I am a hopeless romantic. I love cheesy RomComs and my Spotify is filled with love songs that could make your heart skip a beat. I love flowers and chocolate, and the idea of pinterest-worthy dates fills my stomach with butterflies.
But I am the first to admit that I am completely and thoroughly fed up with the number of people my age waiting on “love at first sight” and “soul mates.”
Before you write me off as simply bitter, hear me out.
Too many people in this generation expect too much of love. This isn’t just a personal opinion; it’s a scientifically proven fact: “Since the 1960s, sociologists have found a steady progression of American men and women who demand more and more of love — yet we’re getting less and less out of our marriages.” (Thomas, 23)
What’s interesting to me is that, when we grow up, we generally stop believing in fictional things — we stop expecting that we will find the door to another world hiding in the back of our closets or that a half-giant will magically appear on our doorstep to whisk us away to the world of witchcraft and wizardry (despite what we might hope in our hearts — I am a HUGE Harry Potter nerd).
And yet, so many of us hold on to a fictional idea of love.
Why? Well, because it is so much easier. Our generation is built on instant gratification, and so we have come to expect it even from love. As a consequence, we are stuck on this fictional view of love that we have been fed most of our lives, which suggests that the perfect love that we desire is a thing of fate, that it shouldn’t require much effort from us. And when we cling to the idea that “true love” will magically “appear” when we are ready for it, we abdicate our personal responsibility to go out and find it. And, better yet, we can use this fictional view to avoid true confrontation and talk our way out of any difficult relationship on the basis that it “just doesn’t feel right” or that they aren’t “the one.”
At first glance, this might actually seem like a wise stance to take. It might seem selfless and noble to not date anyone for which you aren’t sure about your feelings. But, “wisdom says we should try to make a relationship work not because we have strong feelings, but because it is a good match” (Thomas, 34).
Unpopular opinion time: Too many of us believe that “the one,” and our relationship with them, is a perfect thing that we will magically stumble upon when life/God/the Universe decides that we are ready. Well friends, I hate to break it to you, but this “romantic mindset is based on the false and harmful notion that a good relationship is something you find, when in fact it is something you make. Infatuation is something you find. Sexual chemistry is something you find. A lost cell phone is something you find. But a strong, intimate [relationship] that leads to a lifelong partnership and fosters a sense of oneness? That’s something you make, and it takes a long time.” (Thomas, 133)
Because (unpopular opinion number 2!) love, even in its most genuine form, takes work. That’s right: WORK! I think too many people have forgotten this. You have to put in effort to know, respect, and love another person in the way they deserve, in the way that will sustain a relationship: “Love is not an emotion; it’s a policy and a commitment that we choose to keep in the harshest of circumstances. It’s something that can be learned and that we can grow in” (Thomas, 67).
So, I don’t want love at first sight, and you shouldn’t either, because it isn’t love at all! I am looking for “the one,” but not in the mystical sense of the word. I don’t believe that I have a single “soul mate.” I am looking for the one who treats me right, respects me, and shares a similar mission in life; beyond that, love is a choice that I have to make, a risk I have to take.
I mean, think about it: if someone walked up to you and proclaimed that they wanted to marry you based on how you looked, or even after spending a day or two with you, you would sprint in the opposite direction. I don’t think most people would disagree with me on that. And yet, so many people my age are betting their love lives on the emotional equivalent of love at first sight. So many young people refuse to go on dates or enter a relationship unless they are completely certain they have the “right” magical, lovely feelings for the other person. A lot of us, because of the culture that we were raised in, and the many broken relationships we have witnessed, want certainty before we commit to anything at all.
Yet how many times have you heard someone end or not even start a relationship because they weren’t certain it was right? For me, the number is too high to count. But it is shocking to me that someone can decide that someone they previously cared so much about and greatly respected isn’t “right” for them, often without even officially dating them for very long, if at all.
Oh, I’m sorry! Did I scare you with the word “date”?? It must be a very scary word because no one seems to use it anymore.
What in the world is so scary about “dating?” My theory? People my age think it suggests too much commitment. There is this notion that going on a “date” means you are suddenly committed to this person and their feelings, and that can be scary, I know.
Well, sorry to break it to you, but whether or not you speak the word “date” aloud, you do not forfeit your responsibility for another person’s feelings. Any time that you choose to let someone into your life, you are responsible for being stewards of their hearts, despite labels that you do or don’t use.
Many people seem to think that they can curve hurt or confrontation by not committing but they’re wrong. In life, commitment is inevitable; by not committing to anyone or anything, you are simply committing to being alone. This fear is far more likely to keep you from successful relationship than anything else you might be worried about; there is always risk in relationship. So I’d argue that being honest about your worries and expectations from the beginning is actually what prevents you from unnecessarily hurting someone.
And, entering a relationship that you don’t feel entirely emotionally consumed by isn’t actually a problematic thing, contrary to popular belief: “Two relatively secure individuals can love each other without experiencing obsessive thinking, euphoric mood swings, or desperate clinginess. The absence of these markers doesn’t mean they are less in love than other couples; it might just mean they are more grounded as individuals.” (Thomas 32).
So I don’t want love at first sight; I want a love that grows. In my opinion, it is so much more beautiful and romantic to think that someone would choose to love me, over and over again, despite my flaws.
Simply looking at someone, or spending time with them for a few weeks and placing them on a pedestal, feeling like they are perfect for you from the start, is not love. It is impossible to be fully loved if you are not first fully known.
This instant gratification many people are looking for is called infatuation, and it is a concept has become all but lost in our society. When we base our relationships on feelings, when we expect to want and need someone all the time in order to date them or love them, we are setting ourselves up for failure. “How foolish to insist on a short-term neurochemical relation to consider a life-long decision. Is it possible that you’re neglecting getting to know some very fine marriage partners simply because the initial romantic attachment wasn’t strong enough? Are you staying with someone who isn’t good for you only because the romantic thrill makes it so hard to leave?” (Thomas 40)
We need to start making wiser decisions in our love lives and give up our fictional ideas of love. We need to stop expecting perfection and be brave enough to handle honest, well-meaning confrontation. And most importantly, we need to stop relying on our momentary feelings to guide our life-long decisions.
“How do you truly know whether you are committed to this person and that you truly love him or her?…Analyzing your feelings is the worst way of arriving at a measure of (affection); to count the cost is the best way.’ Your love is measured by your willingness to act unselfishly, to even let that person think less of you, (or allow someone to walk away from you) if in doing so, you are serving their spiritual advancement…analyze instead the fruit of love; your willingness to sacrifice; your commitment to the other person’s welfare” (Thomas 228).
*All the quotes in this post are from a book called The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas. If you found this article interesting, I would highly recommend it!