It can be a tricky thing, love. We grow up chasing it. We're taught to idolize it. We put it up on a massive pedestal and worship it. From a young age, we watch movies that teach us how love should work, how it should make us feel. We learn that—even more so than sex, power and money—love is the most prized commodity of the modern world.
And yet, I cannot help but feel that we, as Millennials, are never more deluded than when it comes to love. I feel my generation is utterly polarized in regards to love. Either we're hopelessly idealistic about it; wishing that the right person will come along and solve all of our problems. Or we're pessimistic and disillusioned; having grown tired of the let downs and disappointments.
Me personally? I’m tired. Quite frankly I’m exhausted. I’m tired of having my friends approach me with their latest romantic disaster. I’m tired of the fact that the culture of dating has been reduced to a game of who can care the least.
And I’m tired that dating has turned into a ruthless blood sport that ruins our hearts and destroys our dignity.
You know, love used to be so simple back in grade school. I would eagerly scribe a note in pencil (Ticonderoga #2 to be exact) and boldly pass a note to the object of my affection. What I wrote was so innocent and yet unabashedly straight forward.
"Do you like me? Check yes or no."
Did we have guts as kids, or what? Who would dare ask that question now? What with all of our ego, pride and vanity on the line.
It was all so innocent and upfront; either someone checked yes or no (except for the dreaded "maybe" box which one often wrote in themselves when his or her feelings were decidedly mixed).
But the point is that we asked. We communicated. We were candid. We were honest.
We’re adults now though, and there’s much more at stake (Yeah, right). And let me tell you, it’s a jungle out there. Just ask any single person.
With all of our overanalyzing of planned texting response time (PTRT for short), someone having liked or not liked a picture, or all of the other ridiculous nonsense we read too much into, we can start to feel lost at sea, preferring to befriend a volleyball named Wilson rather than actual human beings.
When you boil it all down, there is really only one true metric for dating—a person’s actions.
Because when we truly like someone, we make time. We find time. We don’t make excuses.
A person’s actions will always reveal his or her priorities.
It doesn’t matter how many cute snapchats he or she sends, nor how many photos he or she likes.
It’s his or her actions that will reveal to you how this person feels about you.
We try very hard to ignore that simple truth. We’d rather dance around it with rationalizations, complexities and excuses. “But she texts me back sometimes” we reason. “But he’s not a jerk all the time” we proclaim.
Let’s face it—a snapchat won’t be there for you when you’re down on your luck, miserable and need someone to cheer you up.
A like on Instagram can’t replace that intimate, magical moment when you feel like someone deeply understands you.
A comment on Facebook can’t go to bat for you because it’s so loyal that it would stick up for you no matter what.
And we know, deep down, that this person is just stringing us along. Keeping us in their back pocket for a lonely, rainy day.
Eventually, all of us crave the real thing. If we don’t begin to values ourselves and our time, who can value us? If we keep tolerating flaky, inexcusable behavior then how can we expect to experience the real thing?
It’s both ironic and sadistic. We claim to want love. This highly coveted, vulnerable experience of union where we feel unconditionally loved and accepted.
Yet we go about it like savages. Even animals don’t do this to each other.
I know because I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. We’ve all treated as someone as a means to an end rather than a human being.
We say we want love, but what many of us are really seeking is excitement. We want to be excited, we want the chase. We want the thrill of desiring and being desired. So that’s what we get.
The whole notion of “playing games” is predicated upon the idea that you must manipulate and contrive in order to get what you want. But if the means are manipulative, then what we will the end?
Some people will say that playing games is necessary and that everyone does it. Well, the divorce rate in the United States is hovering right around 50 percent.
That statistic says so much about the success of our dating culture, but to me the most compelling takeaway is that while playing games might feel good in the short term, it’s long term success rate is in the gutter.
Meeting someone soul-to-soul isn’t a priority anymore.
We’re too busy either promoting our egos or protecting them. So as a surrogate for true intimacy, we collect what is called “seduction capital.” We try to seduce one another by having the perfect opening line in our Bumble account. Or we have to take just the right selfie in just the right angle so we can bait and hook people.
Let’s admit it, we’re a bunch of cowards when it comes to dating. We all want to save face. Let’s be honest and admit that it’s just plain easier to fade and ghost out of someone’s life than it is to tell them, “Look, you seem like a good person. I’m just not feeling this.”
Let’s admit that it’s so much easier to drop everything when we get a text from someone who only reaches out when it’s convenient for him or her, than it is to say, “Enough. Nothing personal but let’s not waste each other’s time.”
It’s easier to keep someone on our fishing line because we enjoy the ego boost every now and then. After all, who doesn’t enjoy feeling desired?
It’s easier to swipe left and right, oblivious to the fact that there are real people hiding behind that screen. People with souls, stories, hopes and wounds. People just like us.
It’s easier to just jerk each other around like we’re pieces of meat and not living, breathing, feeling human beings. We may even enjoy it sometimes.
Until it’s not.
Until we realize that, not only is it not easier, it’s toxic. It’s corrosive to our soul. And the most ironic thing is that it’s actually keeping us from what we really want.
This might sound ruthless and reductive, but let’s ask ourselves, how much pain have we collectively suffered in the game of love? And out of that pain, how much of it was worth it? How much of it brought the fulfillment and satisfaction it promised? How often have our petty games come back on us ten times worse?
Some people might ask, “But who on Earth doesn’t play games in dating?”
I’ll tell you who: Mature human beings. A human being who knows his or her own depth and standards.
It’s time we started valuing ourselves. This isn’t the same as being selfish, as if setting your own standards and boundaries somehow made you selfish.
Because the only way dating gets any easier is when we start to get real with ourselves and with others. Real about who we are. Real about what we actually value. And real about respecting ourselves and others.
Then we can fall in love with reality, rather than a fantasy.
Then we make the conscious choice to see others and ourselves as we truly are, and not as we’d want them to be.
If we can do that, then maybe our generation has a real shot at this love thing.
Then maybe we can escape the jungle that is modern love.
The bottom line is that actions don't just speak louder than words, they shout.
—But are we willing to listen?
And if you want to play games, fine.
Just make sure the prize you get for winning is what you really want.