If it feels like there has been some kind of marriageable man-eating plague, and those few who survived have already been snapped up, let me just say, I know how you feel: I lived in New York City for four years, which—unscientifically speaking—is the place unmarried women go to stay unmarried.
The truth is, this plague thing is not as farfetched as we might hope. Marriage rates across the U.S. are indeed at an all-time low, and no amount of conjecturing as to why or newfangled dating apps have inspired us to take the plunge and commit.
Those of us dating in our twenties and thirties have unprecedented options for ways to find a match. Online dating sites and dating apps make it possible for us to have every algorithmic dreamboat at our fingertips—and yet, we continue to click, swipe, and date, unsatisfied and uninspired to say, “I do.” Some believe it’s all of these choices that make it so difficult to choose marriage.
What if it’s not all the options that paralyze us but rather our own unrealistic expectations of dating itself?
Surprisingly, this theory of mine has been inspired by Aziz Ansari, comedian and coauthor of Modern Romance (out June 16), who has found ample fodder in our dystopian dating world for both his stand-up comedy and his new book, which was recently excerpted by Time magazine.
In the adapted article, “Everything You Thought You Knew About L-O-V-E Is Wrong,” Ansari and his coauthor, sociologist Eric Klinenberg, touch briefly on the importance of patience when it comes to romantic love.
According to Ansari, Jonathan Haidt, New York University social psychologist and author of The Happiness Hypothesis, prescribes the practice of patience to move past the danger of a romantic low and on to more lasting commitment. Haidt suggests that when passionate love begins to wear off, we start to worry if this person is really the right match for us.
The way Ansari sees it, we are all so hopped up and focused on attaining romantic passion that we have little patience for the more mild stuff of long-term companionship. “If passionate love is the cocaine of love, companionate love is like having a glass of wine,” he quips.
This doesn’t mean that we should cling to those with which we have no chemistry or hold onto relationships that are bad for us. But it does mean that, when the high of all the texting, kissing, and novelty wears away, and we inevitably begin to see a few things that are not-so-perfect in our partner, any hope for lasting love requires us to respond with patience and an openness to the possibility of loving this person.
With this in mind, Ansari suggests that perhaps there is wisdom in his parents’ marriage in that it required a natural level of this kind of fortitude. Their marriage was arranged, meaning the whole thing didn’t get started because of sparks and flame. Rather, it began with the context of this patient openness to loving a flawed human being.
“Look at my parents,” Ansari writes in the Time excerpt. “They had an arranged marriage, and they are totally happy. I looked into it, and this is not uncommon. People in arranged marriages start off lukewarm, but over time they really invest in each other and in general have successful relationships. This may be because they bypassed the most dangerous part of a relationship.”
The truth is that companionate love and, ultimately, marriage require the acceptance of the imperfect—both his imperfection and your own. So, by nature of committing to love one another before they had any hint of the kind of imperfections they were dealing with, Ansari’s parents had a major leg up in this whole marriage thing. The majority of us, however, have a little less faith in our parents’ ability to pick a keeper—and justifiably so—so we prefer to do the dirty work ourselves. But this means dating, searching, scouring, scrolling, and swiping. And it’s all very daunting to find the “perfect fit.”
Ah, the elusive “perfect match.” That special someone who will slide right into your life without friction or challenge, the one who never fails to make your heart flutter and knees shake, the person who makes loving feel like breathing—that person who doesn’t seem to exist (there is also that marriageable man-eating plague theory, too).
But, let’s consider for a moment that our understanding of the “perfect fit” is flawed. Suppose for a second that a good match does not necessarily mean that the person is perfect or even that the person is the only person who is perfect for us. Would we be enticed to stick it out if our criteria were different?
I believe we would.
A few weeks ago, I sat across from a couple that has been married for a year. They gazed into one another’s eyes as they told me their love story, and it struck me how incredibly simple it all was. They had dated for a long time before they broke up—unsure of each other’s imperfections and afraid to commit to someone who wasn’t the right match—and then finally got back together again. But they didn’t get back together because they came to a resolution regarding one another’s flaws or because the stars were finally aligned. They got back together and ultimately decided to marry because they didn’t know anyone else they would rather struggle though marriage with—and they both wanted marriage. It may sound less romantic than your typical fairy tale, but they were so committed to loving each other that they didn’t seem to care.
Marriage is not a means of personal gratification; it’s an avenue toward growth and goodness (which doesn’t always make us feel warm and fuzzy). And there is more than one path toward this end that we can choose to take. This expectation of marriage is key to persevering through the sometimes dry and painfully formative parts of dating—the times that require growth, trust, and vulnerability—and ultimately finding lasting love.
This method of dating means allowing that passionate haze to burn off a bit—and even eagerly anticipating this. It means investing our time in someone in the hope of discovering a companion and helper rather than the missing piece to our perfect life. If we find someone who can help us grow, who also wants to be better, who refuses to give up on us when we are not at our best, then we are not settling for less. That person is our perfect match! Finding someone we can commit to in this way in return will take effort and, more importantly, patience.