or how productivity soars when companies truly listen to what their employees value.


These are insights that leaders need to.


Know to stay ahead. So subscribe to built for change wherever you get your podcasts. It's this american life. I'm Tobin Lowe. Today's show, math or Magic? Stories of people finding love by trusting some mystical force in the universe or just being practical about it. And as we were putting together this show, every time we talked about this theme, it riled up the staff. People had a lot of big feelings about it. Turns out lots of people here were trying to figure out this very thing in their own lives. Which brings us to act two crazy, stupid love. So when you're talking about the magic camp of people, there's a group that emerges as maybe the most magic of magic. I'm talking about people who say that from the moment they saw their partner, they just knew, knew for sure that this was their person. One of our producers here, Aviva de Kornfeld, is skeptical about these claims and also a little envious. Here's Aviva.


I put out a call to see how many people out there had really felt this thing I assumed was reserved for romcoms. And let me tell you, there are a lot of you. I got over 700 responses. It seems like all day, every day, people are out there running into their soulmate. In airports, on busses, at bars. One person met their partner on the side of the road after they'd gotten a flat tire. Another couple met at band practice. This one woman I talked to met her husband in the middle of the woods. She accidentally wrote his phone number down wrong, and they still ended up together. Liz met her person in her friend Ingrid's kitchen. She was 17 at the time, and they were hanging out, chatting when Ingrid's brother came downstairs with a guy Liz had never seen before. I turned around, and he looked at me, and I looked at him, and we just went, oh, my God. Like, both of us simultaneously just looked at each other, and boom, that's it. I've met the one.






And there was just this awkward, awesome silence. Liz's mom was there when this all happened, talking to Ingrid's mom, and my mom turned to Ingrid's mom and just.


Said, oh, my God.


Did you feel that? And Kate, their mother, went, oh, my God.




That's electricity right there. And, yeah, we just knew from that moment on, we're the ones for each other. How did you know that? I don't know. It was just this feeling. They started dating two weeks later. We're still together today, and it's, what, 30 something years later? Oh, my gosh. I know. Stories like Liz's drive me insane because I love them. I get so swept up by the romance, and yet they couldn't be more foreign to me. It's the certainty that Liz describes. I don't understand it. What did it physically feel like? You know, I can feel it as if I was happening right now. It's just like, a tightness in the chest and, like, an adrenaline rush, like you've just seen a really big spider or something. How do you know? I don't know. You're 17. How do you know it wasn't just hormones?


I didn't.


I didn't look it very well. Could have been, but at that time, it was so real. It was just like being smacked over the head with a hammer, and, like, that's the one. I've never felt anything like that. No matter how wonderful the person I'm dating is or how infatuated I feel, I've never been able to shake that gut feeling, telling me, this is not forever. In fact, all of my relationships have ended in some way or another because of my lack of certainty. Everyone in my life is exhausted by my endless romantic dithering days after my last breakup, my dad made a point to tell me that if I thought I would find someone better than my ex, I was mistaken. These people who get that lightning strike moment with the big boom and flash of recognition, they really feel like God's favorites. The lucky ones, somehow insulated from all the doubt plaguing the rest of us, part of me, maybe the jealous part, is skeptical of stories like these. Like, how could you possibly know in 2 seconds you don't know anything about the other person? It seems more likely that you're retrofitting certainty onto the early part of the relationship from the comfort of your established one.


So many of the people who responded to my call out just seemed like they were imposing magic on all kinds of utterly ordinary meet cutes. But then I talked to Megan, who seemed a lot like me when she was in her late twenty s, like I am. She was living in New York like I do and like me, feeling increasingly concerned she would never meet her life partner, and kept finding herself saying things.


Like this, I'm going to be single forever. This sucks and I hate it. And I had just kind of resigned myself to like, whatever, I'll just do my own thing. And I didn't mind being alone.


And then, of course, she met someone one afternoon while she was working as a waitress. A couple of guys walked in and sat at the bar. She spotted them immediately.


