So a few months ago, I wrote a piece for the New York Times’ “Modern Love” contest for college students. You could write about anything, as long as it was related to what romance is like in 2015. Those of you who have been long time readers of my blog probably remember several posts I wrote about dating and relationships and such, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to me. One of my favorite professors gave me tons of feedback and I feel that I wrote a great piece. I didn’t win, and wasn’t even a finalist, but I’m proud of my work. Could’ve really used the $1,000 prize though.
First Dates Only
I am a non-committal person. I applied to 18 colleges, changed my major three times, start a new diet before finishing the last one, and order appetizers since I can’t commit to an entree. As a 21 year old college student, first dates offer a non-committal distraction from the duties of daily life.
In 2015, American society as we know it cannot commit to anything. Cauliflower has replaced kale, the trendiest vegetable of my lifetime; Starbucks offers seasonal drinks so we don’t have to break the commitment to our regular orders; and we lease cars instead of buy so we can get the latest model in 18 months. The desire to always have something new and shiny has created a generation of commitment-fearing young adults.
I’ve never been in a real relationship; my parents have never met any of the guys I’ve dated since leaving for college, and no part of my personal life has ever been made “Facebook official.” The young adult dating world is a scary place. There are mixed signals, cloudy expectations, and constantly changing rules. How do you even know if you have a boyfriend or not? Do you exchange Christmas gifts? Are you in a committed, monogamous relationship, or were you just the first one to answer his late night text? (Read: booty call).
My parents often jokingly prod me about my dating life, advising me to find a nice Catholic boy who has a promising and profitable future. Honestly, I’m not sure why my parents want me to have a boyfriend so badly—it probably has something to do with ensuring my happiness, but apparently they’re under the impression that men are expected to court women Little House on the Prairie-style. They’d be horrified if they saw how people danced at my senior prom, let alone witnessed the drunken behavior of privileged college guys. It’s 2015, mom and dad—a cute guy ‘liking’ my profile picture on Facebook is usually the most exciting thing that happens in my love life.
As someone who flew under the radar at my small-town high school, I certainly hoped that my Carrie Bradshaw dreams would become reality upon moving to New York so in 20 years I could arrive at my reunion happy, healthy, and wealthy. I didn’t peak as an adolescent (thank God), so my plans as a twenty-something include finding success personally, romantically, financially, and academically. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is more difficult than I had expected. Though I’ve discovered that internships don’t fall into your lap, classes are really hard, and student loans suck, at least I have control over these things. I applied to over 100 internships this summer, I get decent grades, and eventually (hopefully) my loans will disappear. I’ve also discovered that relationships are seemingly nonexistent—and the romantic aspect of my life is something over which I have little to no control.
The hook up culture among young people has ruined the possibility of having a meaningful relationship, especially in college. I was thrilled that at the first college party I ever went to, a cute senior adamantly approached me: a naive, sheltered freshman. Before that night, I’d never even drank a beer and had an 11:30 curfew—take a guess at what my social life was like in high school. It was clear that his intentions didn’t extend beyond taking me home for one night that I undoubtedly would have regretted had I chosen his bedroom over my own. After a series of incidences like this, I resolved that seeking a serious relationship was not something I would pursue in college. As soon as a boy realizes you aren’t down for a “no strings attached” hook up, it’s amazing how quickly his interest drops. I questioned whether or not something was wrong with me; did something about my appearance or personality cause me to come off as “easy”? Was I doing something wrong? Had my rom-com filled youth not prepared me at all for the real world?
Whatever the answers, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I started playing the dating game, adopting an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality. I’ve always been pretty comfortable in my own skin, and figured it was time to make the most of my situation as a single female. I’m a full time college student who decided to go to school in New York City, so dating has led me to restaurants I otherwise could not afford, and to trendy bars where my fake ID definitely wouldn’t have worked had I been alone. Of course, I took advantage of my gender and never picked up the tab, enjoying more than my fair share of dinner and drinks. I refused to let myself feel indebted, especially since most of the time I was more interested in the champagne they were buying than I was in my dates’ personalities. While I was merely playing the dating game, I made up the rules along the way so I would always win.
On one of my first date adventures, I found myself at a Chelsea biergarten with a recent college grad who worked in finance. I’m still not sure what working “in finance” means, and as a liberal arts student, I don’t really care, but it definitely involves a substantial salary and sense of entitlement (at least in Manhattan). Anyway, he ordered a couple of beers, my least favorite drink, irritating me before the date even started. I was appropriately dressed to the nines in heels and a little black dress, while he donned ill-fitting plaid shorts and a baseball cap, a great look for our date in one of NYC’s trendiest neighborhoods amidst fall Fashion Week. He turned out to be a trust-fund kid with a severe only child complex, a near-lethal combination that compelled me to order another round simply to put me out of my misery. It didn’t work.
We talked about dating in New York, and he remarked that it’s nothing more than a glorified hook up scene. For whatever reason, this comment has really stuck with me over the past year—perhaps because it’s one of the few honest statements a guy has ever spoken to me. Even if you’re an “exclusive” couple, you don’t define yourself as boyfriend and girlfriend, don’t post selfies on Instagram together, and don’t celebrate anniversaries of any kind whatsoever. As I drank my second beer, he mentioned casually that he was “dating” several girls at the time, unable to commit to a traditional relationship because of his work schedule. While this comment confirmed that my observations about young adult dating were true, his rationale was complete bullshit. However, this notion about dating in 2015 resounds specifically with my experience dating men who work “in finance,” a highly popular field among Manhattan’s brightest and most eligible bachelors. This includes mostly non-committal encounters with former frat guys who live in upscale neighborhoods, make way too much money, and enjoy microbrew beer just a little too much.
The hopeless romantic within me continues to believe in soulmates. I’m still the teenager who spent Friday nights watching Sex and the City re-runs, and I will always be the girl who never got asked to the prom. And while I have succeeded in creating a beautiful life for myself, it feels like something is missing—something over which I have very little control. How am I supposed to find “the one” in a city of eight million people? Between deciding what to wear, spending an hour doing my hair and make up, and wearing heels all night, dating is exhausting and often unrewarding. I can’t help but wonder if my dislike of commitment has something to do with my eternal single-ness. I like to think that I would commit easily and willingly to a relationship with the right guy, but in the meantime, it just seems like a painful and unnecessary path to a broken heart.
I choose to view my commitment-phobia as a fear of settling. I applied to so many universities so I could pick the right one, I put everything on my burrito at Chipotle so I don’t skip out on something delicious, and I go on infinite first dates so I don’t miss my chance to meet the perfect guy for me. But I’ll bet he doesn’t work in finance.