Proceed with Caution: The Love Life of an Early-Twenty- Something Woman
If two women are having lunch it is likely that at some point the conversation will settle on their relationship status and it will probably stay there for the rest of the lunch date. I’ve witnessed girl chats lull over talk of career paths and their parents’ strange new hobby, but the second the conversation topic changes to romance, a new interest pulses it back to life. Why is it that we are so obsessed with talking about love? What is the dark side of this obsession as a woman in her early twenties? I believe the danger in this obsession at this point in our lives, is that we are often fickle creatures who are grasping at straws to determine who we really are and what we are truly about. Without a firmly rooted identity, it is easy to lean on a new love interest for the sense of self and validation that we seek.
It’s no mystery why experiencing and talking about new developments in one’s love life is so fun. Romance is the best kind of self-fulfilling compliment. How flattering it is to be someone’s someone. How lovely it is for someone you are interested in to collect the facts of your life and your quirks and take them in with fascination. How thrilling it is to have someone crave your body (the same body you spend way too much time criticizing in the mirror). For a generation that spends endless hours comparing our lives to others as our thumbs compulsively scroll through “Instagram” feeds, the assurance that someone thinks you are special can be a pacifier to our tumultuous sea of insecurities.
Our malleable identities make love a risky game as feeling vulnerable with someone who can disappoint you or, worse yet, reject you, can leave you questioning everything you believe about yourself. Every confidence booster from that early romance has been cancelled out and replaced with double the confidence zappers; those cruel internal voices that seemed to shut up for a while. You open your life (and sometimes your legs) to this person and then it is over and you are catapulted back into that stormy ocean of self-doubt.
Another flaw of this egocentric motivation for romance is that our relationships are often based on what we choose to project onto someone. It can be difficult to see a new love interest as more than a type that fits nicely into the storybook telling of our own lives. “This is my athletic college boyfriend” or “This is my summer playboy” or “This is my emotional artistic fling” are all easily attachable labels. It is hard to recognize that a person is a complex mélange of different identities when we seek the stability of their selfdom to help us determine our own identity.
A fun addition to the emotional turbulence of our romances is the exhausting gray area of hookup culture. I think it is nearly impossible to successfully navigate the confusing mixed messages of a culture based purely on the physicality of romance. Without any foundation of emotional connection, the intimacy of sex or even taking your shirt off with someone becomes muddled by the fact that the person knows very little about you. It is incredibly confusing to find yourself in bed with a stranger who may have spooned you all night, but ultimately doesn’t feel any emotional investment in w ho their naked little spoon is. Hookup culture is an easy way to cut corners with our primal craving for human warmth and intimacy but without any of the steps that usually lead two people to that place of shared vulnerability. As a result, your rational brain may be turned up to volume eleven screaming “Don’t trust this!” but you can’t help but feel some affection for the warm body beside you.
In my experience, the most toxic element of this culture is the lack of communication that facilitates it. Talking about the status of a hookup is often the elephant in the room that no one wants to address for fear of scaring the other person away. Rather than saying: “Hey we’ve been hooking up for three weeks and we are probably about to have sex, so let’s be on the same page,” a woman will spend her entire Sunday pondering drunken murmurings from the night before and trying to reimagine and extract meaning from that goodbye kiss.
I am not so jaded that the point of this piece is to insure that no woman in her early twenties gets romantically involved with anyone; it is simply a suggestion to proceed with caution. We must take care of ourselves at this point in our lives when our identities are constantly in flux. If we seek all of our self-validation from how others treat us we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, as ultimately, that voice that builds you up should not be an external source. You might not be able to give yourself chocolates and be the big spoon, but if you can start to be your own supporter you might just find yourself in an emotionally healthy relationship.