I’m not ashamed to admit that I was among the throngs shaking it off at Taylor Swift’s 1989 concert this summer. In the midst of soaking up every ounce of Swifty goodness, T. Swift posed a question to her audience: “How do we learn about love?”
OK, Taylor, you’ve got my attention. The 8-year-olds next to me, standing tall on their seats, squealed almost in unison, “From you, Taylor!” As it turns out, that’s not quite the answer Swift was going for. She suggested instead that we learn about love from the movies. Amidst the excitement and energy of the show, I found myself wondering if both Taylor and her third-grade fans were speaking some truth.
Are we really learning about love—true, real-deal love—from pop stars and rom-coms?
From what I see of my peers, it does seem like we have a hyper-romantic image of love, one highly perpetuated by pop culture. The problem is that it can be easy to become oversaturated in romance, and we need to feel it now or else our lives are incomplete. We may think we’re learning about love from these movies, songs, books, and TV shows, but we’re really learning more about feelings than love. And frankly, we are collectively drowning in all that emotion.
For me, it all started when I began listening to Taylor’s “Starlight” a few times too many. For months, as I held on to a glimmering possibility that my crush might ask me out, these lyrics were my anthem: “We could get married/Have ten kids and teach them how to dream.” Too far, right? I’m in my early twenties; thinking about marriage isn’t totally far-fetched. Imagining marriage before a first date, though? Not a good idea.
The mere hope of going on a date with this guy shifted more and more toward “impossible dreams,” as the lyrics go. After months of hoping for a date—and planning our future together, babies’ names and all—a disappointing reality sunk in. He wasn’t asking me on a date, let alone for my hand in marriage. With my daydreams defeated, I first turned my self-pity to songs about heartbreak, over a guy with whom I never actually had a relationship.
After a solid week of mourning, I realized how ridiculous my perspective on romance had become. I expected too much, too soon. More than that, my growing stack of glossy wedding magazines and love-song soundtracks only fed my hankering for a relationship. To spare myself from false hopes and premature heartbreak, I knew something had to give. So, I decided to detox. I took a break from “Starlight” for starters, but I also realized that a true mental purging required a bit more.
Not unlike some diets, my “romance detox” meant being more mindful of what I put into my system. Rather than denying romance or taking on an attitude of contempt, the point of my cleanse was to step back, take a breather, and come out of it refreshed. No more grievingly listening to “Thinking Out Loud” on repeat. No more poring over Pride and Prejudice, wondering where my own Mr. Darcy was. Unfollowing wedding photography accounts on Instagram. Guiding conversations away from guy-gushing or bashing. Keeping realistic expectations. In other words, guarding my heart from the pulls of an emotional roller coaster, set to music.
After taking pains to detach myself from the intoxicating pull of fictional romance, I now believe that every woman, myself included, could use a romance detox every now and then. By decidedly saying no to romance for a few weeks, my perspective seemed to get healthier by the day: less daydreaming about the highs of romance, less dwelling on the downsides of single life, more self-acceptance. Here are four tips for a successful romance detox.
01. Choose your entertainment wisely.
As with any detox, something has to go. I began my romance detox by eliminating romantic entertainment from my system. With no sappy songs or chick-flick standards to compare my situation to, singlehood no longer seemed agonizing. As Julia Hogan wrote, chick flicks entice us with certain standards that men should meet—but, as Julia points out, the qualities of on-screen men might not be compatible with our own. Finding a compatible partner can be complicated enough, so why feed our minds with unrealistic expectations?
Rather than watch The Wedding Planner one more time, take your detox as an opportunity to watch films that you might not choose otherwise. Even if there’s an element of romance, movies in which romance takes a backseat to the larger plot will focus your mind on something other than a budding love story. (No, really!) You might even discover a new love—such as action films, sci-fi, or 1960s comedies.
