Suggestion: listen to Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” as you read for full effect.
A “secret admirer” recently left me a red teddy bear holding a plush heart inscribed with the word “kiss,” along with a note that says they can’t stop thinking about me. True story. I still have no clue who it is. I’m touched (and a bit scared). I hope one of my friends isn’t just screwing with me. I think one of my friends is just screwing with me.
Secret admirer aside — if you’re reading this, reveal yourself! — my college love prospects have been pretty dim. To be quite honest, I don’t think college is a very romantic place. I often find that there are two extremes: the people who date for four years and are destined for marriage and the sloppy drunken hookups we see at parties and on the dance floors of bars. Casual makeouts are so common, there is an Instagram account dedicated to documenting them.
Let’s not forget Tinder, either. Who knew that romance could be as industrial as a rightward swipe and a “match?” With a handful of carefully curated pictures and a brief bio, we transcend the mystery of fleeting imagination and make contact, often with complete strangers. Some have told me they legitimately use Tinder for dating; others say they use it to feed hookup culture.
Here’s something I think about often: My dad’s parents started dating each other in 10th grade. They were 15. That’s nuts! My mom’s parents married right before my grandmother graduated from college. She was the same age I am now! Look — I’m 21 and I’m not dating at the moment. I’m about to graduate from college and I’m likely going to move to a new city instead of returning home. Is this really the time to pursue a new relationship?
Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, and though I know it’s a fabricated Hallmark holiday, it encapsulates the mounting pressure I feel. How many of your parents have asked you if you’re dating anyone? Have any of your grandparents tried to set you up?
My grandfather called me last week and told me the granddaughter of a friend in his Torah study group is a University of Michigan student. He was trying to be helpful, which I appreciate, but imagine that introduction: “Hi there, we’ve never met, but our Jewish grandparents hang out weekly and want us to wed. Are you ready to start the rest of our lives together?” I can hear “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof” playing in the background.
All of life, I think, is a search for intimacy, and from talking with friends, it seems clear that I’m not the only one struggling to find it. The pressure isn’t just a matter of age or well-intentioned family members. I think we’re so used to being plugged in, surrounded by others and even hyper-aware of their relationships, that we forget the importance of being comfortable with ourselves.
A couple of weekends ago, I stayed in New York City. I have some high-school friends there whom I visited, but a great deal of my time was spent alone in the city. The pure thought of that was a bit terrifying to me. How could I enjoy myself without someone to enjoy myself with?
When I was a little kid, I loved being on my own. I’d come home and spend hours in my room, playing with Thomas the Tank Engine figures when I was really young, and later moved on to Legos. I loved that time the most; person-to-person interactions could be exhausting, and sometimes all I needed to decompress were my favorite toys and my imagination.
I tried to channel that dormant part of myself while I was in the city, and to my surprise, it was a success. I stuck in my headphones, jammed to one of my favorite playlists, and walked. I bought a $2 hot dog with ketchup and mustard, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I went to an art museum and worked through each of its exhibits over the course of three hours. I think I’d forgotten that I can be fun to hang out with.
All things considered, this column is both personal catharsis and reassurance for those of you who are in the same boat right now. This Valentine’s Day, don’t be ashamed if you’re not taking a significant other out to dinner somewhere in downtown Ann Arbor to show that you care. Don’t worry that your grandparents were already on the verge of having children when they were in this stage of life.
I conducted some minor research on this, and according to one psychologist, “The more obsessed and ruminative a person may be about obtaining a partner or finding new romantic attention, the more depleted and inadequate they may feel about themself.”
Sometimes, the person you should get to know better is … you. So, put in the time. Grab a cup of coffee. Get a box of chocolates. Go to an art museum. Listen to some new tunes. Some will call it denial (and it may be, at least a little bit), but I’ll call it self-care.
Relationships with others can be fulfilling, frustrating, fleeting and so much more — but you are your own inevitable constant. Embrace it.
Michael Sugerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.