The early '90s was a lush and strange time to be a passionate, geeky girl like myself. My family, books, school, Lisa Frank stickers, cute boys, the planet, UFOs—I was deeply invested in everything around me, and in exactly that order.
I was so filled with excessive amounts of love and passion (and an unchecked desire to make out) that I wanted to share with the world. But while I craved the touch of the Umbro-wearing, Pearl Jam-rocking, hair-parted-down-the-middle tweenage dreams of my youth, I had a better shot of interacting with alien life forms than French kissing the boys in my class.
Brunettes with brains and bangs and glasses were not the thing they are now, then in the third-through-ninth grades of the mid-to-late nineties. Also, I regularly wore matching blazer and pant sets.
But so did a pair of beloved FBI agents.
While the other girlchildren of my early grade school experience had turned slowly away from Disney movies to Julia Roberts movies, Poetic Justice, and Legends of The Fall for their fix of love and romance, I stole time watching snippets of The X-Files in the living room before bed, when my parents were distracted and I was supposed to be brushing my teeth.
While I was half-forbidden from watching The X-Files by my well-meaning Mom (who thought it was “too adult” for me when I was a kid, and “too creepy” for me when I was a teen), that didn’t stop me from catching scenes of it here and there, between jazz and pep band rehearsals, drama club weekends, and moonlit drives with actual human boys. Like a government agent with vaguely hinted personal ties to my past, present, and future, The X-Files would haunt my romantic mind from the dawning of my adolescence and well into my adult years. Anything you love when you’re young, but most especially things you love when you’re young but think you are old, has a way of sticking around like that.
There’s a scene in a specific episode of The X-Files (that I won’t name because it’s like so many other specific episodes of The X-Files), that has marked me for life. Special agents Mulder and Scully are staying at a down-at-the-heels motel while they work a case. It’s late, and the yellow streetlight washing Scully’s hotel room is cut by the shadows of standard-issue early-'90s TV Drama Rustling-Against-The-Window Trees.
Scully, the pragmatic scientist to Mulder’s passionate conspiracy theorist, is a little bit irritated with her fellow FBI agent’s quirky antics at the end of a long day. Mulder’s a little bit oblivious. Both are beyond tired, but also beyond ready to find the THING they need to FIND OUT, so that they can help the people dealing with the THING.
Mulder, sweaty in his running clothes, bangs on Scully’s door late at night to get her take on something pertinent to the case. Scully is working on her case files, and rolls her eyes but opens up. As the two speak, their minds spark one another. They see the same lead from opposite angles, and build on each other’s vision through implicit trust until that vision is joined and they start cracking the case. It’s a hairline crack, sure, but it builds to a full-on fracture as the two end up talking so close that their foreheads almost touch.
So many scenes at any point in The X-Files play like this. The close-talking, the deep-trusting, the wisecracking medical doctor and meddling kid in conversation, in partnership, working a problem together. And sometimes, saving the world.
Much like a ball bearing inserted in my brain during surgeries performed while in the midst of an alien abduction, the desire to be in a relationship as evenly matched as Mulder and Scully’s informed my first ideas of romance. Not that this entirely worked out for me.
And while the Umbro shorts-wearing, Devon Sawa-looking boys of yon could make it on their own dreamboat merit back in the day, the line gets drawn between boys and men. You need one who can stand with you, back to back, in the mix of it all, seeing aliens you will deny exist, but will help discover the truth of, all the same.
Unfortunately, it took longer for me than needed to. When you want an equal, you are eager to pad out the material you’re working with to fit the bill. I lost a lot of time building Mulders out of molehills, I will tell you.
Instead, these days when I meet someone who even smacks of being an equal in love, life, and the pursuit of the truth out there, I will smile a small, secret, Scully smile.
Trust no one, sure. But believe the lie.
Larissa Zageris is the co-author of My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel (Quirk Books).