I’ve been in the dating world for about 4 years now, having had my first boyfriend when I was 18 years old. I’ve been in love, I’ve broken hearts and I’ve had my heart broken.
Dating in our time is not easy. But the thing is, it never has been. Throughout the centuries, men and women have fumbled through the world of love, enduring hurt, hurting others and making mistakes.
Our society and our education systems don’t teach us how to navigate the complex relationships that we will inevitably face. We hide behind the things that we understand, pretending we’re a superior race because we know arithmetic and finance but we don’t want to admit that we can’t begin to understand the innermost workings of our minds.
David Brooks in his book The Social Animal, was right when he said that we’re never taught to make one of the most important decisions that we will be faced with; how to know who to spend the rest of our lives with, ie. how to love.
Whether you believe in soulmates or not, whether you believe in monogamy or polygamy, you’ll know that history and different cultures have evolved around different systems of courtship and mating that as a society, we all pretend to have a vague understanding of, but on an individual level, have no idea what it’s all about.
Love breaks cultural and racial barriers, it can start and end wars, it creates life and it goes hand in hand with all the other emotions we feel such as kindness and gratitude, anger and loneliness.
Many of the older generations don’t understand (although it’s not their fault) how hard the search for love is in this modern world, with online dating, peer pressure, one night stands and the social construct that brands women ‘sluts’ if they’re too this, or ‘prudes’ if they’re too that.
We’ve created a destructive society where women don’t know who they’re meant to be and men don’t know how to be. Parents try to mould their children as best they can but outside the walls of our homes contains more turmoil, for teenagers and young adults, than we’re ever prepared for.
We teach young people that sex = love but too much sex is bad. We make young girls believe that they have to give themselves to men in order to be worthy but we don’t teach young men what to do with the fragile pieces that they inevitably keep when they’ve had enough.
We make young men believe that they have to assert their dominance by being bullies and arrogant within their social groups, we don’t encourage them enough to keep each other accountable for the way they treat women and we don’t emphasise that being kind and being respectful is the new cool.
We teach young couples that money, social status and successful careers will solve all their problems and then we wonder why the domestic violence, couples therapy and divorce rates are skyrocketing.
The sad thing is, no single person actually has to say or do very much for these things to come about. The concept known as our society has become enmeshed with these characteristics to a point where we can’t say exactly where it started, where we first hear about them and at what point they start to irreversibly impact our behaviour and our way of thinking.
The online world is undoubtedly a wonderful thing because it allows us to extend our circles far beyond the people who are physically around us. It allows us to be selective with the people we allow into our lives based on a triage system of finding people with the same interest, morals and values. This allows us to spread our wings further into the world and brings us closer to the global family of mankind.
BUT! It’s equally a machine of great evil, allowing people to say things they would never otherwise have the courage to say. We don’t know how to look people in the eyes anymore, we smile more at our phones than we do to the person passing us in the street and we shut down new friendly conversations with strangers because we’ve forgotten how to make ‘irl’ small talk.
If you observe carefully, you’d see that most of the successful relationships that come from online dating are of older couples who are more established in their identity and who know exactly what they’re looking for and are able to use dating websites the way they were meant to be used.
The younger age group have to trudge through a myriad of stranger request for nudes, objectification and often times not believing that there is so much better out there than the guy or girl who’ll only invite you over after 8pm.
That being said, its totally true that technology makes relationships easier in a good way. It makes long distance a little easier to endure, it means that you can check in with your loved one throughout the day and in those first few stages of a relationship it makes flirting a little more fun (because of all the emojis obviously!)
I’ve heard various perspectives of this thing we call love. I have friends my age who are getting married and I know people in their 30s who haven’t been in long term relationships. I have friends in their early 20s having babies and friends in their late 40s with no kids.
There is no norm and there are no rules. We’re all walking around blindfolded and we all shrug it off as ‘life’.
I’m continually learning that I have so much to learn and that I know absolutely nothing at all about anything. It pains me to say this because I grew up in the magic of Disney, but love is not a fairy tale. Love, even in its early stages of a crush, lust or infatuation, can be full of questions and uncertainty. Thankfully, it can also be miraculous and inspirational.
John Gray wrote a book called Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and it explains how men and woman are almost two different species in that our love languages are entirely different.
The book gives an insight into understanding how the other sex thinks, how they expect to give love and how they believe you want to be loved. Without understanding and accepting that men and woman think differently and experience love differently, we’ll all sort of keep fumbling around, always knowing that there are things we need to adapt to in order to be in a relationship, but never really knowing what.
We can’t assume that our significant other can read minds and we can’t be arrogant in saying that we aren’t going to change because they should love us the way we are. Of course, they should, but when two lives come together it’s like two brand new ecosystems merging, so of course there has to be a phase of adaptation.
The book doesn’t tell you who to love or explain why we love. as intensely as we do, but it does help to better understand why, for example, woman value the simple everyday things and why men sometimes need to be left alone to enter their inner cave before they can come out and be loving.
Long story short it was awesome and I think everyone should read it.
Real love is not perfect. It’s about finding that person (lover or friend) that brings out the best in you and wants to grow with you and embraces your flaws. It’s about bickering and arguing about the little things, but being able to come together and agree where it truly matters.
It’s about finding someone who’s imperfections you want to keep safe. Someone who can make you laugh and can teach you not to take life (and yourself) too seriously.
Someone who’ll dry your tears and hold you close when you’re upset and who’ll recognise and apologise when they’ve done wrong. But equally, someone you’re willing to be vulnerable with and who you know will forgive you when you make mistakes.
If you find that you’re having difficulties navigating the realm of love, please don’t let your experiences close you off from the world. It’s difficult because everyone goes through different experiences and we’re tempted not to talk about ours because we’ll always know someone who had it worse.
Know this, the presence of another’s pain is not the absence of yours. Your feelings are just as justified as anyone else’s and your hurt is just as real. Pushing them down and trying to be tough won’t help you. You’ve got to feel all of the emotions and learn to understand them and the lessons they have to teach you, no matter how big or small.
Finally, by all means, guard your heart but keep it open because you never know when someone may enter your life and change it forever. Be strong in your identity and never let anyone tell you who you should be when in your heart you know EXACTLY who you are.
No one has the answers on how to go about knowing who to love, who to trust and who to spend the rest of your life. We’ve left it down to the idea that ‘when you know you know’ and ‘it’ll happen when it happens’ but when you’re in a place of confusion and loneliness, that answer doesn’t do you much good.
I don’t have any answers either, I guess I just wanted you to know you aren’t alone. We all have no idea what we’re doing.
Ask the elderly couple who’ve been together for 60 years and they’ll put it down to good communication, patience and respect for each other. That’s all beautiful, but you, living in this day and age, would not be wrong to feel like it’s gotten much more difficult. Difficult, but, and hold on to this, not impossible.
Whether you are in love and you’re going through that beautiful journey or whether you’re single and going through that equally amazing journey (because being single can be an incredible journey too), the thing we all have in common is that we’re all figuring it out too.