If I approached my love life like popular culture suggests a woman my age typically does, I’d realize that it’s probably time for me to dump my boyfriend and try out a few drunk, crazy, liberating one-night stands. I’m 24 and I live in a big city (although Minneapolis holds nary a candle to NYC), so I guess that means I should really relate to the romantic trials and tribulations of the characters in Girls on a very deep and intimate level.
Except that I don’t relate to those characters, any more than I can relate to Lena Dunham, the media-proclaimed “voice of [my] generation”. Ms. Dunham is an incredibly talented artist who has managed to capture the story of a particular youth subculture in an effective and entertaining way, and who has fortunately made a living from doing so. But Ms. Dunham’s story isn’t my story.I frequently browse the New York Times’ column Modern Love, a series of articles submitted by big- and small-time authors alike that aims to holistically reflect on the meaning of love as it is understood in our day and age. The submitted articles are sometimes uplifting, sometimes painful; they are all candid, and for the most part do not boast to reveal anything more than a subjective experience with one of humanity’s most basic and primal emotions.
Yesterday, while perusing Modern Love, I stumbled across an article written by a man who, four or so years ago, was a senior in college. His submission, titled “Let’s Not Get to Know Each Other Better”, is well written, witty, and in many ways a fairly accurate glimpse into what it means to be a 20something navigating the social scene with other 20somethings. Musing on his colorful dating history, Mr. Walkowski asserts, “For my generation, friendship often morphs into a sexual encounter and then reverts to friendship the next day. And it’s easy as long as you don’t put yourself on the line or try too hard. Don’t have a prospect? Check Facebook. Afraid to call? Text.”
And therein lies the problem: I am part of your generation, Mr. Walkowski, but your love story is not my love story.
My brief and arguably vanilla history of amour includes a handful of dates, a couple of fantasy courtships that existed and played out entirely in my head (I’m looking at you Joseph Gordon-Levitt), one short summer fling, and one very long relationship. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 18, and in the six years since that relatively embarrassing but forever memorable occurrence, I have only kissed one other person. If hookup culture is actually a thing, I wouldn’t know – in fact, I’m still not exactly sure what all the term “hookup” implies.Regardless of my own lack of experience, I don’t believe that my peers’ ability to love casually, freely and openly can be easily classified as either a bad or a good thing. It just is. We have a myriad of ways to find someone to date, and relatively few social taboos that regulate how we go about dating that/those person(s) in a manner that fulfills our needs. We all have so very much love to give, in a variety of shapes and flavors and colors and forms, and it would be tragic if that love were confined exclusively and selectively to one other individual for the duration of our short and unique lives. It is not my place to judge the way you love, just as it is not your place to judge the way I go about achieving the same dream.
Still, my love story can’t be tracked according to Taylor Swift’s biggest hits.Neither, however, can it be defined solely by the man who has shaped my notion of love for the past eight years.
I know that there are couples among us who were high school sweethearts, who have only ever dated each other, who got married when they were barely into their twenties even though people told them they were “too young” and are still together and in love. There are people who instinctively know, upon first meeting someone, that they will marry that person – even if they don’t know much else. Some teenagers meet their one big love as a freshman in college and are done forevermore with the entire dating game. I’m aware that this kind of ell-encompassing romantic attachment exists because I’ve read about it, over and over, in its countless iterations and manifestations. I’ve also been fortunate enough to witness the beginnings of big life love in at least one of my very dear friends, and it has been inspiring and comforting for me to watch her grow as a woman in such an environment of commitment alongside her partner in crime.
It’s quite possible that I met The One when I was a socially awkward 15-year-old and sat near him in AP English. Tomorrow he could choose to put a ring on it or to break my heart and move on, and that uncertainty keeps me on my toes more often that I would currently like it to. But in the end I know that my love story can’t be explained by an episode of Sex in the City any more than it can be summed up by a Nicholas Sparks novel.
And to me, that’s the very point of modern love.
If we all love differently, then no one relationship is “right” – which means that, for all the movies and poems and articles and novels and artwork and songs and plays composed about love, none of us really has any idea what we’re doing. We need shows like Girls and the Modern Love column to help us process our own feelings and emotions related to love, because our desire to create and maintain affectionate relationships – in their dizzying variety of forms – is what compels us, in part, to move forward with our lives. But we can’t assume that we’ve learned everything there is to learn about love simply by viewing another’s experience, nor can we pretend that our own knowledge on love can even come close to fully conceptualizing the idea.
My love cannot be contained within a sociological oversimplification of the way my generation functions. Neither can yours.
Isn’t that an amazingly freeing idea?
Sometimes I think about all that I could experience if I played the field, dated around, met new and exciting people to share my life with. Sometimes I get jealous of my friends who are engaged or married, and wonder if there’s something wrong with my own relationship. But when I’m feeling restless, it’s helpful for me to remember: wrong or right, my love story is my own.
For the record, I think I’ll stick with my current catch. He’s pretty fantastic. Unless you’re reading this, Joseph Gordon-Levitt…in which case, we should talk.