Well, to be honest, I thought his friend was cuter. But the moment that we started talking to each other, there was no doubt. So I wouldn't say it was love at first sight necessarily, but it was definitely love at first conversation. Like the minute he opened his mouth and the minute that we started kind of bantering back and forth, I just knew that I was going to marry him. I just knew it. And I almost started to panic because you don't know if the other person feels the same way.


This guy Jeff did feel the same way. By the end of her shift, Megan was certain Jeff was her person, but she already had plans to go on a date with someone else that night. So she went out, and at the end of the night, I took him.


Back to my house and I slept with him because I knew that that was the last person that I was going to sleep with before I married Jeff.






I did. I was like, I'm going to fuck this guy. I know. I'm never going to fuck anybody else again because I'm going to marry that other guy that I just met.


You're like, this is my last oat to sew.


This is my last oat to sew. This is my last one night stand that I'm ever going to have, and I'm going to go for it.


Megan got a call from Jeff the next morning while she was still lying in bed with her oat. He asked her out, and a few days later, they went on their first date at a rodeo.


And that night when we were at the rodeo, he leaned over and was like, you know I love you. And I was like, yeah, I know. I love you, too.


You're saying it's sort of like, matter of fact, obviously we love each other. Is that what it felt like?


Yeah. It was like, yeah, no shit. Like, duh. It was truly obvious from the end of the first day that we met.


That is so crazy to me.


Oh, yeah, 100%.


Had you ever felt that certainty before?


Never. Ever? No, never.


Megan sounds so certain, which makes me wonder if perhaps some people are just wired for certainty, and I'm not one of them. Hearing these stories feels like window shopping for love at a store that's closed. I can see all these beautiful things, can imagine what it might be like to wear them or how life might be different if I own them but can't actually try anything on. Are you and Jeff still together?


Jeff and I are not still together. We actually just recently were legally separated. The best way I can describe it is that I met Jeff day drinking in a bar on a Tuesday at, like, 03:00 p.m. He's a big drinker, and he has some problems with addiction, and I wasn't able to weather that storm with him after trying for many years rehab. And we have kids, and I just couldn't do it anymore. And honestly, that's sort of the heartbreaking thing about it, is that I thought we'd be together forever. We both did.


Oh, I'm so sorry.




Does breaking up with Jeff shake your sense of certainty that you'd had all those years ago?


No, not at all.




Not in the least.


It doesn't make you feel like you were wrong, like you misread?


No. No, not at all.


I find Megan convincing because even after all that, she's still certain about the connection they had. It was real. I'd been thinking of certainty as a kind of guarantee. If you had it, everything else would fall into place, but there is no guarantee. I get that certainty doesn't always hit you over the head like a hammer. It can take time, but however you get there, it still seems worth trying to find, because how lovely to get a break, however brief, from wondering, is this right? I'd like to feel that.


Aviva de Cornfald is one of the producers on our show act three. He's all that. So I want to introduce you to this kid I first spoke to a year ago when this episode was recorded. His name is Cal. There's a couple of things Cal really wants you to know about him.


I'm eleven years old. I live in New York City. I live with my parents and my cat. I love cats.


I have a lot of follow up questions. Okay, first of all, what is your cat's name?


Spider. He has a white spot on his chest. Actually, one on his chest and one near his butt.


The things I want you to know about Cal. He's charmingly straightforward, both serious and unserious. And also, I also hear that you have your first boyfriend. Is that right?




First love. I think if you're looking for a champion of magic, this is the primordial ooze that magic crawls out of. There's no feeling like that. First time you like someone and they like you back can feel like a little miracle. Now, Cal's only eleven, so having a boyfriend really just means hanging out at school, texting a bunch. They first met at their school's gender sexuality alliance club.


He was really nice. He helped me settle in and I really liked him. I began to have feelings for him around Thanksgiving. I texted him and told him I liked him. The next day he texted back and told me he knew it and that he liked me too. He then asked if I wanted him to be his boyfriend. I said, hell yes.