02. Get your mind off yourself by volunteering.
If we long for fulfillment, stepping outside of ourselves—through volunteer work or hobbies—reminds us that our lives can be fulfilling, even apart from romance. If we crave companionship, time spent with friends and family is never wasted. Focusing on others turns our attention away from our own feelings, especially feelings of loneliness.
Someone once offered me this advice: If you feel consumed by your problems, it’s time to focus your energy on others. For example, staffing a retreat turned my attention away from myself, while an afternoon at a soup kitchen provided sobering perspective on my unhappiness with my single state. Glimpsing into the lives of others, I came to understand that singlehood is not a problem to be solved. On the contrary, singlehood can be an opportunity to give our time and energy to a worthy cause. Better yet, grab a friend to volunteer with. Your shared efforts just might make your community a better place.
03. Stop stalking your married friends on Facebook, and talk to them about marriage.
Have you ever felt a tinge of single-girl despair when checking Facebook to see that yet another couple got engaged or married? Photographs of happier-than-ever couples on their wedding days are a beautiful thing, but we can learn more about love from real-life love stories beyond the Pinterest boards and Facebook photo albums.
When I am feeling bogged down by the struggle of singlehood, chatting with married women reminds me that authentic love is good and beautiful—but it’s about more than euphoric feelings. Weddings celebrate everyday love, not emotional highs. Love is about putting your own self aside and willing the best for another person, no matter how hard that is. There’s much more to real romance than a couple’s social media presence.
During my detox, when I found myself swooning over the wedding-related Facebook posts, conversations with my best friend helped me remember what marriage actually entails. When she got married, every well-planned detail of her wedding seemed picture-perfect—literally every moment captured on camera was magazine-worthy. But beyond the beauty of her wedding day, real sacrifice was being made. Three weeks after the wedding, she had to uproot her life and move across the country for her husband’s job—certainly not an easy step. With the joys of newlywed life came the loneliness of being by herself when her husband worked long hours and night shifts, all while being miles away from family and friends. But, like many women and men, she made the sacrifice out of love.
Unless we ground our ideas about love on the example of real people, it’s easy to forget that marriage often takes years of work and preparation (formal and otherwise) before the vows—and the effort doesn’t end at the altar.
04. Revel in real love stories.
As with any detox, there will be cravings. If you’re fasting and still find yourself preoccupied with your love life, or lack thereof, find a remedy in real love stories.
Sure, we can compare and despair when we see our friends and family in happy relationships, but real love stories can be a source of hope. Attending several weddings in recent years—witnessing again and again the beauty of self-giving love that binds two people—has been a needed reminder that love stories develop in ordinary circumstances, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Listening to love stories such as my aunt’s helped me keep a healthy, hopeful outlook throughout my detox. The story goes that, in her late twenties and single, my aunt decided that her life felt stagnant, and she needed a change. She quit her job at the law firm, enrolled in cooking classes (as she always wanted to), and began planning to move to a new city to take a law job. Well, in that time of transition, she said yes to a blind date—and eventually a marriage proposal—with her now-husband.
We can’t imagine our romances unfolding like a chick flick, and we shouldn’t expect to meet our someday-husband like our friends or mothers have. Every love story unfolds differently, and each comes with its unique challenges. Mistakes, patience, and even starting over again might be part of the process. If we’re fated for marriage, ours will be a story that’s wonderfully and imperfectly our own.
Of course, it’s healthy to want a relationship. We can’t flip a switch in our brains to turn off those desires—nor should we—because love is something to be desired. But feelings of love can become like fast food to our systems: everywhere, addictive, and lacking substance. And, as with fast food, when we overindulge, we feel sick.
So let’s not waste our time waiting. Move to a new city if you feel that tugging in your heart. Take classes. Or art lessons. Volunteer. Better your career. Better yourself. And most of all, don’t worry about when a man will come your way.
If you are feeling oversaturated in romance, take the necessary steps to detox and get back on a more balanced diet.