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Diet Coke

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My favorite part of Saturday brunch at Wilbur isn’t even the food: it’s the chatter. It’s incessant, ceaseless, a constant buzzing filled with muted murmurs of the previous night’s shenanigans. Who took too many shots of green apple vodka too soon, who fell into the bushes walking back from Phi Psi and, my personal favorite, who drank a Diet Coke.

A “Diet Coke” is a codename my friends have for people we meet at parties that we feel are just “a plain two.” As most of us know, the influence of alcohol lowers our inhibitions, but can also place a thin veil over our eyes: rose-tinted glasses of perceived attractiveness, if I’m getting poetic here. So, as a means to keep ourselves in check while we’re out and about on a Friday night, we decided to create a safe word to warn our collegiate comrades of the effects of the vodka goggles.

These days, I hear the term thrown around mostly at brunch, as people swap horror stories from across the table. I’ve never had a problem with using the term “Diet Coke.” It was a phrase that wasted no time on getting to know the person as an actual person. It was all about physical looks — nothing more, nothing less. Deeming certain people as “Diet Cokes” never seemed to bother me until it was used on a person that meant way more to me than a 12-ounce bottle of carbonated water, sweeteners and caffeine.

As we were sitting down at lunch one day, the topic of exes came up. Recollections of the days of romantic interests’ past ranged. Some of us talked of ugly breakups that were prolonged for far too long than they should have. Another handful of us told stories of their meet-cutes. And, last but not least, some of us talked of our exes with the slightest twinge of nostalgia.

Fueled with an ongoing case of homesickness and a new habit of comparing my old life to the new one I’ve been building at Stanford, I was a part of the last group. I found myself talking about my ex in a way that I had never been able to talk about him before: in the past tense. As I listened to myself talk about him, I realized that I had nothing but good things to say about him. He was funny in his own dryly sarcastic way, smarter than anybody I had ever met, with a sweet side that nobody ever really got to see except me. The memories (not the feelings, mind you) all came flooding back to me, and my smile couldn’t help but widen from thinking about the two-and-a-half years I spent with him.

Now, let me be clear, I’m 100 percent over my ex. I worry about him from time to time, and I like to check in on him every once in a while, but that’s pretty much it. I learned a long time ago that while I still love my ex, I am not in love with him. As disgustingly cliché and high school as it sounds, he will always hold a special place in my heart, even if we do lose contact one day. He’s a significant person from my past, and I have no shame in admitting that to anyone.

This respect and love I hold for him is why I was so offended when my friends took one look at his picture and branded him as an “off-brand Diet Coke … Wait, no. An off-brand Diet Pepsi.”

“What? No, he’s not! This just isn’t a good picture of him!” I remember myself jokingly say. “He just doesn’t photograph well!” I half-heartedly exclaim amidst bouts of heavy laughter.

I hear myself try to defend my ex-boyfriend’s honor. I talk of his jokes and his personality, and how safe he always made me feel when we were together. But, not once, do I ever try to question them on his Diet-Cokeiness. I can’t tell if I’m in shock or denial at my friends’ reactions, but I stop arguing with them. Deep down, I know they’re just poking fun for the sake of poking fun. I’m not hurt or upset, but I’d be lying if I said that our light-hearted conversation that day at lunch didn’t keep me up even later than I usually stay at night.

Now, after having time to flesh out all of the thoughts that have raced through my brain in the time since then, here are a few conclusions I’ve come up with:

Let’s make things (more than) physical.
Although I do think that there should be some sort of physical attraction between two potential partners, I think the single most important factor in someone’s overall level of attractiveness is their mind and how well it works with yours. Looks fade, but similar humor and intellect levels are forever, ladies and gentlemen.

Take a (longer, better) look at me now.
In this age of swiping right and left faster than I can say, “unattractive,” it’s easy to see why a whole person can be completely judged by a few pictures and posts on Instagram. While I see the temptation to reject or accept potential partners based on first impressions, realize that they are fleeting and that these pictures give no true sense of who these people actually are as holistic individuals. (Also, maybe they are just aren’t photogenic?)

Who says, who says you’re not perfect? (I do.)
In my honest opinion, my ex never was, and still isn’t, a Diet Coke. Now, I’m not saying that he was perfect-looking because, in reality, nobody is. We all have our own physical traits that we wish we could alter. Nose slightly resembles a tomato, hair so straight you feel like the girl from “The Ring,” too many freckles on your face. Too tall, too short, too big, too small — it’s human nature to find things to criticize or belittle, and our collective search in pursuit of perfection will never end.

But, if I can remember correctly, I never thought about any of that. In the extended period of time I was with my ex I never thought about having the possibility of something more, or better. I just saw him as the guy I’d known since the fourth grade, someone who never ceased to make me laugh even after a very bad quiz score (which was an 85 percent, because, you know … Stanford), someone who very quickly became my best friend. I was happy, and if that means that I drank nothing but Diet Coke for two-and-a-half years, then so be it.

 

Contact Justine Sombilon at jsombilo ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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