For four years, you are in a place surrounded by hundreds, often thousands, of other young, single people who are looking to have a good time. There are people with just about every relationship goal possible – those looking for a one night stand, those who want a casual but consistent hook up, those looking for an emotional connection and a steady commitment, and those who aren’t quite sure what they want but do know that they want to meet as many people as possible.
In college, every time you walked into a bar, the opportunities were limitless. There were tons of people your age and in your same situation – many that you knew, plenty you at least knew of, and some that you never met but had dozens of mutual friends with, which in turn would allow you to make a connection with anyone in about sixty seconds.
And then you left school and tumbled into the real world version of dating. And here, there is no routine, no protocol, no instruction manual that explains how you’re supposed handle a weird interaction on Tinder, let alone how in the hell you’re supposed to meet your soulmate.
Because that’s what happens as soon as you become part of the adult dating world – everybody is fixated on finding their soulmate, while constantly fearing that they will be left out in the dust if they don’t move quickly enough. The amount of reality shows about finding the person of your dreams is endless. Every engagement announcement is about ‘getting married to my best friend.’ The online articles saying You’ll Never Believe How This Man Proposed To His Fiancé are abundant and overwhelming.
The idea of ‘soulmates’ has always been a thing. But television and social media have turned it into more of a commodity, as opposed to just another way of describing a special relationship between two people. In college, these things seemed silly and far away. We laughed at the reality shows chronicling bridezillas and their cheesy, over-the-top weddings. We were too busy studying for exams and participating in student organizations and going out with our friends to care about being ‘single at twenty-one.’ We had fun if we were dating someone, because nobody was asking us how much longer it would be until we were going to tie the knot. And we had fun if we were single, because no one was asking us why we had not settled down yet. It was college, it was temporary, it was just a carefree safe haven on our journey to adulthood.
But now, everything is a lot more real. Most of us are beginning to dedicate multiple weekends out of our year to weddings, bachelorette parties, engagement celebrations, and the like. When we’re not participating in one of these things, we’re still doused in engagement announcements or wedding hashtags or Snapchat stories galore. Weddings are everywhere. Love is everywhere. And to a lot of people, finding a soulmate is beginning to feel like searching for Bigfoot.
It’s hard not to think about. It’s hard to date without fretting over an end goal. It’s hard not to worry about if you’re getting engaged too young, or you’ve been single too long. It’s hard to let go of every piece of advice that’s ever been thrown at you.
At the end of the day, here’s what is true: there will always be someone out there who thinks you should be married by twenty-four. Another who thinks that committing to anyone before you are thirty is a cop-out. Someone who tells you that true fulfillment comes with dedicating your life to another person. Someone else who tells you that true fulfillment comes from learning how to be alone. Someone is going to judge you if you’re single at twenty-nine. Someone else is going to judge you if you go anywhere near marriage before the age of thirty-five. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to tell you what the ‘right answer’ is.
There is no right answer. Dating after college means figuring out what works for you and ignoring everyone else. Obviously you can’t sit down and say “I’m going to be married by age twenty-six” and assume everything will simply work itself out. But you can at least learn to embrace the fact your story will pan out exactly how it’s supposed to. You aren’t doing this the right way or the wrong way. You’re doing it the way that will ultimately be best for you. And as far as your love life is concerned, that’s the only way that matters.