A Ted-and-Alexis kind of love

One of the things synonymous with the December holiday season is the deluge of holiday romance movies; most of which range between cute and saccharine, and almost all of which have your typical, ‘happily ever after’ ending. For the longest time, I’ve enjoyed these feel-good stories that gently carry you through their glossy, idealistic, neatly-tied-with-a-bow-at-the-end romances. This holiday season, though, I’ve been mulling over a different kind of love story – and the primary catalyst was the journey of Ted and Alexis on the sitcom Schitt’s Creek. (In the interest of full disclosure, I got stuck into Schitt’s Creek much later than the most of the world and, if you haven’t watched it yet, there are spoilers ahead.)

Long story short, through the various seasons of the sitcom, the characters of Ted and Alexis go through a number of ups and downs in their relationship – mostly figuring themselves out as individuals, growing into versions of themselves they learn to love and be proud of. And the more they do that, the stronger their relationship grows. In the last season of the show, both characters have become the kind of people they want to be and love themselves and each other for that. Then, Ted gets offered chance to do research in the Galápagos Islands, while Alexis’ PR career has just begun to take off. And while both of them are willing to give up their own individual dream to be with the other, they decide to let each other go – perhaps because they know that forcing themselves to be together at this stage will only take away from each of them as people, and that would be a disservice to their love.

This story ending has stayed with me long after I finished watching the last season of the sitcom. Not just because it is one of the more beautiful moments of television I’ve seen in a while, where beauty and pathos are wrapped together in an incredibly poignant way; but also because it got me thinking about how every love story does not need to have a ‘happily ever after’ ending. When the conventional “being together forever” choice ends up taking away – from the individuals, the relationship, the love – then maybe the happier ending is choosing not to be together, and keeping the love undiminished instead.

The novel Me before You by Jojo Moyes resonated for very similar reasons. Lou Clark and Will Traynor were never going to have the perfect, romantic ending to their story. But that didn’t diminish the fierce, potent beauty of the love they had. A number of stories on the series Modern Love were kindred endearing tales, where love burst through the screen space, even without the predictable plot trajectory. The woman who cherishes the scrap heap of her car that reminds her of her deceased husband, even while loving her current life and family, the building doorman who dotes on the resident single mom and her daughter like his family, the gay couple and their softness for the woman whose baby they’re adopting – these stories are all about elevating the love that exists, regardless of what path the love takes.

It is December 2021 and these are the kinds of narratives I’m falling in love with more and more. Where love is strong and beautiful and celebrated, even while acknowledging that it might never have the “fairytale” ending; that the love is not always dependent on being together in the conventional sense of the word; that maybe the ending of a love story does not have to mean the ending of love. Ted and Alexis’ story carried strength and grace, and put love ahead of the need to be together. A love that lives on, no matter how the story goes … that’s my kinda love story.

The books choose you

I love books. And I love bookstores. The cute tiny ones tucked away in a side street, the massive big-brand ones with multiple rooms filled floor-to-ceiling, and anything in between. I love wandering the aisles, perusing the shelves – finding old favourite books, looking for titles that come strongly recommended, chancing upon new surprises that might find a place in your heart once you get acquainted. (In the interest of full disclosure, my dream rom-com movie meet-cute would be when you see someone at a bookstore and both of you reach for the same book; that kind of chemistry is way more appealing than the tired ‘guy sees girl across the room at a pub and sends over a drink’ clichĂ©. But, I digress.) Spending hours in bookstores has always been one of my go-to happy places.

And then, about 18 months ago, I moved to a country where there are still bookstores (albeit no online book shopping sites, an almost anachronistic reversal;) however, they sell books, almost exclusively, in the 2 main languages used here (French and Arabic,) and not English. I knew this when I decided to move to Tunis. I made my peace with it; even gave in and bought myself a “practical” e-book reader. (It doesn’t hold a candle to that gorgeous feeling of holding a book in your hand. If you know, you know.) However, the universe was clearly amused at my plight and helped me discover 2 bookstores (thus far,) that have a selection of books in English. And, by a selection, I mean a shelf of English books. One shelf. Singular.

The collection on this singular set of shelves is rather eclectic. It is not uncommon to find books by James Patterson, Sophie Kinsella, Haruki Murakami, Danielle Steele and Lou Dobbs lying side-by-side. There is no way to know what books might be coming in the next shipment or when that might arrive; in one of the shops, the English books aren’t even part of the online catalogue. There’s definitely no way to hunt down a particular book or set of titles you’re looking for, or have them ordered for you. You can’t really make your own wishlist and go shopping. What you see on the shelves is what you have to choose from.

And somehow, there’s been something quite liberating about this approach to book shopping. Sure, there’s plenty on my reading list that I cannot find here, and I wish I could. However, I’ve taken myself repeatedly to both these stores (because there aren’t enough words to explain how much I love reading physical versions of books;) and, in doing so, I’ve stumbled onto some incredible pieces of literature I’d probably have not known to go looking for. I picked up Stardust, a collection of poems by the young Tunisian poet Rania Attafi, and was fascinated by the simultaneous feminist and existential layers in her poetry. I fell in love with Amin Maalouf’s writing when I read the enchantingly lyrical and endearing Ports of Call and can’t wait to get my hands on another one of his books. I read my first Jodi Picoult novel and bawled my eyes out through most of Sing You Home. I (re)read Toni Morrison’s Home after decades and it brought the nostalgia of my college Literature degree years tearing back. I have all 3 books of The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz and 2 books by Jojo Moyes waiting for me on my desk – both, authors whose writing I’ve never read before and am now incredibly curious to explore.

Choice is an interesting construct. As a reader, I’ve love to go after the books on my list that I know I want to read. I’d have thought I’d enjoy those books more. But, in not being able to do that, I’ve ended up with a whole different set of books that were, perhaps, also meant to make their way to me. I didn’t go to the bookstore with the intention to buy any of them. And still, each of those books has left me so much better off, so much richer, for having read them. Choice really is an interesting construct. Sometimes, you choose the books you read. And sometimes, the books choose you.