One of my good friends is a certified matchmaker--a gay matchmaker, to be exact (she's not gay, but her clients are). Recently we were talking about a phenomenon she's been encountering in her business: Clients will call in about one of the dates she's set them up on from a pool of highly-curated and very exclusive clientele, telling her how easy the person was to talk to, how the time flew, how much they had in common and how often they laughed.
"Good," she'll say. "Let's coordinate the second date."
"Oh, I don't want a second date. There wasn't a deep connection."
What. The. Hell.
Having a similar reaction to mine, my friend then asks what they mean, and out it comes: There were no fireworks, the earth didn't move, their souls didn't recognize their counterparts in each other.
"Do they realize they are living in a Nicholas Sparks movie?" I asked her.
Her answer? No. They don't.
This was the moment I understood that relationships have become an endangered species, driven to extinction by hookups and hangouts and "drinks and apps" and swiping left while everyone waits for the Great Love that is waiting for them as soon as they find their perfect soul mate.
Lately the youth hookup culture has been getting a lot of press in articles like this recent Vanity Fair piece blaming the Internet and Gen Y ennui and Tinder toxicity.
But as my friend's comments pointed out, the phenomenon isn't limited to college kids and 20-somethings. A woman I know in her 50s brushed by a man perhaps 10 years older as he clearly tried to engage her in conversation. "Ew," she said when we pointed out his interest. "He's not hot." She then went on to lament her flat-lined dating life: "Everyone who wants to date me is wrinkly and saggy and middle-aged!" My (perhaps impolitic) answer: "So are you."
Meanwhile this woman has spent several years with a "hot" man who treats her terribly--late-night booty calls and marginalizing her from the rest of his life and never, ever any discussion of "where this is going." She says she wants more from him, but she's willing to accept so much less.
She's tired of the merry-go-round; she wants to get off this stupid circular ride with the horses going up and down, up and down and never really going anywhere. But she's never going to find what she's looking for.
Because what she's looking for doesn't exist.
Relationships aren't Ryan Gosling and his abs lifting you over his head in a Dirty Dancing pose that leads to deep, meaningful conversation and rocking sex night after night after night.
They're Steve Carrell wearing tennis shoes and Gap jeans and aerating the lawn in cleats.
Commitment is farting and clipping toenails and love handles. It's paying the bills and cutting the grass and doing the laundry. It's thinking about having sex, but honestly you're just so damn tired, and really, you can do it anytime, so why not just roll over and fall asleep tonight? And the next night. And sometimes the next.
It's wanting pizza and having Chinese. It's feeling like going out with your girlfriends, but instead staying home to watch TV with your sig-O because you know he had a hard day. It's hearing the same damn complaint about his job for the 50th time in a row, and having to come up not only with a new way to say "I'm so sorry," but to actually find it in you to give a crap.
But you know what else it is? It's coming home every single day to someone who smiles to see you and asks how your day was--and most of the time actually cares about hearing it--even when you make the same damn complaint for the 50th time in a row.
It's someone who peels all the hard-boiled eggs because he knows you hate to do it and checks your connecting flight when you're traveling so he can text you with the gate information as you get off the plane.
It's loosing all your carefully contained neuroses in the occasional magnificently terrifying and pathetic showcase of insanity. It's having someone listen to all the crazy and still see you as a strong, confident, capable person when you finally manage to herd the demons back into their little cave for a while.
It's two completely different entities finding a way to co-exist--and more, to complement each other, to bolster up each other's weak spots, burnish one another's shiny areas, hold a mirror unflinchingly up to show us clearly not only our strengths but our shortcomings, so we can grow.
It's hard and glorious and infuriating and tender and terrifying and elevating and fragile.
And the number one requirement for finding and succeeding at it is knowing all of this...and wanting it anyway.
Knowing that you will have to work at it and that there will be compromise and that the payoff isn't a shining grail of constant oneness and communion and spiritual elevation and mind-rocking sex, but just a general steady sense of well-being and belonging and happiness. And if you're lucky, occasional, unexpected, tender moments of oneness and communion and spiritual elevation. And yes, even mind-rocking sex.
Oh--and someone who has your back every day of your life, and walks beside you holding your hand, and thinks it's hilarious and adorable that you cry at weddings even if you don't know the bride and groom, and gets your endless obscure 80s TV references, and will spend ten minutes intently discussing things like why people think clams are so damn happy and why coffee makes you poop.
Maybe at the bar on Friday night, sitting in a booth with your posse and casually swiping left and right among an endless string of young, available hotties, it seems like the parade is never going to end, and why would you ever want to give up all this awesome freedom for that?
But life isn't that epic, raucous Friday night. It's 20,000 mundane Wednesday nights that will follow--Forgettable Wednesday.
And on your 6,562nd Forgettable Wednesday you may find yourself wishing you weren't alone, or chasing after someone who doesn't seem to want you, or sliding out of the unfamiliar sheets of some interchangeable hot boy. You might wish that instead you were sharing it with someone who, if you are both very lucky, will be your partner and best friend and confidant and lover and cheering section, and keep you from growing old alone.
Phoebe Fox is the author of The Breakup Doctor and Bedside Manners, part of the Breakup Doctor series (from Henery Press). Heart Conditions, book three of the series, will be released February 2016. You can find her at www.phoebefoxauthor.com, and have news and relationship advice delivered right to your in-box here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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