“Life isn’t a Nicholas Sparks novel,” my friend told me over lunch. “You have your whole life to be in love — now is the time to build your career, to adventure, to change your mind.”
I was talking about relationship plans and how they would tie in with all of the other, non-love things going on in my life. She believed, as so many people do, that assigning great importance to a relationship in one’s early-to-mid 20s is necessarily coming at the cost of a clear head and a direct path towards some vague notion of Greatness that the universe owes us. In her eyes, either my relationship falls perfectly in line with my varying life plans, or it must be excised like a cancer to allow me to fully spread my metaphorical wings.
(I don’t even like Nicholas Sparks.)
(Well, I guess you could say I like The Notebook, but that is more about watching Ryan Gosling be angsty for an hour and a half in suspenders.)
So many people have said these things to me, and to others like me, that I have almost stopped considering their words entirely. I allow the judgment to wash over me without absorbing a drop of it. I don’t even really feel the need to defend my choices anymore, or my overall outlook on love, because I know that it is not even about me. Not really, anyway. It is about a culture of romance-above-everything being sold to women, and how we must reject that. Someone tells me to “focus on me,” and always implies to some degree that it is mutually exclusive with being heavily interested in love and relationships and romance. “You are young,” they tell me, “You’ll never get this time again.”
I always wonder why adventure and career development and changing my mind can’t occur simultaneously with a fulfilling relationship. I always wonder why we look with a mixture of pity and bewilderment upon our former classmates who got married at 24. I always wonder why, in the limitless spectrum of pursuits and interests and devotions of energy in this universe, love is always the one most cynically looked upon as a waste of time. We’re just silly girls being girls, they seem to think, who watched one too many rom-coms and now imagine that every life event must be punctuated by Channing Tatum sweeping us off our feet and/or handing us a bouquet of fresh-picked daisies.
People have told me that it’s a waste of time for so many young women (and men, though they rarely mention that it happens to men) to be “obsessed” with dating and finding love. I would agree, if I felt that “obsessed” was a good word to describe it.
They do have a point, in the sense that we can’t always tell as women if our pursuit of all things romantic is something we would have chosen for ourselves if we had not been raised, literally since birth, to emulate Happily Ever Afters and Handsome Princes and shabby-chic wedding-themed Pinterest boards. And while it is true that many of our passions and convictions in life come from years of being told that it is what is right and appropriate for us, that doesn’t mean that it is an obsession. It doesn’t mean that it is insidious, or inherently damaging. It doesn’t consume us entirely or define us. It hasn’t infiltrated every bit of our being to the point of losing ourselves. One can be very much interested in finding and keeping love, and still have a million other passions and personality traits which have nothing to do with how many Disney movies they watched as a child.
There are many people who, like me, love the idea of love. We love boyfriends and holding hands and imagining weddings and nights spent talking until three AM because everything the other person says is just so incredibly interesting. And it’s not because we think that we are not complete without it, or need it to prop us up because our own legs are not strong enough to carry us. It is not because we think that careers or travel or self-discovery must take a backseat to having someone tell you that you are beautiful and worthy on a regular basis. It is because, at least for us, love is a worthy pursuit on its own. It is something that should be tended to and worked on, just like your career or your garden or your friendships. It is something that can exist in tandem with all the personal development that we are told should be our real focus. It isn’t something we want to consciously put off until we are older because we have better things to do.
For us, love is one of the most important parts of life. The treasure hunt of finding someone who started as just an ordinary stranger and became a part of who you will be for the rest of your life is thrilling and wonderful. The daily task of re-discovering this person and adapting your love to fit one another is a worthy human endeavor. It is not the shallow, misleading titles of a women’s beauty magazine. It is not the desire to skip the boring parts and cut to the ballroom dance with your Prince Charming. It is wanting to be human with someone in every way you can, and wanting to find someone to share the beauty and burden of life with. It is wanting a partner, someone to turn to when you see something particularly wonderful and say, “Wasn’t that amazing?”
I told my friend that she shouldn’t worry about me. I will have my career and my adventures and change my mind a thousand times. And love, if you want it to, will always be a part of that without fighting for the spotlight. I am young, but life is to be lived when it comes, and not put off for when you think you will be a different person. I told her that I knew that life wasn’t a Nicholas Sparks novel, and thank God, because love is so much better than that.