What do you like about him?


He's hilarious. He comes up with the best jokes and the best ideas and he makes me laugh.


I should also mention their co workers.


We're also on the school's paper together.


Cal's boyfriend. He's his editor. I didn't have the heart to tell him that this was maybe not healthy, but, you know, it seemed to be working out for them.


He's my editor in the just for fun column, I make a series of comics about Spider called Spider Cat Comics. The first one came out in the first paper two weeks ago and I think it was pretty good.


Given that he's your editor, does that mean that he gives you critiques or notes on the things that you make?


He does.


And what kinds of notes does he give you back on your comics?


He likes them. He says they're pretty creative and cool.


That's very supportive.


It is. I'm really glad I have him.


I can tell Cal is writing a high. He's close to that pure magic that happens at the start of a relationship. It's that place where you feel like you've got it all figured out. I asked him if he had any advice for other people about how to get there.


Tell them you like them, see what they say if they don't like you back, it may be hard for you, but at least you took a chance. And with taking a chance, it helps. It really helps. Believe me, I've been through that before. I took the chance. And believe me, not everyone gets it on the first time. Most people don't get it on the first time.


But it sounds like you're asking people to be brave.




I originally wanted to talk to Cal because he was experiencing love for the first time. But then a couple of weeks after we talked, I got word that something had changed. Cal's boyfriend broke up with him.


He just said flat out over text, I'm breaking up with you. And I said, what? Why? And he explained he wasn't really feeling it with me and that wasn't going to work out. And then he stopped texting me. And then I yelled at him.


Just to clarify, he called him a.


Son of a bitch, and then I blocked him.


Oh, wow. So it was not a good breakup, then.


Yeah, it was not friendly. I wanted to just be friends after that, but it seems he doesn't even want to remember I exist. Before this, I actually pictured a bit of future with him, but I'm guessing he didn't feel the same talking to Cal now.


He's a changed person. All that boldness, how much he trusted his heart. He's not as sure now.


Your heart can lead you to someone who you supposedly like, who's funny and cute, but they're not always the best person for you. I don't know what to do. I don't want to be punished into darkness and shut down forever. Why does the world have to be like this?


I wish I had the answer, Cal. I don't know why it has to be this way. But I also know it won't be like this forever. Cal says he wants to take a break, not try to find a new boyfriend for a while. And he's going to take a different approach the next time around. He says before he gets back out there, he wants to do some research. He wants to Google articles that'll tell him more about how to date, how to meet people. He's got a plan, which to me, sounds like a magic person moving the needle ever so slightly over to math. Do you think that if you had to choose one, trusting your head or your heart, which one would you choose?


Do you think I would choose head? Head always has the best instincts. Your heart just leads you, as I said, through rose colored glasses, your head tells you more practical.


Cal's shift in this moment, it makes sense to me, the times I've been dumped. The last thing I wanted was for someone to tell me to lean into my feelings more because, like Cal, I didn't trust my heart. I wanted someone to tell me that there were hard facts to finding love, a process that could be enacted that didn't rely on my dumb feelings. That's the thing about the two camps. The allure of each is that they offer a path, and depending on where you are, each 1 may call to you at a different time. But Cal says he's not all the way gone. He's still making room for his heart whenever it's ready to try again.


As I said, if you didn't have it, you wouldn't find love. Also, it's really weird that heart is represented as love because it's an organ. Also, it doesn't even. Also, the heart shape isn't even what it looks like. It looks more like this blobby, melty, oval thing.


I agree, Cal. Sometimes none of this stuff makes any sense at all. Act four how to leave a guy in ten days so far, we've talked a lot about how there can be magic at the beginning of a relationship. But there's another place that magic can pop up, and it's a place you might never think to look for it. Our next story is about someone who's come to believe that you can find magic. No true joy in a breakup. Here's producer Diane Wu to explain.


