The Existential Terror of Dating In Your Early-20s
Welcome to Relationship Status, a series of discussions about romance and relationships in the 21st century.
Why do we date?
For the purposes of this conversation, that word, “date,” that two-ton-weighted-fucking-sack-of-shit-or-whatever word, can mean anything you want it to mean. It can mean anything from scrolling through the profiles of self-proclaimed “deep” people who just love the hell out of One-D and T-Swift on OKCupid, or going over to that guy’s house at 1:38 in the morning who you still haven’t hung out with in the daytime and have no intention to, or taking a girl out to a nice dinner and a movie and then roaming aimlessly through the streets discussing the movie and life and stuff. No judgment. Do you.
But the question still stands: Why?
There are people who treat dating as a game of numbers. How many can I bed in a week, a month, a year. The notches-in-the-bedpost type. We all know or have known those people, and most of us have been on a date with those people. Those people are assholes. That is not me, and that is not most humans I know. We’re generally not interested in using people for a thing just to say we used them, because that is not a very nice thing to do to a person.
That being said, how many people do you know say “I’m dating because I just want to meet somebody who I can shower with affection, who I can spoil rotten and make the focus of my entire existence”? You would look at that person like they is crazy because they is crazy. They’re crazy because we all know, even if we don’t always talk about it, that the act of dating is an inherently selfish one. We want somebody to validate our existence, to listen and be interested in the things we have to say and to find us attractive enough to touch faces and genitalia with. That’s not an evil urge. It’s real and driven by self-preservation. We feel like we matter if somebody wants to spend time with us.
Being a single, early 20-something who just graduated from college blows because it’s the first time there isn’t somebody whose job it is to tell you that you matter. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, advisers, professors, they all either have shit to do or have moved on to the next kid who needs a little handholding.
So what do you do? You wake up too early in your shitty, over-priced apartment to go to that job you hate that you’re paid too little to do anyway for a boss who may or may not know your name, then you go home and you watch fucking Netflix or Sportscenter or Empire, and maybe you meet some friends for some drinks or something, but they’re all going through the same thing so they don’t really have the energy to take care of you AND their own well-being, which you understand (but still), so you just stare at each other between listless banter about how much the weather sucks unless you’re in Los Angeles (but there you’re just talking about how much the people suck) until you decide you’re tired and go home, and you lay in bed and stare at the ceiling and say to yourself, “Wow, I am alone. It would be nice if there were a person here laying next to me right about now.” That’s why we date. To hopefully stave off that feeling for one more night.
That is a perfectly valid reason to do a thing. Seriously, it is. But here’s what many people get caught up on: Dating involves opening your self up to another person. There’s another, actual, live human there with thoughts and feelings and opinions, and (God-forbid) judgments. Judgments directed at you. Revealing your self to another person invites the possibility that they may reject you, and nope, nope nope nope. Can’t handle that shit. We believe in love, or at least the possibility of love, we’re just afraid that love doesn’t believe in us, or the possibility of us.
Our generation’s dating scene has become defined by being caught up in this limbo between the crippling fear of being alone and the crippling fear of somebody seeing the true you and rejecting you for it. So dating has become this middle school style, “Leave room for the Holy Ghost” dance between two people who want companionship without any of the emotional risk. I want you around, but at arms length. That shit can’t sustain itself, and doesn’t lead to happiness.
There are millions of shitty and not-so-shitty movies, songs, and stories about dating, about love and romance, because romance ultimately cuts to the core of who we are, of how we choose to present our selves to those closest to us. When you’re an early 20-something, you’re just trying to figure that the fuck out.
I don’t have the answer to this because I’m freakin’ living that shit as we speak. Lord knows I have no desire to be alone, but also am terrified of presenting to another person who I am because I know for a fact that the person I am could use a little improvement because he’s still learning.
The best I can do, and maybe you can do too, is ask for a little patience, from ourselves and others. Have a little more faith in who we are, because in the end it’s rather unlikely that it’s all totally shitty. And allow ourselves to be open to real, beautiful, brutal connection. That sounds like a good start.
This is the first of what’ll be a series of discussions about romance and relationships in the 21st century. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments, suggestions, or just to call me an asshole, which, you know, I need from time to time.