I spent a really long time feeling like I didn’t deserve the type of love that happened in the movies. I chased all the wrong people – those catastrophically unavailable people – and then got upset with myself when it didn’t pan out (or just didn’t pan out as well as I’d like). I told myself, “I like a good challenge, but dating isn’t a good challenge. Dating is a struggle.”
Looking back, there were a number of untrue statements in that thought process.
I did like challenges, but only very specific types of challenges. I was good at math, so I didn’t like being challenged there – I expected it to come easy. I wasn’t very good at video games, and the challenge was greater than the reward, so I just never played. I struggled with my handwriting, so I challenged myself to improve it – and, eventually, to be able to “steal” the handwriting of others. Hey, it wasn’t a very useful skill most of the time (save when I really wanted to get out of gym class) but it was something that intrigued me, so I willingly challenged myself (and actually, I still continue to do so).
Dating, on the other hand, I had perceived as an unpleasant challenge. For the first several years of my dating life, I presumed heteronormativity – so finding a way to feel emotional about the guys I dated was a drag. I thought that, since I hadn’t “figured it out” after the first few boyfriends – I never got that “click” that many of my friends did – that there must be something wrong with me.
(Okay, maybe the problem was that I was trying to squeeze myself into a heterosexual mold I didn’t actually fit in, but for the sake of argument, we’re not going to consider that a “real problem”.)
I kept trying, but I got more and more discouraged. After a while, I figured out I was dating the wrong people for me – purely on the basis of gender. I started dating girls instead (yes, girls, because I was a teenager at the time) and immediately felt a change. These girls, who didn’t act much different than the guys I’d been dating the year before, somehow “clicked” with me in a different way. I finally felt that connection that I’d heard my friends talk about a thousand times (not per friend, of course, but overall). I was finally starting to get it.
Still, there was something wrong, and I couldn’t quite place what it was. The girls I was dating were great, in theory – they had jobs, they had decent grades, and they were pretty cute, too. (Okay, for the most part, I ended up with some combination of those three things, but there was never a single girl who didn’t at least check off one of those categories.) Still, these girls left me hoping for more.
At the time, I never attributed it to how I’d always been told I was “wise beyond my years”. I never gave any attention to the notion that maybe I just wasn’t ready for the type of love I wanted. While I was still pretty young, in body, I had been dealing with adult situations since I was still pretty young (an unfortunate consequence of my childhood). I was (and am still) in my 20s, but I felt (and still do) like I was at least ten years older. Over the course of my adult life, these circumstances have been both good and bad, but when it came to dating, they were pretty bad.
My mother was a teenager when she had my oldest brother, and she was almost 30 by the time she had me. This huge difference in our ages put me at a dating disadvantage compared to my peers, because their brothers and sisters were only a year or two older than they were. Mine were married before I finished puberty. These close examples of marriage and commitment – and, subsequently, a few broken commitments and divorces – showed me the side of relationships that didn’t feel as “close” to my friends and classmates. I’d seen so much heartbreak in my immediate circle that I was convinced – that wasn’t going to happen to me, no matter what.
It probably sounds silly that I came to this conclusion in my early 20s, but it’s really not too different from someone who comes to that conclusion at any point in life. Love isn’t about the specific steps it takes to find a partner, or the amount of time you’ll have to wait, or really any quantifying factors that we think about when we’re feeling distraught about our situation. Love doesn’t work out the way we plan – and it’s not supposed to. Even as I’m coming closer to 30, it’s still anyone’s guess what the future will hold. And that’s okay.
All the insecurities that we have about the love we want (and deserve), everything our brain tells us we’re not doing well enough, every doubt that crosses our mind telling us we’re going to be alone for the rest of our lives… None of that matters. Humans are, by design, impatient and lazy, unless they have a reason to be otherwise. It’s speculated that this probably dates back to when we had to survive without modern technology – after all, if tomorrow isn’t promised, you’ll want to do the things that matter most to you, the earliest. On a psychological level, that’s still true, too – you make room for the things you want to do much easier than the things you have to do, unless what you want to do is accomplish some future goal at a predetermined time.
(If you think you don’t prioritize your day, try going without something you normally do every single day – and see how much it effects your overall mood. Chances are, you’ll be frustrated if it’s something you did for fun, or refreshed if it felt like a “have-to-do”.)
Most of the time, focusing on your long-term goals is a good thing. As long as your goal is something you’re committed to, and you’re taking the appropriate steps to make it happen, you’re going to feel a tremendous amount of satisfaction. The problem with translating that to our love lives, however, is that we aren’t usually prioritizing the right steps – we’re prioritizing the things we hope will be attractive to another partner, instead of the things that actually attract the partner we want most of all.
People say, “Just be yourself” – so often, in fact, that we become desensitized to the phrase. It’s easy to write it off as just another cliché. After all, we speculate, I’ve been myself for this long, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere. The problem isn’t that we’re inadequate – it’s that we’re impatient. We expect our hard work to pay off as soon as we put it out into the world. And, if we go back to the idea that it used to be necessary for survival, it’s easy to see why so many of us can’t seem to shake the habit. It’s coded into who we are. It’s just as much a part of us as our eye color or our fingerprints. You can change them, but it’s going to be pretty uncomfortable. (You see what I did there?)
If you’re really trying to look for a solution to your love woes, the answer is a bit counterintuitive: You need to focus on yourself. Even if you find that perfect happily-ever-after early on in life, you can’t appreciate what you have until you’ve had the time to feel a bit of bad love. You’re going to have to kiss a lot of frogs, so to speak – but you’ll appreciate your eventual love more than the people who feel everything when they first start dating.
I’m not saying that those initial feelings of “love” are to be ignored, though – in fact, quite the opposite. In order to be ready for the love we want, we have to be fully open to the way that our partner shows affection. We have to understand their love style, even if it’s not the same as ours. We have to be ready to face the challenges we face – even if that means working to get the love up to the levels we actually deserve.
In conclusion, if you haven’t found the love you deserve, it’s because you have to create it – so go out there and earn the best love you’ve ever felt.