You remember those bitter beer commercials from Keystone? When I got this assignment from my editor — something about love and first kisses — that was my face. I could already hear the ribs from my buddies.
I’m probably not what you would call a softy for romance. One time I met a girl at the Brooksider. I’d had a lot of whiskey. Pour whiskey down my throat and I become a dancing machine.
She had drunk a lot of something — probably pink drinks that go down like Gatorade. I wasn’t the forward type. Instead of going up to ask girls to dance, I would just dance around them, not really making contact. Not necessarily with any intent. Don’t you just love the dudes who act like a young lady is a dog in heat who would like nothing more than for you to grind away?
Not me. I just liked sliding across the dance floor. Acting a little ridiculous.
And this girl dug my sweet, whiskey-induced moves. Or at least the pink stuff did. And so, right in the middle of the dark, sticky-floored Boom-Boom room of the Brooksider, we danced and danced some more, and then we shared our first kiss. A nice, public make-out session.
Later that night, we exchanged numbers. Three days later I had the swine flu and I was pretty sure how I got it. But when I recovered I called that girl.
We made it a year. Then we made it a second year. And a couple months before our third anniversary, I got down on one knee and asked that random broad from the Brooksider to marry me.
Our wedding will be July 27.
And she would like it to be known that she did not give me the swine flu.
First kisses aren’t always what you dream about. Sometimes they happen in the basement of the Brooksider. Sometimes — or most of the time — some liquid courage is involved.
I’ll never forget our story, and these five couples who were graciously willing to share, will never forget theirs.
Jenna Bromberg, 26, and Aaron Thacker, 30
First kiss: In a Lawrence driveway
Dear Manti T’eo: Don’t give up on Internet love, bro. It can happen.
Meet Jenna and Aaron.
Jenna, a recent Cornell grad, lived in New York City and she wrote a Tumblr blog about her life in the big city. Aaron lived in Kansas City. He worked for a lame corporation. He also wrote a Tumblr blog. His was about how he hated his corporate job, sharing his quarter-life crisis with his readers.
“Kind of a lost soul,” Jenna said.
Aaron posted a lot of photos of himself, and Jenna thought he was really cute. When Aaron posted a recipe for Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream, Jenna saw an opening. She asked Aaron to be Facebook friends and sent him a message asking about the recipe.
“Keep in mind now, five years later, he has never cooked a damn thing in his life,” Jenna said.
Facebook messages turned to instant messaging. Instant messages turned to texts. And texts turned to phone calls. Finally, six months later, they decided to meet.
Jenna flew to Kansas City.
“I had three vodka crans on the plane that morning,” she said, “and by the time I got off the plane, I was a little bit tipsy.”
Aaron was waiting at the airport. He was a real person! She was a real person!
Eat your heart out, Manti.
That night he took her to Lawrence to visit his cousin. They both drank some more. At the end of the night in his cousin’s driveway, with drunken college kids stumbling by, they kissed.
That was Nov. 1, 2008. On Jan. 1, 2010, Jenna moved to Kansas City to be with Aaron.
They live together now. They have a cat. And Aaron no longer hates his job. He now works for Visit KC and the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association.
“So obviously he’s really good at showing Kansas City to people,” Jenna said.
Not blogging about hating his life anymore?
“No,” Jenna said. “He loves it.”
Natalie, 25, and Bryce Olson, 34
First kiss: West Bottoms
Natalie was studying in England in the spring of 2009, and her roommate Vanessa was listening to bands on MySpace.
As Vanessa was scrolling through the pages, she saw a guy listed as one of the band’s top friends.
“Natalie! You would love this guy!”
Natalie agreed. In fact, she agreed so much she decided to write this anonymous man a message on MySpace, something she had never done.
And he didn’t write back for months!
“I didn’t want to get too excited right away,” said Bryce, a painter in Kansas City who just happened to be on a random band’s site (neither knows which band it was). “This girl is really cute and she wrote me, and I really didn’t allow myself to get super-excited at first.”
