Hollywood wants us to believe that finding love when you're young is something that actually happens. And sure, every now and then, two adolescents defy the enormous odds against them and manage to build a legitimate, committed relationship.
But that's not usually how these things go down. I know from experience that us guys have some growing up to do before we actually manage to get serious about romance.
Nothing wrong with that. Most people need to reach a certain stage of maturity before they can start to actually look at romance with a realistic view of making it work in the long run.
Once we start to do so, though, we notice certain ways our old attitudes and behaviors toward women tend to change.
Here are six things that happen to guys when we get serious about relationships.
1. We realize that a shared lifestyle is at least as important as shared interests.
John Cusack, “High Fidelity”: “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films, these things matter.”
Yeah, um, about that. Listen, disagreeing with John Cusack characters isn't something I find myself doing that often, but as I grow up, I'm starting to realize that the above point may not be all that accurate.
Sure, when you're in high school, shared interests seem pretty damn important. “You're a fan of [insert band everyone is a fan of here]? So am I! Let's date!”
And as an adult, it's still fun to connect with girls over our shared love of “The Wire” and all those other shows we're socially pressured into binging. But after you graduate college, you're finally in complete control over your own lifestyle. Where do I want to live? What do I want to do? Which Netflix show am I binging this Sunday?
Finding a woman who digs the same pop culture as you is exciting, but if you're searching for something serious, you start to realize it's more important to share values. When you're at the point in your life where you're making major decisions on a weekly basis, it helps to be with someone who would make the same types of decisions as you.
(Though I did once go on a date with a girl who told me she thought the “Star Wars” prequels were as good as the orig-trig, basically ensuring there wouldn't be a second date. You have to draw the line somewhere.)
2. We stop bragging about our girlfriends.
For most teens, adolescent dating will occasionally be nothing more than a dick-measuring contest, so to speak.
Sure, you may genuinely like your girlfriend, but you also like the fact that she's “probably, like, the seventh hottest chick in our class, bro.”
As more than a few teen comedies have shown, teenage boys place a high priority on scoring an attractive girlfriend. Most of those movies end right when that goal has been achieved.
And that's great, because if you thought these characters were annoying when they were chasing the prom queen, you'll want to smash their skulls in after they're successful. It's bad enough that the adolescent libido has the common side effect of reducing potential partners to prizes to be won.
What's worse is what happens when the prize is won. Constant humble-bragging about how hot your girlfriend is. A smug smile plastered on your face whenever you catch one of your other guy friends checking her out. The sudden insistence that “Eh, she's nothing special” the moment she breaks up with you.
(And she will.)
Luckily, maturity will one day set in, and when it does, we realize what matters most in a relationship isn't how jealous our friends are. While finding your girlfriend attractive is definitely pretty cool, using her as a reason to feel like the alpha dog definitely isn't.
And while we're on the topic...
3. We realize how little looks matter.
Society has done a decent enough job of convincing kids not to judge a book by its cover. So most teen guys will claim to be above superficiality. They don't care about looks. They care about the inner beauty.
OK, YEAH, BULLSH*T. You're teenagers. I'm sure there are a handful out there who have already reached the point where physical attractiveness isn't that big of a deal, but for the most part, you're at the mercy of your hormones. Looks absolutely mean something to you.
And to some degree, they always will. But after the initial waves of puberty settle down, and you experience enough relationships to start to figure out what really fulfills you, you will reach a point where you can start to make healthier decisions.
Of course, anyone who's had a reasonable amount of romantic experience knows that physical attraction can and will develop as a result of emotional connection. Even guys who aren't that serious yet about relationships know this.
But there's a difference between knowing it and having the patience to let that knowledge actually affect your attitude toward dating. When that happens, you'll be less likely to stick with someone who is wrong for you just because she's attractive and less likely to skip over someone who's right for you just because she isn't a model.
4. We start to actually be ourselves.
“Be yourself.” Any guy who has ever had a mom has been hearing this advice since before they could be legally considered a person. And it's been repeated in every kids' show, kids' book and kids' app (Those are probably things now, right?) you've ever been exposed to since the time you could form coherent thoughts.