I was once in a ten year relationship where the question of is this what I really want? Started to creep in around year four. And so for six years, this was the big unmagical and uncalculatable question of my life. When do you stay and when do you go? Eventually I ended it. And since then, I've been extra wary of being in the wrong relationship again. And maybe as a way to stay sharp, alert. I like hearing about how other people deal with this kind of decision. The writer Marie Phillips has a very specific approach to this question. Think about it like you're at the movies.


I have never regretted walking out of a movie. I have many times regretted not walking out of a movie. Not finishing things is one of the great joys of.




I've never walked out of a film, so I don't know the feeling.


You've never walked out of a film?


No. I feel like I signed up for this and maybe something good will happen still.


Have you ever got to the end of a film and thought, I wish I hadn't wasted two and a half hours of my life.


On that, yes, for sure. On the whole, it literally has never.


Occurred to me that I could have left.


Like, if the first half hour is terrible, it's so unlikely to get good. And that is the point at which you can just get up and go.


And you never wonder more about what happened or how they brought it home or any of that?




Marie became this cheerful lever of relationships. Fairly recently, she discovered the joy of walking out of things. Actually, on a first date. He was a film director and asked her to see a movie, a 3d movie by Jean Luca Dar.


It wasn't just normal three d. Like when you see, like, a Marvel movie. He was doing things like, your left eye would be still watching one image, and then he would turn the image on your right eye. So your right eye would suddenly be seeing something completely different. Whoa.


I feel like my stomach is turning.


To thinking about it.




So it's nausea inducing just to hear the idea. But can you imagine? So I'm sitting in there and I'm like, I feel sick. Within minutes. I mean, really fast. I thought, I feel sick, and I don't want to be in here. So I just said to him, I'm going to leave now.


It was exciting. Marie felt cool and powerful. He stayed. She went and got a glass of wine at the bar. It ended up being a great date. After the film, on the ferry home, they had their first kiss. Two weeks later, the director told her that he loved her. It was the first time any boyfriend had ever told her that. Six months later, they were living together.


We had a great time. He's extremely funny. He's very charming. He was a really delightful person. He was just a joy to be around. When he would come home, I'd feel like a puppy that had been left. I'd be bouncing with excitement to see him. He got on well with my family. My friends liked him. We got on really, really well.


And leaving movies midway, it became their thing together. They would do it all the time. I'm telling you all of this because a few years in, things got rough, and Marie had to decide whether or not to walk out of the relationship. What happened was the director said he wanted to have an open relationship. Marie was game to try it out. She loved him. She thought maybe she'd change and it would start to feel okay, or maybe he'd change, but nobody changed. She lived for a year in indecision, going back and forth, trying to make it work. I've been there. I don't recommend it. My indecision looked like finding myself reading the same advice column over and over, recognizing the advice was for me, but never following it. I could never tell if it was me or the situation that needed to change. In Marie's case, all that back and forth ended in one moment. When it all became clear to her, she realized she didn't like the movie anymore and that it wasn't going to pick up in the second half. It was during a conversation in their apartment.


And I remember at the time feeling this extremely physical need to be as far away from him as I could possibly get. In that moment, I felt the opposite of love, because, in a way, love for me is the feeling that I want to be close. And then the opposite feeling of that is like, I just got. I need to get out of here. I need to be as far away from this person as I could possibly get.


Marie walked out of their apartment and kept walking in one direction until she couldn't go any farther. A few days later, she officially ended the relationship. I mean, that sounds like a terrible experience, but it's also so rare that moments are so clarifying that you don't even have to think. It's not even a decision, right? You just go.


You have to go.


There isn't an alternative. Whereas I think most of life is somewhere in the mushy middle.


I mean, yeah, it's true. It's very rare that you're going to be 100% miserable, but when you're 60% miserable, that's still too miserable. That's more than half. It's not like I have a spreadsheet on this, by the way, but like that feeling where most of the time you're feeling terrible? That's not a way to live, you know?


What is a way to live? Think about it like you're at the movies.


You know how when you go to see a film and you walk in and it's daylight, and then you come out and it's dark?




