I recently heard a woman — a woman I adore, respect, and admire deeply — tell me that she was embarrassed about being “her age” and still single. Her age is 27. Her “still” consists of the past 11 months in which she hasn’t had a steady boyfriend, even though she’s gone on a few dates here and there to varying degrees of disappointment. To be fair, she is what one might describe as a “serial monogamist” by nature, and thus takes the reality of not being partnered up while an increasing number of her friends are getting engaged harder than most. Still, there was something vaguely silly about the whole thing, like that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie was accidentally left alone on her 35th birthday party and has to hear that tone-deaf young woman blowing out her candles with a resounding, “25! Fuck, I’m old!”
But we all have those moments.
Personally speaking, I have gotten tense on many occasions over things such as my eventual wedding, what it means to be single versus part of a couple, and what all the people around me are currently up to in their personal lives. I don’t like to admit it, but I sometimes feel that I am somewhere on a kind of timeline and I’m not sure how impressive my progress is, but I’m getting a clearer picture every day. X amount of people have gotten engaged, X amount are still single, am I normal? It’s a very embarrassing, base train of thought, and I always talk myself out of it in a few minutes.
Of course, when I think about myself in my own relationship, removed from the rest of my social group or society in general, I am very happy. I feel content, and fulfilled, and very much myself. But the thing is, the same was true when I was single — provided that I thought only about myself. If I forced myself to consider my gratitudes and desires in a vacuum, I quickly realized that I have a lot to be grateful for and a lot that I like about myself as a person. But surrounded every day by the expectations I have as a woman with that ever-looming biological clock and a social media record of every love-related big step I make, it’s easy to slip into a much more shallow way of thinking about it all. Even if you don’t want it to be, part of it is about being normal and looking good.
Frankly put, however, we live to be old as fuck nowadays. There is so much ahead of us — likely divorces for many of us, but considering that most of us aren’t even remotely guaranteed financial security, there seem to be greater concerns — and getting caught up about what our friends are doing at 20-whatever seems absurd. And I am absolutely guilty of propagating this in my life; we all are. I write about relationships, and I enjoy reading about them, because they are a huge part of our lives. And recently, we’ve commodified it in a way that we never have before, with the extremely public nature of our biggest life moments. In a way that was probably only strongly implied back in the 50s, getting engaged or finding that Special Someone© is a direct path to feeling superior and accomplished and having unlocked some kind of boss level in a video game that we are all playing against our will.
It’s important to think about love, and to talk about it. It’s important to analyze these things, and consider what we really want, and work on demanding more for and of ourselves. It’s important to look at love with at once a compassionate and critical eye, and be understanding of the fact that any person who gives themselves over to us emotionally is doing something profound and kind. But how many of us know a blog of an otherwise-incredibly fascinating young person who is consumed with their relationship status, its progression, and what they imagine it says about them? We imagine someone is watching, even when no one is. We imagine that it implies something deep about us, when who we happen to meet and fall in love with is as subject to the whims of fate as winning the lottery.
Ultimately, being so concerned with these things so young leads to a clouding of the overall vision about what love is supposed to be, and what it is at its best. It’s a compliment, an enhancement, to the life you are already living. It’s not a competition, and it’s certainly not a show that we put on for the benefit of acquaintances in our news feeds. While I try to focus on the more positive or general aspects of relationships, I am just as guilty as any of us of being strangely surprised and mildly consumed by another one of my friends moving into a new place in their love lives. Because there is something scary about it. We have been convinced that we have to cultivate something impressive to imply that we have jumped a hurdle, when we’ve barely even left the starting block.