I find the most difficult part of writing is deleting ideas. Your ideas often become attached to your identity, so deleting feels like also deleting a piece of yourself. ‘Happily Never After’ went through multiple drafts, which meant multiple parts got cut out; here was the original preface:
The Millenials are in a crisis.
We live in a time where our 1950’s ideals of dating and marriage do not match with our 2010’s version of reality.
The average marrying age is higher than ever, now at 28, and fewer and fewer people are actually getting married.
Colleges are now compromised of a 51% female population.
50% of us came from divorced families, which means about 50% of us potentially did not experience healthy relationships growing up.
The emergence of technology and social media has caused us to connect in faster, easier ways than ever before. And, has allowed us to disconnect from society completely.
And amongst all of this tension and turmoil, we still feel the necessity to date.
I often wonder to myself why we are so concerned with relationships when there are SO many other things in the world, so I tried an experiment. I turned on my iPod shuffle and made a list of the all topics the songs were about. Here is what came up:
Love Story by Taylor Swift–How timely. No explanation needed here.
Evacuate the Dance Floor by Rhianna–A song about two people who are hot for each other and want to hook up on the dance floor
I Want You Back by Jackson 5–A song about someone who broke up with someone else and now realize they made a mistake
Whatever It Is by Zac Brown Band–A guy singing a song about a girl that he likes and can’t decide what he likes about her but just knows she has something special.
You get the picture. Above all aspects in our world, why are we so captivated, so focused on finding companionship? I see this theme beginning at a very young age. I teach high school and observe a majority of my student’s high school experiences revolves around who likes who, who is dating whom, who got ditched at prom, etc. And, the older I get, the more I realize that my peers and I are discussing the exact same topics, only using better words than, “He is so hot” and “I think he made eye contact with me today”. Instead, we say things like, “I really like his strong jawline” and “I enjoy his intellect and way he can carry on a conversation”.
There is something inherent in our genetic makeup to find ‘the perfect mate’. We spend our entire lives hoping, searching, and dreaming about who our ‘Prince Charming’ is going to be. We can see this everywhere: how many movies can you think of that don’t include some kind of love story? How many songs can you list are not about love/relationships/breakups? How many books have you read that don’t focus on two people searching for companionship?
So, I have been asking myself: Why is finding a mate so important to us?
For one, we can look at it evolutionarily: we want our gene pool to reproduce. We want our legacy, physically, to last on. When our traits continue onto the next generation and the next, it is a reminder that we were an influence on humanity. My family always jokes, because being Dutch, we are known to be tall, skinny, long limbs, bony, big noses, big ears, blonde (with like twenty pieces of very thin hair). I remember getting off the plane in Europe and feeling like I was amongst my people. My cousins share a story about when they were in Australia and saw a guy walking with an Ederveen stance. Sure enough, as they drove by, it turned out he was an Ederveen–my Opa’s cousin, in fact. We want our family traits to stay in the gene pool, because arrogantly, we think we are pretty awesome.
Having a companion also validates our existence, allows us to experience emotions that are outside our realm, and enhances the way in which we navigate around the world. Mostly, we focus on the butterflies, the smitten-ness, the excitement. But, being in relationships also allows us to feel sorrow, disappointment, and sympathy. In my freshmen English class, we always start the year with reading the story of Prometheus and discussing whether the concept of ignorance is bliss or knowledge is power is better. In this aspect, not being in a relationship saves you from heartache, but at the same time, you are not exposed to the expansive spectrum of emotions: being ignorant and withheld from those feelings, you maintain a safe, but small range of emotions. Companionship, while we do suffer from those hurtful emotions, we also get to experience the love, the jubilation, the spark.
We often define ourselves by being in a relationship with someone else. For some reason, ‘single’ sometimes has negative connotation in our society. We use terms like “she is way out of your league” and “she is quite a catch” to make ourselves feel better. We create standards for ourselves. As one of my favorite young adult novels, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which revolutionized the way I look at the world), quotes, “We accept the love we think we think we deserve”. So, having a significant other means something about ourselves. For one, it obviously means that we are stable enough people to have someone stick around us. It means that we are good enough to be loved. It means that, whatever attractive traits our partner has, we must be just as quality.
I think another reason we focus so much energy on finding companionship is because we want to validate our own existence. It really is a selfish reason when you inspect it. One of the best parts about being in a relationship with someone is to be able to share life experiences with someone else. We want someone to hear the funny story about the smelly kid we encountered; we want someone to praise us for blowing up balloons in our sister’s car for her birthday; we want someone to protect us when a fugitive is on the loose; we want someone to check in with us if there is severe weather in the area. There is something validating about having someone laugh at the same stories, show concern, point out things you didn’t see yourself. We want someone to care about us because that means we are living and doing something meaningful. It means that we, as a person, exist in this large world of six billion plus people.
We have all heard the dream about “sitting in a rocking chair next to your loved one at 85 years old, reminiscing about the old days”. Companionship allows us to expand our boundaries, our emotions, our world, and share it with someone special. I don’t know why we are so focused on finding “the perfect one” but perhaps someday, when I find mine, I will understand.
There is always the unspoken statistics that most relationships we experience will eventually end. Often, society sees breakups as insignificant, but they can actually be very detrimental. So many couples report how their in-laws treated them completely different once they got married; as if, signing a piece of paper and “making a commitment” to each other (even though it is just as easy to de-commit nowadays) changes the stance of the relationship.
As 20-somethings growing up in the millennium, we straddle a very delicate line between old-fashioned norms and modern day society. Our parents are still telling us, “I will disown you if you move in together”, while our friends are saying, “You have to live together for a period of time before you get married”. Our parents still make us sleep in separate rooms during family vacations while we sleep in the same bed on a nightly basis. Our parents still expect us to “ask the dad for her hand in marriage”, while we would rather make those decisions on our own. It certainly is a very anxious time to be dating. We have perceptions of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ romances in a ‘Modern Family’ world.