I hate that.


When I picture walking out of a film, when I visualize walking out of a film, in my mind, I am always walking out into the sunlight. I'm never walking out into the dark and the rain. I'm always just stepping out into the sunshine. When I see unhappy couples, I'm just like, oh, my God, you're both keeping someone else from. The joy of being someone who could love you is on their own right now.




If you broke up, someone that loves you could be with you, and someone who loves your husband or your wife. Could be with them. And just think how much happier all of you would be. And instead there's some poor single person on hinge, like desperately looking through the profiles who'd be perfect for you. And you're not on hinge because you're too busy fighting with your wife.




I mean, God, I'm like, everybody break up.


Happy Valentine's Day, America.


Diane Wu is one of the producers on our show. Before we end our show, I think it's only fair that I answer which camp I believe in, math or magic? In truth, after dating around for most of my twenty s, I got tired of both. Magic steered me wrong, and going out on dates just to go on dates also felt exhausting. So I made up my own theory about what to do. It was kind of mathy, actually. It was a little like what Zarna did, though nowhere near as specific. I made myself a list of ten qualities I wanted in a partner, and it was pretty simple. It said things like, I want him to be kind. I want him to appreciate the arts. I was a cellist at the time. I want him to be the kind of person I'd want to call when something funny happens. And I made a rule for myself that if I was dating a guy that I liked, if I started to get freaked out about whether or not it felt magical enough, I had to pull out the list. And if it was true that he had a majority of the things that I put on my list, I would keep giving it a shot.


Eventually, I met a public school teacher who did art on the side. We laughed over pizza, talked about the great british baking show, which had just debuted in the States. We went on another date, and then another. And anytime I left a date and thought, wow, that was fun and easy. But was it fun and easy enough, I'd return to the list? Ah, yes. I still have found someone with a majority of the qualities I want that really likes me, too. I stopped referring to the list after a while. And then one day, sitting on the couch, something happened. Remember that app that went around a couple years ago? It took a picture of your face and showed you what you looked like, much older, added wrinkles and gray hair. One day, my partner did it on screen. Appeared an image of him in his 80s with jowls and exaggerated laugh lines, wispy eyebrows, and a feeling crept up that I didn't expect. It surprised me the instant I saw his face there. I thought, I'd like to be around to see that. I have no illusions about having cracked some code. But I do think if you find someone and it lasts in a way that makes you happy no matter how you get there, it's its own kind of magic.


We know, never believe it. I go, it's magic, you know, never believe it. That song. Today's show was produced by Aviva de Kornfeld. People who put together today's show include Alma Baker, Chris Benderas, via Bennen, Zoe Chase, Sean Cole, Emmanuel Jochi, Valerie Kipnis, Seth Lind, Catherine Raimondo, Allah, Mustafa Stoe, Nelson, Nadia Raymond, Safia Riddle, Ryan, Rumory, Francis Swanson, Christopher Swatala, Lily Sullivan, Nancy Epdyke, Matt Tierney and Julie Whitaker. Our managing editor is Sara Abdulraman. Our senior editor is David Kastenbaum. Our executive editor is Emmanuel Berry. Special thanks to O. V. Aragon, Bert Harvey, and the Utah county passport and marriage license office. Alex Fulton, Dave Rizzo, Kim Adams, Marcy Schneider, Sarah Davis, Sabrina Hyman, Sarah King, Emily Ogle, Sarah Collins, Francesca Street, Cheryl Hiltzig, Jacob Ritter and Lori Gottlieb. Our website,, where you can stream our archive of over 800 episodes for absolutely free. Also, there's all kinds of other stuff, lists of favorite shows, videos, tons of other things. There again, This american life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio exchange, thanks to my boss, Ira Glass. Why is he out this week? Well, the other day when he and Tori Malateo were working their side job, they were like, wait, do you cut the red wire or the white wire?


Like both of us simultaneously just looked at each other and boom.


I'm Tobin Lowe. Join us next week for more stories from this american life.