Few entertainment genres are as intrinsic to Bustle's identity as the romcom. This week, leading up to Valentine's Day, Bustle is partnering with the romcom podcast Meet Cute to explore the real-life love stories unfolding around us all the time. In today's episode, "Belle of the Ball," an excruciatingly shy college student works up the courage to approach the girl he likes, only to lose her — or so he thinks.
"I've been obsessed with rom coms my entire life," says Casey Boykins, the Brooklyn-based actor and writer who scripted this Meet Cute, on a Zoom earlier this month. Boykins tells Bustle that she was especially excited to take on a college story. "There's something really beautiful about young people figuring out how to fall in love."
The Meet Cute opens at a ball at a British university, where Neer can't take his eyes off of another student, Anna, but also can't seem to leave the safe harbor of the refreshment table. With some encouragement from friends, he approaches her a a few days later in the library, where she is working her student job. A comic level of awkwardness ensues but somehow still results in Anna inviting Neer to a party. This, too, he fumbles. The two don't meet again until the the night of the same ball the following year, when Neer's luck changes.
It was the real-life Neer who submitted the couple's story to Meet Cute. When Boykins interviewed him, she was blown away. "I was like, 'This can't be real,' but it absolutely is. It felt like a movie. It made me feel warm inside," she says. "I loved that they reconnected."
For her, one big challenge of writing the Meet Cute was nailing down Neer's character. "He seemed nervous and sweet" on the phone, Boykins recalled. "I tried to think what type of person would be too afraid to approach someone at a ball."
The listener learns a lot about Neer through a flight of opening dialogue as snappy as you'd expect from a really good ensemble comedy. Neer's best friend, James, is gesturing with a cocktail shrimp while apprising Neer of exactly how cowardly Neer is when it comes to girls.
James: Tell me the name of a single girl you’ve spoken to this year- and group projects do not count.
Neer: Oh! Isabelle!
James: And who the hell is Isabelle?
Neer: She’s the receptionist. In the office. Where I do my work study.
James: That woman is a receptionist! She gets paid to talk to people!
Neer: Oh god. I really am .... How could you wait so long to tell me?!
"I wanted it to be quick but also full of love," Boykins says of this exchange. "I had just watched the movie Booksmart. Both of the girls in that are so nerdy and uncomfortable, but the dialogue between them is really quick and really smart."
The other standout scene is Neer's attempt to talk to Anna in the library, a display of awkwardness that is both too real and also completely endearing.
Spoiler: It all works out in the end, as it has for the real-life Neer and Anna. After the Meet Cute first aired in July, "[Neer] sent us the sweetest email saying I scarily nailed his character and personality," Boykins reports. "The couple is still together. His girlfriend and he listened to it while they were quarantining together in Mumbai."
For Boykins, the pandemic has given Meet Cutes additional purpose and value. "Everyone is stuck in their house; no one's dating. The rom coms and the meet cutes of our own lives are not available to us right now." Until the vaccine is universally available, love stories stand in for some of what we've lost.
Listen to Neer and Anna's Meet Cute "Belle of the Ball"; subscribe to Meet Cute for more totally enchanting 15-minute audio rom coms; and stay tuned for the premier of a brand new fictional Meet Cute, "Thief of Love," on Sunday, Feb. 14.
Meet Cute is looking for more real-life love stories to turn into feel-good rom coms! You can send them the story of how you and your partner met here, or DM them on Twitter (@listenmeetcute) or Instagram (@meetcute)!