On a recent Friday night, I found myself on a date with a guy I have known for about a year. As I sat across from him, relaxed and chatting vigorously between sips of the beer we had both happily agreed on (Does that mean true love?) we quickly landed on the topic of dating.
We were like-minded people, both deeply rooted in the pursuit of our careers and narrowly focused on the path to that success. As he detailed his recent dating experiences and stressed how difficult it was to find someone who could embrace his schedule, I found myself readily nodding along. "He gets it," I silently mused.
"The thing is, I don't have a void to fill. I have amazing friends and I love what I do for work. I'm happy. So I don't feel like I'm searching. I know what I need in someone for it to work, but I don't feel the pressure to force a fit that isn't there, you know?"
As soon as he said those words, I was brought back to a conversation I had had with someone's older relative a few months ago. She had asked me if I was dating anyone. I replied, "Not really. I've been on some dates, but nothing too exciting."
She chuckled and shook her head. "Dating was so different in my day."
I asked her what she meant, and she gifted me with some insight that -- in the midst of my own "20-something path to understanding where I am at" mindset -- provided a bit of perspective. She explained that when she met her husband, they were each other's firsts. They met and fell in love at a young age (which was the norm). They grew up together, literally and figuratively.
Of course, today, we scoff at the idea of putting a label on it too soon, moving in with someone hastily or getting married too young. For us, it's usually more of a waiting game.
Hell, every time I see a new engagement notice pop up on my newsfeed that involves anyone below the age of 25, I visibly cringe. But before, this was embraced. Your partner wasn't seen as a risk to your future or as a distraction. He or she was your support. He or she was there to help you create your future.
Of course, everything she detailed wasn't a page out of "The Notebook," by any means. She admitted there were no shortage of trials or tribulations to endure. But they leaned on each other to get through them.
School, marriage, work, financial troubles, family disputes: These things brought them together, instead of tearing them apart. They learned to need each other. The difference now is, the majority of Millennials are hell-bent on paving their own, independent paths before they even consider joining their lives with another. We don't want to need anyone. Or at least, not until the last possible second.
This is great, actually. This is everything I preach and everything I believe in. Don't rush. Don't create voids that need to be filled by another. Don't force it.
Focus on yourself, your personal happiness and your career. The rest will naturally follow suit. University, master's degrees, wanderlust, passions and careers: These are all things that often take precedent to the relationships we consider. We recognize the importance of satisfying these elements of our lives first, before incorporating someone else into the picture.
The thing is, though, we are creating our lives and then trying to make them fit with another's so far down the rabbit hole, so to speak. In the past, you likely grew up with your partner and passed through the early tests of life with him or her. You learned about each other in the process, and were surrounded by the life you created together.
Today, we trudge through university, ship off to other parts of the world, throw ourselves into demanding careers and become accustomed to a life of prioritizing ourselves first. This isn't a bad thing, but I can now see how it makes it harder for us to find a fit with someone else.
Sure, we meet people. We date and we go through the motions. But when the honeymoon feelings fade and the relationship is put to the test, it is so much easier to cut our losses and walk away. We have our own lives to fall back on.
We were fine before this person came around, and there are plenty of other options at the tips of our fingers, right? There was someone before, and there will be someone after. Our lives are constantly saturated with choices and distractions. This makes vulnerability seem more and more like an unnecessary expenditure.
I'm the walking embodiment of this practice. I'm 22 years old, and I wear my independence like a badge on my chest. I work three jobs. I'm in the office from 8 am to 4 pm. I do my content work from home, and then, I bartend. I also have to make time for my dog, my friends, cooking, going to the gym and sleeping: You know, human things.
I consider my desire to be busy and motivated a necessary part of who I am. It's what makes me a passionate, success-hungry Millennial, right? This is how we have to operate to get ahead.
I'm not alone here. Every day, I meet more people who take on as much as they can to pursue their own individual happiness. This is amazing. But admittedly, this is also a tough breed of person to date.
Are we closing ourselves off to the possibility of slow-burning, long-developed love? Are we just hoping that someone will come along and fit perfectly with every commitment, tendency and mindset we've formed throughout our 20s and 30s?
In theory, we know exactly what we want. But are we really open to it? Can we put it into practice? Or are we looking for the quick spark, the "perfect on paper?" Then, do we check out when we sense some impending disconnect?
After all, Tinder dates and hookups are easy and quick cycles of instant gratification, riding on the process of efficient elimination. Working through the initial, ongoing hurdles of long-term love, however, is not so easy or quick.
"It's no wonder there are so many breakups now. You guys have so much going on. Everything is about meeting demands and the next best thing, and you have so many reasons to look elsewhere. You're always looking elsewhere. If things don't work out, you go back to your separate lives and try again with someone else. That just wasn't how it worked for us. There was no going back. There was only moving forward together."
I may not be ready to consider marriage before I'm at least 30, and I may reject most traditional concepts of love and courtship. But I think she makes an interesting point.
Maybe it doesn't have to be one extreme or another. Maybe it's about finding a balance between the two.
Maybe it's worth it to take an introspective look at how we really examine our romantic intentions as Millennials, and ask ourselves if we are leading lifestyles that are conducive to love.
We don't have to do this, of course. But I think it's worth thinking about.