Eventually, months later, he did write back.
Then the messages started going back and forth.
Then, phone calls.
At this point, Natalie was back in the states at the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor in Texas.
On Christmas Day 2009, Natalie’s parents gave her an unexpected gift: A roundtrip ticket to Kansas City to meet this guy she was talking so much about.
“I don’t think a lot of parents would buy a ticket so their daughter could meet some strange guy in a place she’s never been,” Bryce said.
Bryce picked Natalie up at the airport on New Year’s Eve. It was the first time he had seen a living, breathing Natalie. Both had only seen pictures of one another.
They headed to one of his favorite spots, Broadway Café in Westport.
“I remember we were setting there and it was hard for either of us to look away or to really focus on anything else,” he said. “It was just kind of a culmination that we had been talking for so long and to now have each other in front of each another was a really special thing. I can say I was falling in love that first meeting. … I was just awestruck by her beauty and the fact that we had finally met.”
That night Bryce was in a fashion show in the West Bottoms. Natalie met his friends and entered his world. And as DJ Sheppa counted down the end of 2009 …
“I just went for it and kissed her, and she responded,” Bryce said.
On March 15, 2011, Bryce and Natalie got hitched in Austin, Texas. Some dude on MySpace and some random girl from Texas. … Love is a trip.
Rachael Longgrear, 28, and Doug Kennemore, 31
First kiss: Outside the Riot Room
Rachael went with friends one night in the summer of 2009 to the Riot Room. She was a regular there. Doug was working the door and knew all of Rachael’s friends, but he had never met Rachael.
One by one, he let them in for free. Then Rachael stepped up.
“He says to our friend Rachael, another Rachael, he says, ‘I don’t know her.’
“Why would you let all of them in and not me?” the first Rachael said.
“Well, I’m only supposed to let in people that I know.”
Rachael doesn’t remember whether she paid or not, but she had made up her mind about Doug.
“From that point on, I just thought he was some kind of rude doorman who didn’t actually stand behind the kindness of all the other people I knew that worked there.”
This story would have gone the way of irrelevant details if not for the fact that they had a lot of mutual friends.
More than a year after their first encounter they started to hang out and became friends. In January 2011 their friends let it be known to Rachael that Doug really liked her, so Rachael asked Doug to have a drink on a Thursday night.
They went to the Czar Bar, one of their usual hangouts. But on this night, something was off.
“It wasn’t the regular crowd at all,” Rachael said. “We realized, ‘Man, there are so many people here that we have never seen here before.’ And we started realizing that they are all dressed really nice and they were all highly intoxicated.”
They were right. This wasn’t the usual crowd. They had crashed a Christmas party for a funeral home.
“We found out this one guy, he was the lead mortician and that was his secretary, and she was smashed and hitting on him and dancing horribly. It was hilarious,” Rachael said. “I’ve never met a mortician in my life and suddenly we were hanging out with like 50 of them!”
After the unintended comedy show, Rachael and Doug headed to the Riot Room. They secretly held hands under the bar ledge so their friends who worked there wouldn’t tease them.
At the end of the night, Doug walked Rachael to her car.
“Doug is really reserved and quiet to people he doesn’t know very well,” Rachael said. “He was acting very much like a gentleman and not saying, ‘Hey, can I come over?’ ”
“I was thinking, ‘Man, I really want him to come over, but I don’t know if I should ask. I don’t want to come off too strong.’
“We were just standing by my car and I don’t know if it was that I was full of liquid courage, but I leaned in and I grabbed his beard and put my hands on the side of his face and then I don’t know what I came over me, but I kissed him.”
Rachael stepped back. They both stood there for a second, smiling, and Rachael asked Doug if he wanted to come over for a while.
“Yes, yes I do,” he said.
They kissed again. Went to her place. And you know what happened next, right?
