Growing up I initially didn’t do much dating. This was probably in part because I towered over every boy at the middle school dances, coming up just shy of 6 feet at the ripe age of 13. I remember at that point feeling insecure (like a lot of us in middle school), because these were the years we start truly becoming self-aware. In turn that awareness often times turned into comparing yourself with others, and then can open a door for self-deprecation. I remember wishing I was shorter so that I would maybe start to be of some interest, or at least get asked to dance every once in a while.
As the years passed the boys got taller, and things changed a little bit. The summer before high school started I achieved the “in a relationship” status for the first time with a boy from camp. To be brutally honest, I remember his first name and could give a police officer a general description, but that’s really all I ever knew about him. It was exactly as you’d imagine… A silly little camp romance that everyone knew couldn’t go anywhere, but the two involved were so infatuated with each other, they didn’t recognize their inevitable fate. I mean, how in the world are two teenagers living in different towns supposed to make it work? We didn’t even have learner’s permits! Nonetheless, we were smitten. And although I wouldn’t have known how to put it into words, the whole thing was a lot more about filling a (socially mandated) hole than any sort of real connection.
The two weeks we were together changed my life. No I’m completely kidding, we left camp in a ‘never gonna give you up’ sort of way, but I soon lost interest in our situation. I mean we would get on the phone every day, but after the small talk formalities were over, we realized we had nothing to say to each other. So me, being new to the dating game (if that’s what you even call it), didn’t know how to end things. Funny enough, I ended up convincing my best friend to call him and break it off… The best part? HE THOUGHT IT WAS ME. Thus ends the greatest love story of all time. Tragic, I know.
Reflecting back, I find it ridiculous I even found myself in that situation. In no way was there anything more to it than a slight attraction and some sort of incessant need to have a “boyfriend” figure in my life. I look back and try to analyze how it all played out, and all I can remember is a boy being taller than me in my one-piece swim suit at the pool during recreation time…
What’s important here is to call out the pressure I was already feeling at a young age to pair off and find a ‘happily ever after.’ With societal norms dictating that we are meant to “have a soulmate,” I find that we often get swept away in the disillusion. Media is probably the worst perpetrator of this, constantly capitalizing and emphasizing love narratives in EVERY movie you can find at the cinema. It doesn’t matter if they are Elf and Dwarf (The Hobbit), or two angsty teens creating their own solutions to life’s problems (every teen movie really)… The narrative of the unexpected fairy tale exists in every plot.
Even within these narratives, which display all sorts of situations in which individuals find what they’re missing in someone else, we see an unrealistic emphasis on romance. If you want to truly meet someone and wander into ‘happily ever after’ territory, you have to accept that it won’t be all candlelit dinners and roses. Love is the most challenging (and rewarding) thing you will ever do. It absolutely is all that it’s written, sung and acted out to be, but there is a side to it that we don’t often find realistically and appropriately displayed. I think that even as aware as we can be of this fact, the continual perpetuation on stages and screens can’t help but distort our reality. So many young women and men walk through life pining for that sort of connection, a lot of times before they even know themselves, because they feel it as a necessary part of securing a successful future.
To take it to another level, we also see the narrative of unrequited love play out, or a love between two that has some extenuating circumstance (illness, one of them just so happens to be poor, etc.) that keeps them from being together. I would argue that this yearning for an out-of-reach love also perpetuates the desires so many of us face in wanting the things that we cannot have. In worse cases, I believe this is where the too often seen cheating dynamic comes into play, whether it be emotional or physical. We all want that soulmate that is supposed to magically align with us… So when things stop being perfect, we start to look around rather than looking at the person we are with and being honest with them. As horrible as it could be to admit, maybe we do this because we would rather find a quick reroute, than risk spend any time alone.
In other cases, I see this dynamic of wanting things we cannot have also exist in relationships that are not meant to be. Sometimes (guilty here) we hold out in relationships way too long in hopes that things will get better, or the turning point in the fairy tale will reveal itself. We become too hopeful holding onto a past or perceived future with someone, and lose touch with reality. We’re looking at a lot of potentially self-destructive situations here.
Let me just say, I’m not here to preach against love and relationships. Quite the contrary actually, I have loved, and I have lost. I’ve been all over the emotional spectrum from infatuation to devastation, and I’m here to tell you it’s ALL worth it. Love has brought me my greatest pains, but even better joys, and I wouldn’t give a second of it away.
“Day after day,
Give me clouds, and rain and grey.
Give me pain, if that’s what’s real
It’s the price we pay to feel”
-Next to Normal
I would rather feel heartache 100x to feel love just once. It’s that spectacular. No, it’s not like your movies, or books, or even the way your friends’ relationships seem on social media. Love is unique and personal, heart-wrenching and wholesome… And altogether wonderful when found.
I’m saying all these things, because it’s time to start calling out media and society for telling us what we need to feel and how to feel it. The personal quality of natural connection and compassion is being lost in a world of prescribed happy endings. No, I’m not mad Rachel got off the plane to go back to Ross (Friends), but that doesn’t mean your life will play out the same way. Those love stories should be considered a façade rather than reality. We won’t all meet a prince who will make sure the shoe fits (Cinderella), or realize we’re irrevocably in love with our best friend (once again, most teen movies).
Your life is your own story. Enjoy the happiness of those around you, and the romances that play out in media too! But never forget that your narrative does not have to be guided by any rules, and you don’t have to feel a hole in your heart because you don’t have a significant other.
My call to you, is to analyze the way you look at love and relationships. In finding a partner, you don’t need to find a missing piece in your life. You simply need to just live, knowing that you are completely whole and wonderful being exactly who you are, and becoming who you want to be. If in your life you’re able to find someone that’s your same form of crazy to run with, then run away. But don’t think of yourself as any less because you’re alone, or too tall to be asked to dance with. Every day you begin with an open heart is an opportunity for something magical to happen. And you, my darling, deserve magic.