The Zoo Theory


More than a couple of lovebirds. (VIA FLICKR)


My mother has this theory on relationships that I don’t quite understand. Logically, it doesn’t make any sense. And yet, against all rationality, it’s proved itself quite true—at least in my mother’s world.

I was first made aware of the theory one evening this past summer. The two of us were lounging on the back patio with my mom’s friend Karen, talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company as we often did. When there was a lull in the conversation, which was a rare occurrence, my mother asked Karen about her daughter Courtney, who usually joined us on these nights.

“Oh, Courtney’s at home. She’s just exhausted after spending the whole day at the zoo with her boyfriend.”

My mother made a sound of acknowledgement, before sipping her drink and replying nonchalantly. “She’s looking to get married, then?”

At first I laughed, thinking that my mother was just being her usual ridiculous self (the woman is crazy, but in the best possible way). But when Karen nodded with a smile and said, “That’s what she’s hoping for,” I was completely lost.

“Okay, pause. How does a day at the zoo end with Courtney and her boyfriend getting married?” I asked, struggling to find a connection between the two events.

[quote_center]“How does a day at the zoo end with Courtney and her boyfriend getting married?”[/quote_center]

“I first knew I would marry your dad when we went to the zoo together. And actually, now that I think of it, the same thing happened with my first husband, too,” my mother informed us. My mother isn’t much of an outdoorsy person, and my dad’s never really been one for “spectacles,” so for them to willingly take a trip to the zoo didn’t make much sense to me.

“I knew I would marry Pat after he took me to the zoo,” Karen said of her and her husband, echoing my mother’s claim. “God knows I wouldn’t wanna go now, but back then we had a great time.”

I processed this information and tried to reason it out, attempting to give some merit to their theory. “I guess there’s some accuracy to that. I mean, my cousin Michelle was even proposed to AT the zoo. Though I’m pretty sure that had more to do with her favorite animal being polar bears than the ‘romantic atmosphere’ of the zoo itself.”

My mother nodded and laughed, and clarified her thought further. “I’m not saying that the zoo is romantic—because it really, really isn’t. But history doesn’t lie. It’s been proven time and time again that going to the zoo with a boyfriend will almost certainly result in a trip down the aisle.”

“Especially if he invites you,” Karen added. “That’s how you know it’s love.”

“But why?” I insisted, grasping desperately for any sort of sensible reasoning.

My question was met with only a shrug from my mother, and a simple “I don’t know. That’s just the way things turn out, I guess.” She then took another sip of her drink, before clearing her throat and turning to Karen. “Oh! Speaking of ‘inviting’…”

And thus the discussion came to a close. But while my mother and Karen redirected their conversation towards their summer plans, cookouts and holiday celebrations, my mind was still stuck on what I’ve since dubbed “The Zoo Theory.”

What was the appeal of going to the zoo with someone you’re dating? Simultaneously holding hands and your nose while walking through the unpleasantly potent monkey exhibit? Does getting heatstroke from the unrelenting sun somehow make you hot for each other? And how could any of this result in marriage? The more ideas I posited, the more absurd the theory sounded. And so, unable to find a rational solution, I refocused on the conversation Karen and my mother were having, and let The Zoo Theory fade to the back of my mind.

After months of contemplation, I recently had an epiphany. I realized that the flaw in my reasoning came from simply evaluating the theory from the wrong angle.

In this theory, the qualities of the zoo don’t matter so much as the qualities of the person you’re with.

For many people, a trip to the zoo is at best incredibly boring, and at worst downright torturous. The place reeks with the stink of both the animals and the observers, your feet ache after the first few hours of constantly walking, and chances are that at least one area on your body will end up so sunburned that it hurts to even exist. But if at the end of the day, despite everything, you can say that you had a good time… maybe it’s a sign of the possibilities you have as a couple. If you can walk to your car when all is said and done, holding hands with smiles on your faces, maybe that shows that no matter what comes your way, the person you’re with can better any experience. In this theory, the qualities of the zoo don’t matter so much as the qualities of the person you’re with.

So, maybe a trip to the zoo really is all the proof you need that it’s meant to be.