Since turning 25, I’ve felt a renewed sense of empowerment. Something about being right smack in the middle of 20 and 30 has made me feel like I have a better handle on this whole “life” thing. In the spirit of my newfound maturity and confidence, I did something a little crazy—I asked a guy out that I had just met at a bar.
Now, before you get too impressed, he had already approached me, introduced himself, struck up a conversation, asked for my number, and texted me first, so on the whole—it was not that big of a leap. After he texted me, though, I asked if he wanted to get a drink. Two hours and some vague excuse about work later, I realized I’d never hear from this guy again. It left me wondering why he even bothered texting me in the first place.
With many people marrying later in life, the meteoric rise of online dating, and rapidly changing customs for coupling, it’s an interesting time to be single. What seems to make it even more difficult is that our culture increasingly writes off committed relationships or even seriousness in dating altogether.
Take, for example, this lovely little anecdote I saw in my Instagram feed of a conversation “overheard in LA”:
Not “catching feelings” has been the hot topic of discussion lately, judging by all the open letter articles that get shared on Facebook, like this one; the songs crooned by the likes of Justin Bieber; and endless memes about the perils of possibly caring for someone. We've somehow come to think that living with someone is less noteworthy than admitting we care about them. We talk about feelings and Zika in the same breath of contagious disdain. I'm left wondering where the booster is for the cootie shot I got on the playground in second grade.
Studies show that fewer young people are entering into committed relationships these days. But when surveyed, more college students still said they preferred a relationship to a hookup. Psychologists also confirm that we don’t actually want this footloose and fancy-free life. Aside from stability and companionship, a genuine connection with another human being in any relationship—a friendship, within a family, in a mentoring relationship, or a romantic one—is one of the most valuable parts of our existence. The emotional intimacy that we find from the vulnerability of those close relationships doesn’t just satisfy us. It makes us better humans.
We know that commitment in other aspects of life is often freeing, in that it allows us to do what we truly want to do, to achieve a larger purpose. We admire the commitment of a world-class athlete who is dedicated to a diet, rigorous training schedule, and lifestyle that allows her to be the best she can be. We find such commitment in people who are at the top of their field, be it artists, novelists, CEOs, researchers, Silicon Valley tech gurus, etc. These people are seriously committed, but we wouldn't call them enslaved.
So, what is it about commitment that freaks us out? Why are we so afraid of becoming attached to another human?
Timothy Keller, pastor and prolific author on the subject of the complexity of commitment, writes:
“To be known and loved . . . is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficultly life can throw at us.”
It’s through close encounters with another individual who has their own world of thoughts, opinions, emotions, personality quirks, bad habits, and world views that we learn more about our own selves. It’s in these relationships that we may be forced to confront our deepest flaws that are often left unseen without the mirrored image of how it affects someone we love. Maybe it’s not heartbreak we fear but an honest reflection of our true selves.
In her bestselling book and TED Talk that have taken Millennials by storm, psychiatrist Meg Jay says that twentysomethings are wasting their most important decade thinking that nothing that happens prior to age 30 has to be taken seriously. In The Defining Decade, Jay says, the best time to work on your marriage is before you have one. She describes a client who said dating in her twenties was like a game of musical chairs, everyone bouncing around and just having fun—in other words trying to avoid catching feelings. But then she turned 30 and the music stopped. She worried she wouldn't ever find anyone to settle down with. The client told Jay that perhaps she married her husband not because he was "the one" but because he was the one in the closest chair to hers.
Rather than avoiding commitment in an endless game of overly casual musical chairs, Jay and other experts say your twenties are the time to be more intentional than ever.
If we aren’t accountable to anyone, or forced to deal with personal conflicts like those that arise in these intimate settings, we can carry on in an illusion of our own splendor, absent of another to ground our experience.
Why should we run from the chance to know ourselves better and someone else? We’re braver than that. I think we’re selling ourselves short. Because the people who love us most are able to see things we cannot see ourselves, the good and the bad.
Combatting the "catching feelings" phenomenon may be just the challenge we need to push ourselves beyond our own perspective. Do we want to wake up one day free from heartache but self-righteous and alone, or do we want to give real commitment a chance? Our job now is to lay aside the false image we try to portray, to open ourselves up to a rich source of strength, to deepen our sensitivity to those around us, to reflect on our shortcomings, to practice service and sacrifice for another, to become greater than ourselves.
You won’t necessarily find me asking out the next guy I meet at a bar, but I’ve been more conscious of developing relationships with my friends, male and female, that are authentic, real, and rooted in some level of vulnerability. I believe in risking rejection for the chance of being known and loved for who I am because I’m far more afraid of missing out on a great love than I am of catching feelings.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Wells Photography