So you’re finally getting to that age, huh? All of a sudden you feel a little tingle in your stomach whenever that cute classmate goes up to the board to solve an equation. Before you know it, you start to care more about which clothes your mom lays out for you to wear everyday. Your little hands start to shake when you think of sharing a juice box with that special classmate, who, until now, was considered an icky vector for cooties. Well, why don’t you sit down and let your favorite opinion columnist tell you a little something about dating and its many faces.
Maybe my tongue-in-cheek hypothetical is lost on readers who have presumably long graduated from the days of passing notes and confessing crushes. When it comes to dating, the bar for romantic legitimacy rises with every step towards adulthood. As college students, we can look back and cringe at the awkward pubescent experiments which clogged up the hallway traffic with unending games of tongue wrestling. Now is when we can finally start dating for real.
Even if we tell ourselves that our relationships are suddenly more real-life than they were in high school, clearly the obstacles to a happy relationship don’t get any easier to overcome. As college students, we’ve lived such a small percentage of our lives that trying to assess whether someone would make an adequate life partner can feel like a pointless endeavor. With the added legitimacy of grown-up dating comes increased pressure, as the decisions we make about dating become more reflective of what kind of person we will end up with as fully-fledged adults.
The system of modern dating and marriage in-and-of itself is confounding in that a commitment we make in our young adulthood is expected to last until we die. We’re meant to immediately transition from the freedom of dating to living monogamously. That sudden change cannot be natural, no matter how many months’ salary you spend on the ring. There’s a lot of pressure during the dating phase to emulate some semblance of a lifelong partnership. Relationships come with stakes, an understanding that one wrong move could leave either of you questioning where it all went wrong in between spoonfuls of Haagen-Däzs.
Practically, dating doesn’t really mean much because the circumstances of your relationship don’t magically transform once you arbitrarily declare that you are dating. It’s not like you’re deciding to live together or share the responsibility of a child. For whatever reason, entering a relationship with someone sets up mental tripwires — suddenly, every little interaction becomes far more important than the day-to-day mingling with friends. It’s not like anything has changed that’s really increased your stock in your partner’s life. You’ve just both decided that you’re going to care about each other more from now on because, hey, why not?
I don’t mean all this to say that romance as a whole is arbitrary. Romance is a life-long process that can single-handedly make or break your happiness. As a student, my primary goal right now is working toward a career, but I believe that my life will be defined far, far more by my future partner and family than by which corporate oligarchy I choose to sell my Big Red soul to.
I am admittedly also guilty of the pitfalls of romanticizing romance. As put-together and independently-minded as I may seem to all of you, I occasionally partake in K-drama fantasies, complete with passionate love triangles and heart-wrenchingly adorable nighttime walks between the male and female leads. No one is immune to the indulgences of fantastical, star-crossed fantasies of love. I have some conception of what my ideal partner is like, but I won’t pretend to know what kind of person the universe intends for me to confess my feelings to under the fireworks.
At the end of the day, we all just want to find someone to grow old with. The problem is that there’s no good litmus test for partnership, no way to know what it’d be like to spend every minute of every day with someone without actually spending every minute of every day with them. What we need to be doing is assessing compatibility and learning about the kinds of people we can be most comfortable around. Romantic intimacy doesn’t exactly have a place in that process, besides the fact that we’re all lonely and just want some way to numb the stress of daily life.
The main vice of dating is that it’s an inherently emotional process. In a time when we should be exploring and meeting new people, we tend to get caught up in shallow attractions and invest all of our attention into one person we’ve designated as “the one.” In that way, dating isn’t so much a way of finding your perfect match as it is a distraction from it. The chances of landing on the right person early on are so low that the risk of closing yourself off to that one person is just not a wise decision, at least for me.
My dream girl is just that — a dream, obscured by the mist of reality meant to protect us from the tragedy of idealism. She belongs in my imagination, a symptom of the temporary single-hood of the discovery process. It doesn’t matter so much the traits that I imagine for her, since it’s not like I know the first thing about lifelong partnership, anyway.
Maybe I’m putting too much stock in my general belief that the universe has a way of working these things out, but I don’t feel any real desire to be in a relationship because I can’t see how it would be productive to my actual goal. The exclusivity of a 1-on-1 romance feels like more of a quick fix to loneliness than a real attempt to get to know someone. If I’m genuinely interested in someone, I’ll be willing to invest in a long-term friendship first rather than test my odds at an unnecessary gamble of commitment and feelings. Unless, of course, I have my magical K-drama firework confession moment, in which case it’s game on.
Noah Do is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected] Noah’s Arc runs every other Monday this semester.