On Love, Fulfillment and Social Media

Dev: Rachel, I’m not 100% sure about this. Are you the one person I’m supposed to be with forever? I don’t fucking know. And what’s the other option? We break up? That seems shitty too. I love you, I do, I love you so much, but not as much as Larry loves Andrea, damn. Goddamn. I mean that exists? No doubts, no fears, nothing, come on. I don’t know, I guess getting married is just the safer bet at this point. [pause] Sorry, I was just thinking about all the paths my life could have taken.
Rachel: Dev, you’re a great guy, you really are. But, you’re right, are we supposed to be together forever? I don’t know. And it just sucks because it feel like everything is laid out now, there are no more surprises. We get married, have kids, get old and then we die. And I’ve basically invested two of my prime years with you so I should just go all in. That’s just math. So, let’s do this, quickly.
Wedding Officiant: Do you, Dev, take Rachel to be your partner in a possibly outdated institution in order to have a quote-unquote normal life? Are you ready to give up an idealistic search for a soulmate and try to make it work with Rachel so you can move forward with your life?
Dev: I do
Wedding Officiant: Do you, Rachel, promise to make a crazy eternal bond with this gentleman who you happen to be dating at this stage in your life when people normally get married?
Rachel: I do
Wedding Officiant: I know pronounce you two people who might realize they’ve made an unfortunate mistake in about three years.
| Master of None, Season 2 Finale

There’s a whole lot of weirdness when it comes to our generation’s attitude toward romantic commitment. Compared to previous generations, it seems like ours has much greater difficulty successfully entering into committed relationships, and the data would seem to agree — today’s 20 and 30-somethings aren’t getting married as quickly or frequently as our parents.

There are many theories attempting to explain this phenomenon — from the analysis-paralysis effects of Tinder to the moral deprivation of today’s youth (i.e. if we just loved Jesus enough we’d settle down). I, for one, don’t really buy these theories. If anything, I think online dating and social media are simply changing the way we search for partners, and might even enable us to make better decisions about finding a mate. As far as moral deprivation goes… just, no. But to each their own.

However, there is an undeniable shift in the rate at which young people are marrying accompanied by a marked change in the general mentality of young people when it comes to the idea of relationships and marriage — our generation seems to be marked by a cloud of futility when it comes to the idea of love. We tend not to buy fairy tales or subscribe to the idea of soulmates — we’re much more Lala Land and Fifty Shades of Gray.

If my personal sampling of the population is any indication, this general feeling of futility tends to yield two extremes: the desperate, and the despondent. Whether we’re the eager beavers scouring the planet for someone to hitch ourselves to for fear that our time and options are running out, or the perpetually relationship-phobic types afraid of getting hurt or foregoing opportunity, neither is conducive to healthy romantic attachment. The intense desire for commitment and the fear of commitment are really just two sides of the same coin, a topic I touched on in a previous post — Overcoming the Pitfalls of Online Dating Platforms. Whichever side of the fence we fall on, we play an equal part in this trend of aversion to commitment.

But where does this feeling of futility come from? Why so serious, millennials?

If anything, research shows that young people are essentially identical from one generation to the next. This means that millennials are not fundamentally different from baby boomers, so it’s unlikely that we have less of a desire or appreciation for committed relationships.

Still, there are many differences in the environment in which millennials grew up and live compared to the baby boomer generation. We’ve gone from letters to email, phone calls to texting, and in-person meetings to facetime and social media.

But how do these changes, potentially, impact the way we view love?

First, I think we have to go back to basics and really define “love.”

I especially appreciated this insightful, albeit colorful, post by Kris Gage: Most of What we Think of as Love is Bullshit. The general gist: love is not obligated or obligating. Love is the choice of two free, independent and whole souls to do this life “thing” together, recognizing that it is a gift to live life beside someone whom you deeply appreciate and who deeply appreciates you in return. It’s not motivated by a desire to be completed or complete someone else, it’s not driven by a need for commitment, stability or meaning. Love is not something from which we derive anything, it just… adds.

This means that in order to experience real love, we first have to know, value and “complete” ourselves. Otherwise, we are necessarily deriving rather than adding, taking without the capacity to give in proportion.

We live in a world where dopamine-inducing distractions are never further than the device resting in the palm of our hands. The challenge of truly knowing ourselves has, arguably, never been greater — the distractions surrounding us make it easier to allow ourselves to be defined by others than it is to discover who we are and commit to achieving the things that will make us fulfilled. Finding the motivation to do so, and the discipline to pursue it, may be harder now than it’s ever been.

It’s no wonder we have trouble committing to others when so few of us even know ourselves. We look to others, especially romantic partners, for happiness, unknowingly equating their value to that of a highly-engaged Tweet — it’s only a matter of time before it’s old news and the satisfaction it provided runs out. Love becomes a drug, and people a high. This mentality is incompatible with sustainable fulfillment and, consequentially, real love.

Perhaps our inability to commit to others is a manifestation of the fear that we’re not committed enough to ourselves.

Many of you may recall this topic being briefly touched on in my January post — Selfishness: My New Year’s Resolution. The experiences of 2016 helped me realize that I didn’t know myself as well as I thought, and I set out on a journey to not only better know myself, but learn to appreciate and value myself, recognizing that I couldn’t “add” to anyone or anything until I became who I needed me to be.

… and it has been quite the journey. 7 months in, I can see marked progress, and I can also see how much further I have to go. But, such is life — we just have to learn to embrace the process while staying motivated toward the end goal.

The most instrumental part of my journey so far was undergoing therapy, which just wrapped up a few weeks ago. I haven’t shared this with many people, mostly for fear that they might judge me as weak or my actions insincere, neither of which would be fair. If anything, the experience has enabled me to become a more authentic version of myself. Everyone can benefit from therapy, no matter how stable we are, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of about doing something to help you live a fuller life.

Among the many ways this experience has challenged and shaped me, the best part of the whole thing was that it helped me get a lot closer to “being appropriately selfish” and becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself a peculiar question: “Sarah, if you knew for sure you were going to be single for the rest of your life, what would you do differently right now?”

And then I tell myself: “So do it.”

Among the many decisions this has inspired, I’ve recently adopted a puppy and taken a second job where I’ve met tons of wonderful new people, challenging myself to try new things that might scare me. Most importantly, I’ve started to make decisions every day to live a life that is fundamentally fulfilling. I’ve learned what makes me happy and how to just effing do it. Knock on wood, but I would call this is progress.

Although I wish this experience for everyone — and I am, admittedly, far from having this whole fulfillment thing down-pat — sadly, this is not the case for many people. Many of us walk through life never knowing or committedly pursuing what makes us happy, and we settle for circumstances, friends and even romantic partners that just sort of fall into place. Eventually, the cost of investing in change seems to outweigh the benefit of staying the course. So, we turn to the glowing light of our cell phones and computer screens and drudge on.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Although it’s hard — possibly harder than it may have ever been — to become self actualized and fulfilled, we have to keep fighting. Because the cost of living an empty life far outweighs the temporary satisfaction of a text or a “like.” We have to keep pushing, always remembering:

i am mine.
before i am ever anyone else’s.
| Nayyirah Waheed, Nejma