In our 20s, the search for true love is a mask for the fear of uncertainty.
Love, with its undisputed status as human being’s most powerful drug, is the subject of choice most artistic expression in popular culture. The stories we heard as children, the songs we listened to as teenagers, and the films we watched as adults are chalk full of perfect romances with happy endings. Whether we are young, old, gay, or straight, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that romance is life’s ultimate priority – that which must be attained before one can focus on anything else.
A large number of 20 somethings are thus led to feel inferior when they have not met a perfect match in a lover. They are getting pushed to invest unnecessary time, money, and thought into figuring out why they are single and why true love is still not a part of their daily lives.
What is wrong with them?
The answer is nothing, other than the wrongful assumption that they are supposed to have powerful romantic relationships at specific milestones in their lives.
The belief that everyone must meet their perfect match before turning 30 has robbed many a talented youth from the beautiful experience of exploring the world on their own and building an ironclad foundation for their dream careers. While they swipe away on Tinder, drown the feeling of inadequacy in a Netflix binge, and seek random sex to recoup a sense of being wanted, a beautiful life is waiting outside their doors begging to be embraced and experienced.
I thought there was something wrong with me until around three months before my 28th birthday. Up until then, I had not experienced the pleasure of a real relationship. I tried lower standards, being open to all kinds of men, and go on dates like it was my job. I worked my ass off to find the perfect lover, and I was terrified to think about what I may have been doing that was preventing it from happening. The perspective didn’t come until the right relationship showed up at my doorstep (for the right reasons). The second he arrived, everything made perfect sense.
My failures had nothing to do with my looks, personality, or ability to grab someone’s attention. It was all a question of timing – the right person was not ready to come into my life, and I had many more important things to focus on until then.
Dating ceased to be hard when the right opportunity arrived. I didn’t have to be nervous when he didn’t text me back. I didn’t have to wonder how long to wait before calling. I didn’t over-think everything I said and did. It was not hard and it didn’t require any skills I didn’t have before. The drama, nervous tension, and endless questioning of the past had magically disappeared. All along, there had been nothing wrong.
More importantly: what I once saw as a painfully long wait seemed short and insignificant when it was over. Life goes by so fast it didn’t even matter.
I had wasted many years deeply concerned about something that wasn’t a true problem. If only I could grab my phone and call myself six years ago, this is what I would say:
“Stop worrying now. It will happen when you are 27 and you will be immensely grateful that you had to wait that long. You won’t just be grateful because it will be an awesome relationship, you will also be grateful because you had all that time to enjoy your freedom. Focus on your friends, the website you want to build, the new skills you want to acquire, and the precious years you have to be single at this age.
Go after your dreams knowing that there is nothing you need to worry about in the relationship department. Go on a solo trip. Enjoy your friends before they meet someone or move to another city. Don’t doubt it for a second: your love life will take care of itself. You don’t need to waste time trying to make it come faster. You don’t need to force yourself to date guys that clearly aren’t exactly what you are looking for (no matter how smart you are at talking yourself into staying with them)”.
In all honesty, I don’t think that the search for love has anything to do with the experience of love. I think the search for love has more to do with our fear of life’s uncertainty. This fear is the staple of human consciousness and is undeniably universal (though it can be identified, understood, and overcome).
The fear of uncertainty needs no explanation: We don’t get to prevent catastrophe, and it scares us to death.
Although the purpose of true love is not to eliminate uncertainty, we still make that connection in our minds. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we all believe that uncertainty will be easier to bare if we are linked to another person who can experience it with us. If we make a life commitment to someone, and the commitment is never broken, we will always have some sort of happiness despite the circumstances.
Love is so beautiful and uplifting that we want to make it permanent. We want to know how our future is going to be and how things will end up, so we think that finding someone and keeping them around will eliminate uncertainty from our lives.
Perhaps we came up with the concept of marriage to resolve those same insecurities. When we find something good, we want to make it permanent. We want to hold onto it forever and make sure that it never changes. We want to sign a paper, have a ritual, and do anything in our power to ensure this beautiful connection becomes immune to life’s uncertainty.
We all know that life doesn’t work like that, and yet we continue to hurt ourselves trying to make it so.
We are hurting ourselves by creating this world in which romance becomes a mandatory rite of passage by which we measure the quality of our lives and our worth as individuals. When the concept of a lifelong romance becomes the pinnacle of our understanding of a “life well lived”, everybody loses.
In the end, the order in which we get to live our memories is irrelevant. Some people have many long term relationships and some have few. Some find them young and some older (and older is relative). Life is so fast, and it goes by so quick, that the experience of waiting two or ten years for a life milestone will be utterly insignificant on our deathbeds. The important thing will be that it happened. Good memories will be relived with bliss, and bad ones will fade away into oblivion.
What is a life milestone anyway? Why are we overemphasizing the experience of romantic love, lifting it up above the millions of other incredible pleasures life has to offer?
There are many life experiences that are equally (and in some cases, arguably more) fulfilling than experiencing a powerful romance. Here are some examples:
- The pleasure of seeing a professional dream come to life.
- The pleasure of being recognized for hard work.
- The pleasure of giving yourself the financial freedom to explore the world.
- The pleasure of enjoying short-lived romances.
- The pleasure of expressing yourself creatively.
- The pleasure of supporting a best friend in a time of need.
- The pleasure of investing work and time on improving the lives of strangers.
Romance is awesome, but so is everything else I listed (and all the things I don’t have the time or space to list). Life is so much more than just romance. There is plenty to see and experience.
If the universe is not giving you an opportunity for romance, you can bet your ass that it is giving you an opportunity to experience another one of life’s great pleasures. You will miss out on them if you insist on only looking for, only focusing on, and only dreaming of romance.
When romance finally arrives, you will stop worrying about it and take a look at the rest of your life. That is when you may realize that your job, spiritual growth, financial stability, or passport stamp collection also need your attention.
And then it will hit you like it hit me: you could have been doing that all along, instead of sitting in the prison of your own mind waiting for romance.
Romance is fantastic, and it truly makes for powerful moments and life memories. Just remember you are not always supposed to have it (and there is nothing wrong with the chapters of your life in which you don’t).
We have to accept change and enjoy every chapter. We have to press “PLAY” on the movie of our lives and sit back (instead of pressing “FF” to get to the good parts, then begging for the ability to press “PAUSE”).
Life will always reward you if you open yourself up to be rewarded. Wherever you are, and whatever is going on, there will be a blessing to be enjoyed, and an uncertainty to be foolishly focused on.
The sooner you decide to focus on the blessings, the less you will have to regret.
Andrew Gabelic is the CEO & Founder of Teledipity, a free pocket life coach with an eerie ability to send you the right self-improvement content at the right time (based on your personality and life stage). Check out what it says about you!