And as soon as guys try out that idea in their dating lives, they abandon it quicker than Tom Hardy abandoned Leo in “The Revenant.”
Make no mistake about it, the average guy is hilariously incompetent when it comes to understanding how to woo a woman. That probably has something to do with the fact that not every human being wants the same thing, and what works for one girl won't necessarily work for another, but this realization doesn't occur to us when we first start dating. We're convinced there's a secret code for getting the girl.
As a result, we turn to magazines, the Internet and sometimes even the dreaded pick-up artist community in hopes of gaining the "skills" needed to make women want us.
Sometimes, we might even find out that a lot of the advice we read actually works. In between the poisonous sh*t that often makes its way into men's dating tips, there are some genuine guidelines for overall self-improvement. And make no mistake about it, presenting your best self is pretty crucial when it comes to romantic success.
But your best self doesn't have to be a false self. For a while, we guys may be willing to play a role that we think will attract women. Again, maybe it will even kind of work. But the fact of the matter is, doing that for too long simply becomes exhausting.
When we start to get serious about relationships, we realize we can't enjoy anything in the long run if we're going to force ourselves to put up a facade for the rest of our lives. Eventually, like Leo in “The Revenant,” that idea of “being ourselves” springs back to life, dead-set on hunting us down, because I love stretching metaphors until they stop making sense.
Being yourself won't make every woman in the world want to be with you. But we eventually learn that it's not about getting with every woman; it's about finding the right woman, as corny as that sounds.
5. We get excited about meeting her family and friends.
When guys still have casual attitudes about dating, meeting a girlfriend's parents is one of those awkward responsibilities that we put up with simply because, well, we have to.
In her defense, though, she has to meet your parents, too, and that's not always an easy feat for her either:
And for guys, the same goes for meeting a girlfriend's close friends. We are just so abysmally unprepared to stand up to their judgment, but we endure it anyway because the alternative would involve being suddenly single again.
But something strange happens when we start to get serious about romance: We find ourselves kind of looking forward to those milestones. Sure, they're still surefire ways of giving us unwanted cases of anxiety, but they're also opportunities to show how much we actually care. We value the chance to make a good impression and make our girlfriends see that we want to spend time with the important people in their lives.
Sorry, but for a lot of younger people in relationships, dating is inherently selfish. We want sex, companionship, and more sex, and we'll put in the minimal amount of effort to get it.
As we gain more experience and maturity, though, we find ourselves legitimately wanting to make someone else happy. Not because we want some sort of reward for our efforts, but simply because we're starting to feel something a little more genuine than the infatuation we experienced during our first few relationships.
6. We care more and worry less.
Yes, that sounds like something the worst employee at a bumper sticker company would come up with, but allow me to explain.
I remember back in early high school, a relationship was “serious” if it lasted more than one month. If it lasted two months, you were “in love.” If it lasted more than three months -- JUST KIDDING, IT NEVER LASTED MORE THAN THREE MONTHS.
(Yes, sometimes it did. But those people were weird. Or mature. Either way, it wasn't common.)
That's because our first experiences with romance were modeled after pop culture. Plus, we were too young to handle real pressure. As a result, at the first moment of genuine conflict, or even simple boredom, it was time to call it quits.
Guys knew that. Any minor disagreement, and we were suddenly “worried about our relationship.” It wasn't just that we were worried our girlfriends would leave us. We also somehow knew that we weren't ready to put in the real work that goes into a successful romance.
We worried about those conflicts because we knew they often resulted in a breakup. But we didn't care enough to work through them.
Granted, partially, that's just the nature of being young. But it's also tied to how seriously we take our romantic lives. When we start to actually mature, we start to actually care. We're willing to deal with fights, with jealousy, with the simple fact that being with the same person for a long time isn't really all that exciting.
And so, we worry less, because we know that when problems arise, we're actually going to do something healthy about them. And we care more about working to fix those problems.
All just another part of adulting, I guess.