If the only things you knew about love were what you learned in romantic comedies, you would think that everyone was just waiting around to be in a burgeoning long-term relationship that you never actually see depicted onscreen.
In the movies, everyone is in love or falling in love or about to be in love, as soon as they drop that box of randomly assorted goods that a sex-haired guy with a cleft chin and hot guy cheeks is magically there to help them pick up. Neither of them will be ready for love until 90 minutes later, when they are finally ready and they can have a PG-13 kiss, the kind that will make the old women in the audience feel something in their wiggly bits without offending them. This isn’t Skins now.
I grew up on these movies and I thought that when I grew up, everyone would just be flinging themselves into each others arms, as if dating were Olympic gymnastics or closing time at a 5 A.M. bar. As an adult, you know this sort of thing is desperate behavior, but as a child, it seems somehow fatalistically romantic — going over the waterfall headfirst into love. “I surrender to destiny,” you say as you hit the waves, arms wide open.
This is the age when getting into a relationship with someone was as easy as checking Yes or No on a piece of paper and you could just sign up for a boyfriend or girlfriend. You knew you wanted to be together so you just were. No soul-sucking audition process, no period where you don’t know what to call them, no questioning about whether or not they were into you. They were. They checked the box. All questions answered.
We often fall into the trap of idealizing our childhoods, but I think our adulthoods are missing something, the naked honesty and idealism of throwing yourself into something. Getting into an adult relationship is more like a job application than anything else: a million interviews, checking character references, looking over personal statements and waiting around for that phone call, the message that says, “You’re in. We want you.”
OKCupid is just like LinkedIn but with more penis pictures — about as personal as shopping for shoes online. And trust me: Those Sperrys are a lot more fulfilling than most of the messages I get on there. One guy messaged solely to ask if he could rub my feet, which to me, is a perk at the end of a date — not a fucking lead-in. I responded that I was a double amputee, so sorry, Charlie. You’ll never have this stumpy lovin’. He didn’t know what to say to that.
And guys like Pervy McFootFetish are the problem. We get so inundated by weirdos and jerks that we think nothing else exists. We think that every guy is the guy who spent the entire date on his phone or pretended his dad had died to break if off (yes, this happened to me). As an adult, we quickly learn that the dating world is out to get us and we operate like a cat backed into a corner, ready to scratch.
We’re afraid of loving because that environment doesn’t encourage putting yourself out there — especially when you’ve put yourself out there so many times before, just to get hurt. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and you know that Mama didn’t raise no fools. You don’t feel like you’re scared of letting someone else in. You rationalize it by telling yourself that you don’t have the energy to “let in the crazy,” as they say. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
However, when we close ourselves off, we keep out the other feelings, too, the parts that make life worth living. Besides, what’s love without a little pain?
On the subject, Jim Morrison said something kind of brilliant. He wrote,
“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters.”
After you’ve been hurt, no one wants to go through that again, but personally, I think we all need to go out there and get the shit kicked out of us by love. I think we need to stay open to the myriad experiences of romance — the sour and the sweet. We need to go on a hundred bad dates. We need to call our best friend crying at 1:00 in the morning because we’re sick of it. We need him to not call us. We need to get food poisoning from a restaurant he insisted on going to. We need to accidentally fart at the dinner table. We need to word vomit until we have nothing left. We need to say “I love you” too soon. We need to love too hard. We need to give too much. We need to never stop.
It might fit the popular definition of “insanity,” but if there’s anything that does, why shouldn’t it be love?
Every feeling you have inside you is meaningful and true, even the ones that hurt or society thinks are “crazy.” I think that we finally take full control of our dating lives when we stop focusing so much about the possible consequences — like what he’ll say about you later to his friends — and care about getting what we really want. Love Story once told us that love means never having to say you’re sorry. I think love means never apologizing for being honest about what you need. Sure, love is compromise, but love also means not being afraid to ask for what you were told was impossible. Love means being denied and saying, “Please sir, can I have some more?”
We can live with this fear of failure forever or stay hungry and live the romance we want. We can be our own compass. Personally, I want to be able to give a guy flowers on the first date or leave a toothbrush at his house without having to worry about how “fast” we’re moving. I want to stop thinking so goddamn much about every single thing and what it “means” and start enjoying my time with someone. When you were checking that box in sixth grade, it didn’t matter if he had a double bed or what kind of car he drove or when the right time to meet his parents was. You didn’t even know what love meant yet, but when it came to finding out, there was no time like the present. All that mattered was that you were ready.
We didn’t know shit about the world when we were twelve, but it’s nice to know that in one respect, we had it exactly right.