I’m only 19, and I feel like my friends are already disillusioned with romance. Sometimes I am too. And I can’t blame them. I know a hundred stories: partners who commit and then ghost, who seduce like it’s a game they’ve perfected, who only text when they’re bored or it’s 2 a.m., who flirt while being madly in love with someone else. The instances in which a possible relationship goes badly far outweigh the times they seem to go well. I have found myself wondering why we keep trying, especially as students in college surrounded by a culture in which we have been taught not to commit. Yet, so many of my friends, myself included, search for romantic connections. What are we doing?
I keep coming back to something one of my friends told me earlier this year. It was over late night ramen at Anaya’s, when we were tired and feeling existential enough to start discussing relationships in an abstract sense.
My roommate Hazal posed the question of why so many of us spend so long looking for just one close relationship to fulfill our need for connection. Doesn’t that put too much pressure on just one person? How can any one relationship meet all of our needs? Though my suitemate Varsha and I voiced our desires for monogamy, we also questioned the pressure that we place on relationships.
At this point I was a few months out of a pretty heart-wrenching breakup, which had been the third in a succession of really-serious-then-suddenly-over relationships. I began to wonder if I was putting too much pressure on my romantic relationships, expecting them to be something they weren’t — namely, long-term.
I wondered if I was being stupid about all this. A few weeks before, I had met a guy entirely by accident. I found myself liking him more than I had intended to, but also more hesitant than I’d ever been. To be frank, I really just didn’t have it in me to get hurt again. As our ramen bowls came, I verbalized these fears to my friends.
And then Hazal told me something that really stuck with me. She told me that sure, I had gotten my heart broken, but the fact that I had been in love meant I could be and I would be again. It was a perspective I’d never considered. That the ability to fall in love with someone was less about the worthiness of the object of affection and more about the person doing the falling. A capability to accept people as they are, to see them at their worst and still want them, to give as much as you can to make them happy and feel happy doing it — maybe the end result of a relationship isn’t as relevant as the skills that come with it: namely, how to be fully in love with another human being.
Of course, this perspective won’t make it suck any less when your relationships end or when people move on before you’re ready to let go. Letting yourself fall in love, or even fall in hardcore like, will always make you vulnerable to agonizing loss. But maybe, if you’re like me, it will at least remind you that the pain means that, even if only for a short time, you were entirely yourself with another person.
Carrie Mannino | firstname.lastname@example.org