“I was heating up some food, and he fell asleep on my couch,” Rachael said. “I was so tired and exhausted that I just went to bed.”
The next morning they woke up to the awkwardness of realizing they had (kind of) spent the night together unintentionally.
“Yeah, we had our first kiss last night,” Rachael said. “That was awesome. I hope that wasn’t too forward.”
“No, I would have gladly kissed you,” Doug told her, “I probably would have done it on the second or third date.”
“You want to go get brunch?” Rachael said. Their first date lasted two days.
On Jan. 31, the “rude” doorman and the girl he wouldn’t let in for free celebrated their second anniversary of dating.
Madeline Hart, 25, and Mike Ladd, 25
First kiss: Record Bar
Technically, Madeline and Mike’s first kiss took place at a party she threw at her parents’ empty loft downtown.
Madeline doesn’t count that one. They didn’t really talk much the weeks that followed.
“I kind of gave up on him,” she said.
One night after a Britney Spears concert downtown, Madeline was back at her parents’ loft. This time she was alone after her friend (and ride) had left.
She was in a short dress. Her phone was about to die. She didn’t have any money. She tried calling some girlfriends with no luck.
Something told Madeline to call Mike.
“Because I kind of had a crush on him and he’s a painter and I’m into artists,” she said. “I don’t know. I just found his art amazing. And he was my last resort.”
Mike was on his way to a concert, but he changed course and headed to save Madeline.
“He was very much a prince,” she said. “I didn’t even know those kind of guys* were out there.”
Mike wanted to heal Madeline’s ears from the music she had been exposed to that night, so they headed to a much different scene at the Record Bar in Westport to see the band Manchild.
They made it for the last two songs and stood in the middle of the dance floor close to the stage, holding hands behind Madeline’s back.
As the show ended, she glanced up at Mike, flashed a smile and went in for what she considers their first kiss.
“That was more of a make-out session there,” she said. “After that we did everything together.”
Valentine’s Day will mark the four-year anniversary of that kiss.
Thank Cupid, thank Britney and thank cellphone batteries.
*Why do women always assume guys are jerks? I mean, sure, I assume all women are at least a little bit crazy, but my beliefs are supported by science.
Kyle Pusateri, 27, and Lauren Frisch, 27
First kiss: Harpo’s in Columbia
It was Oct. 23, 2010, homecoming at Missouri. The Tigers knocked off No. 1 Oklahoma, and Kyle followed the goalposts to Harpo’s.
On the way, he texted Lauren. They had met about a year before at a photo shoot. Lauren is a photographer. Kyle is an ad man.
“We had been talking on and off sporadically,” Kyle said. “Two months prior to that we had talked.”
Lauren navigated her way through the crowd and found Kyle outside. She wanted to make sure he remembered her. She wasn’t sure when they would meet again.
Then, every man’s dream took place …
Lauren pinned Kyle to a wall and went in for the kiss.
“A group of my college friends were around,” Kyle said. “They saw this whole thing unfold and they’re like, ‘What’s going on? Who’s making out with this hot blonde?’ And I was like, ‘Yes! Thumbs up.’ This is great.”
Kyle might as well have scored the game-winning touchdown that day. Hell, this was better than scoring a touchdown, and the celebration might have been the best part.
“Some guy walks up, raises his hand and high-fives and says, ‘Yeah man. You better do baaaaaad things to her.’ ”
In the fantasy world our ladies live in, they think everything happens for a reason. Nothing is a coincidence.
I’m skeptical. But Kyle and Lauren’s story had perfect timing.
The next week Lauren, who lived in Columbia, had to go to Lawrence for a photo shoot. She stayed with Kyle in Kansas City and commuted to the shoot.
“I didn’t know this girl at all, but something felt right,” Kyle said. “She stayed with me the next week, celebrated my birthday that next week and drove with me to St. Louis and stayed with my family and my friends.
“We haven’t really looked back since,” he said.