I used to crave fire.
That all-consuming, urgent, blazing passion was all I sought out, all I believed mattered. That burning feeling of lust was an addiction to me, a dragon I was constantly chasing. Of course, once I had it, it was never as gratifying as I expected it to be, yet I was constantly surprised by my own disappointment at the lack of depth.
And when the fire inevitably burnt out, I was left with the ashes of my relationship slipping between my fingers floating aimlessly off into infinity. I would make halfhearted attempts to gather the remnants and piece them back together, but it’s difficult to repair something that wasn’t even whole to begin with.
My problem? I didn’t know who I was, and certainly didn’t know what love was. Confusing lust with love, I was completely lacking the experience necessary to understand the boundless meaning that is ingrained in those four little letters.
Now, at 29, I’m starting to face the pelting of questions regarding my romantic status. “When are you going to get married?”, “Don’t you want kids?” and “Are you dating anyone” have been flung at me more often than I’ve ever remembered. I can’t lie to you and tell you the interrogation doesn’t sting sometimes, and that my thoughts don’t sometimes wander into the “what if I never find anyone” territory, because it does, and they do.
I had a conversation with one of my girlfriends, who had gone devastating break-up with someone she really believed, 100% was “the one”. Heart slightly broken following my own recent breakup, I was lying with my head in her lap, my tears running down her knees, when I asked her: “Don’t you ever get scared you won’t find that again?”
She patted my matted hair and sighed.
“Sometimes. But after having what I had, I would rather be alone, doing my own thing, working on myself, then settle for anything less than that. I had exactly what I wanted. I can’t pretend I didn’t so to settle for anything less just isn’t an option for me.”
Not only comforting, her words infiltrated my insecurity and shattered it.
Because it’s so true. I have been in relationships with wonderful, amazing men, have been engaged to the best kind of person, and yet, still, haven’t felt it was exactly right. If I was going to settle, I would have settled by now. To settle now would be doing a huge disservice to myself, and who I have fought to become.
Forever is a long fucking time and relationships are hard fucking work, I get it. At 26, I don’t think I had any idea what I was in for, by committing myself to someone for life. When my ex proposed, I was blinded by the romance of it all. But when it was time to start going through with it, I couldn’t shake the nagging sentiment that I just wasn’t ready. It followed me around everywhere, plaguing my thoughts and infiltrating my dreams. I couldn’t pinpoint why, but I knew in my gut that I needed to go.
That breakup, and the many other breakups that both preceded and followed brought stinging pain, but they also each provided a lesson to be mined from the hurt. Each attempt brings me closer to what I know whole-heartedly exists for me: unwavering, uncompromising and fulfilling love.
Lately, however, I have to keep reminding myself of that. Despite the vow I made to myself that I am “not going to settle!”, I hate to admit that I’ve become a little weary. Wading through the dating world the past few years has been nothing short of scary. For a girl who has always hung my hat on “true love”, leaned into new relationships with an unwavering belief that all was going to end well, believed with every cell of my heart that the feeling of getting hurt was far diminished by the sweet sense of love, I have to admit: I’ve started to hang my hat a little more suspiciously, leaned in less quickly and have all but abandoned the idea that love conquers all. Jaded? Not yet. But much, much more careful.
The current “hook-up culture”, as they call it, just doesn’t bode well with me. I hate stunted, shallow conversation, have felt empty and shaken following a “hook-up” with someone who didn’t matter to me, and who I certainly didn’t mean anything to. I can try as hard as I can to “play the game” but the fact remains – I’m not very good at it. When I feel, it’s deeply and worn ostentatiously on my sleeve – I’m not going to act like I don’t simply because that’s what everyone else does. Whoever cares less, wins, right?
I have been asking myself: is this culture simply everyone chasing after fire, jumping from flame to flame? When the initial flash of passion simmers, are we simply abandoning it for the next, because it’s that fucking easy? Because the one who cares less comes out on top? Because we don’t want our feelings to show, for fear of exposing vulnerability? Never letting ourselves burn for too long, for fear of the pain that we, for some reason, have come to believe is inevitable?
I hope not.
I’m not sure how we got here. I suspect it has been the perfect storm: instant gratification has become the holy grail, superficial external validation has begun to build the foundation of our sense of selves, options becoming bountiful and true connection and feeling becoming scarce. Girls afraid to “look stupid” and boys afraid to “look soft”. Hurt hearts becoming common, and a generation terrified, and unequipped to deal with pain. A generation that looks at love with suspicion, instead of hope.
As easy as it is to run, to shut down, and to re-download Tinder when that first initial rough patch hits your happy, honeymooning new “relationship”, I hope we all find someone who doesn’t just throw it all away at the first sign of darkness, and who works at keeping that flame alive. It’s so easy to let go and move on when you don’t go all in, but the rewards are far less fulfilling.
Fire? It’s easy. Settling? Easy as well, at least in the short term. I’m not a simple woman, and “easy” probably isn’t a word you would use to describe me, but I am proud of that. Despite the stumbling blocks that have been placed in my path, I am resolute in what I want in a partner, and I am not going to A) give up, B) alter my standards simply because of societal pressure or expectations or C) engage in any more of these pretend, half-in-half out relationships. I want more than that. But, like many things in life, the sword is double edged. Where do your expectations veer into unicorn territory and when is settling simply being realistic and the understanding that nothing is perfect, passionate excitement forever?
While I have for so long stood on my soapbox and rambled about “not settling”, I have recently begun to understand where that notion is born. After getting burnt time and time again, my eyes have become open to how palatable it is, to decide to let go of that long list of requirements, and make peace with something less-than-perfect.
If anything, my plight has reminded me of the importance of not casting judgement on anyone’s situation, whether you agree with it or not. Think your best friend is an idiot for going back to that guy that has broken her heart for the millionth time? Don’t talk about it behind her back – be there for her when she’s sad. Find yourself wondering whether your co-worker just gave up and married the first one willing, because she wanted kids so badly? Don’t worry about it. Go to her baby shower and be happy for her. We have no idea what leads people to their decision, whatever it is, but it’s not our business either way.
For myself? I am not seeking that scorching feeling anymore. I want a slow-burn, a love that lasts beyond that initial flash flame. Fuck your hook-up culture. I know some damn good men and I know that that deep sense of connection I crave so is out there.
So keep your casual sex, don’t text me at 1 am, and if you’re interested in me ACT LIKE IT. It’s not that hard.
In the meantime, I’ll be over here working on my damn self, so that when the time is right, I’m whole and ready – no questions left.