I am the type of person who gets anxious when she has to scan a menu with more than 10 items on it. The paradox of choice is the reason I always try to share several dishes with people on the table to avoid falling into the trap of F.O.M.O.
When it comes to love, the paradox of choice has proven to be just as problematic as a food menu to me. In a world with options galore, I often find myself entangled in situations that I haven’t taken time to define. And because I am a writer always looking for the beauty in things, it is common for me to romanticize less-than-ideal situations for the sake of finding a silver lining. But the older I get, the more I realize that this behavior is no longer serving me.
I wrote a post recently called, “What Modern Women Want.”
In it, I discussed how our criteria for partnerships have changed over time because our roles in the world as women have shifted. Many women I know live in cities far from their immediate families and childhood friends. They hustle daily and their career takes up so much of their mental and emotional energy. As modern women, we’re not getting married as early as our mothers were. We’re not experiencing motherhood at an age we thought we might be. We travel a lot more and a lot faster. Everything always feels like it’s on the go–which is why when I say we need a man to show up, I mean it both literally and figuratively.
But it’s not just our role that has shifted. The dynamics of the modern man are just as changing and vague. Globalization plays a part in this. Chivalry might mean opening doors in some cultures, but picking up the tab in others. Still in others, insisting on paying for a woman might feel imposing on her sense of autonomy. Socialization in cultures occurs differently too. In the West, transparency is a valued trait. In the Middle East though, communication tends to hinge more on the vague side. People walk around what they’re trying to say and use humor to diffuse the intensity of situations. If I were to use that kind of humor in the states, it might come off as offensive. But if I was to get offended by it in my country, I’d be seen as overly sensitive.
To add to the paradox, I’ve observed that as a modern woman I want to keep my independence, but I also want to feel like a woman in some traditional sense. That means I want someone who can protect me physically, and who will lead the way sometimes. I don’t want to be objectified, but I also want to feel sensual. To become in touch with my sensuality I need the nuances of my femininity to be noted by a man. This balance between giving a woman room to take charge but also leading the way for her, appreciating her physicality without degrading her intellect, can be confusing for men.
What I prize about the male friends I keep, is their uncanny ability to be real with me. By leaving my presumptions at the door and becoming curious about how they navigate romance, I’ve been able to learn a lot about why they do what they do. I also feel fortunate that most of the men I speak to are receptive about the challenges I face as a woman. Time and again, I’ve been rewarded and surprised by their willingness to be vulnerable with me, and I’m convinced that a lot of the disconnect between our genders boils down to a lack of understanding and communication. As a sucker for spontaneity, I can appreciate that ‘being real,’ isn’t always as sexy as ‘going with the flow.’ But being aware of the complexity of human nature also makes me appreciate that a degree of clarity in love is quite important. It is a way of honoring ourselves. Most people would agree that to invest in a car, it needs to have certain specs. Why should it be any different in love? If concise communication is important to us, should we be with people who find it hard to be honest? Probably not. If generosity is important to us, should we be with people who find it unnecessary to splurge on their partner? Probably not. As shallow as it sounds, when you become clear about what you want, it becomes a lot less confusing to navigate something even as confusing as the terrain of modern romance. Why then, do we lend ourselves to people who entangle our emotions? Is it perhaps because we do not enter situations with enough clarity?
Yes and no. Many of us are great communicators, but we’re only half the equation. Just because we’re willing to speak our truth doesn’t mean the other person is. Moreover, some people don’t know what they’re looking for, so what they say they want may not necessarily align with what they’re actually looking for. In a sense, mindfulness is just as important in love as it is in everything else we do. To succeed professionally, we have to be accountable for the work we do daily. It’s no different in love. To love mindfully is to be willing to show up honestly and consistently.
It doesn’t mean that we should prolong a relationship we’ve outgrown simply to be consistent, just like it doesn’t serve us to do work that is no longer meaningful to us. But we owe it to each other not just as lovers, but as human beings, to be real. To be honest with someone is to respect them. To be honest with ourselves is to respect ourselves. If we notice an inconsistent pattern in someone we’re seeing, it’s up to us to acknowledge it and act accordingly. Conversely, becoming comfortable with the ephemerality of love makes the task that much easier.
While most matters of the heart will continue to linger in the grey area because emotions are so fleeting–honesty, in my opinion, continues to be the only way to find at least some clarity in it all. And while full disclosure is not always necessary to convey one’s message, there has to be at least some level of it in order not to cause others suffering at the cost of our inability to be clear.
In a time where marriage is delayed and we’re dating a lot longer than we used to, I find it crucial to be open about the struggles people my age face in love. Many of us feel like we’ve reached a cut off, too young to be tied down, but too old to be alone. So I hope my work provides solace to those who like me, lead busy lives and find that something as human as the need for intimacy suddenly feels so intangible. In a world where a swipe to the right is always an option, I hope we decide to show up for each other and remember that no matter what gadgets and apps we have at our disposable, integrity never goes out of style.