Type “relationship goals” into Google and you get hundreds of cheesy quotes about love that make it seem effortless. Just scroll through any celeb couple’s Instagram accounts (there are still some left, believe it or not), and you’ll see what I mean. Love on the internet is, indeed “relationship goals,” but after I asked my grandma about her dating history, I learned that love is not at all effortless, and many times, it can be the exact opposite of “goals.”
My grandparents have been married for 57 years, but I haven’t had the chance to really ask them too much about their relationship. They live in Venezuela, where my parents and I immigrated from way back in the day, so visits are scarce. The only way to make long-distance phone calls without getting charged big money is through Wi-Fi, but Venezuela is so politically tumultuous, that electricity isn’t always guaranteed. Long conversations about life and love aren’t on the menu most days.
That said, you can imagine how excited I was at the prospect of asking my abuela about her dating history. I wondered if she was anything like I am. I wondered if she went on lots of first dates (but not a lot of second ones), if she snuck out late at night, or if she spent hours getting ready for parties where she knew she’d see her crush. She obviously didn’t swipe on dating apps, but was she ever set up by her friends? Did she ever get her heart broken?
I asked myself these questions and more, but it was clear to me from the first 20 seconds of our conversation that her dating history was nothing like mine. She met my abuelo when she was 17 years old, in the tiny, hot, dry town where she was born. He was 23, from a neighboring town. They met, they fell in love… aaaand that was it. She never had any other boyfriends. She never went on any other dates. What even, right? I couldn’t make my first relationship last two weeks, how did my abuela make hers last nearly six whole decades?
Turns out, it was nothing out of the ordinary in her day. “The boys in the town married the girls in the town,” she told me in Spanish. “The marriages were between families who were friends — we rarely met strangers. I saw situations where two or three members of one family were married to two or three members of another family.”
And that’s how my grandparents met. His family was friends with hers, and the more he would visit her house, the more they liked each other. When she was 18, he asked her father for permission to visit her as her boyfriend.
“My father gave him permission, but he set rules,” she said. “In our house, visits were until 9 p.m. He could visit, but after 9 p.m., he had to go. And if we went to a party, my mom came with us. We couldn’t drink or smoke, just dancing. Just music, and dancing. I used to love dancing, and your abuelo also used to love to dance.”
My first thought was that it must’ve been awkward AF to have your mom hanging out with you and your boyf at parties where, IDK, maybe you wanted to make out in a corner? Imagine your mom at a college party. Hard to picture, and even harder when I asked her if her mom was like, right there, when she had her first kiss.
“No!” she said. “I don’t remember well but it was at a little dance, in the middle of a crowd of people, he stole a tiny kiss.” My heart. These days, hookup culture is so much the norm, that you go from zero to 100 real quick. And that’s totally OK, but the way she told me this story made it sound so pure, and so sweet. It made me almost miss an era that I wasn’t even around to see. Someone wants to respect you and court you so much, with the intention of getting married at the end of it? (As opposed to hitting, quitting, and awkwardly liking your Instas until the end of time, because, you know, 2018.) Mind blowing.
When I asked her why she never dated anyone before him, she said it was because you were only allowed to pick one man. “If you had one boyfriend, that was it, you couldn’t fall in love with another one,” she said. “If you decided you were in love, that’s the man you’re going to marry. But dating around, no matter how much you liked a boy — and there were boys I liked — wasn’t allowed. You picked one and that was it.”
Exploring dozens of options, like we often do today, was frowned upon. Apparently, you just married the boy from the town over and that was it. (Nobody even talked about what you'd do if you were a girl who didn't like boys.) By contrast, I don’t even know what the first boy I ever dated is doing with his life now. We have so many options these days that finding “the one” feels harder than ever.
My abuela didn't settle. She was in love, she said. But she does wish she had been able to experience modern dating. Today, we have permission to end relationships, to start new ones, and to fall in love with ourselves before falling in love with someone else, and that’s so, so important. She didn’t have that, and she said she wished she had.
“I knew that I was in love, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted deep down,” she said. She went on to tell me that my grandfather didn’t let her finish her schooling to be a teacher. He wanted her to tend to the home and raise the children, and she wishes her experiences had been different. “That’s why I always think everyone has a little bit of regret deep down," she said. “He was so jealous, he just wanted me to be home, and said he’d give me everything I needed — house, roof, food. As time passes, you start to realize how unpleasant all of that is.” But when I asked her if his jealousy and controlling nature ever made her fall out of love, she said no.
“I knew what I was doing when I did this,” she said. “Those times were different. Women were expected to be obedient even if you didn’t like it or even if it wasn’t what you wanted, you were obedient. But of course, it has its benefits. I always say the blessing in return for such a big sacrifice is our family. It’s all of you. Our legacy. It was worth it.”
My abuela’s dating history may not be filled to the brim with juicy stories or hot gossip, but it is filled with a lot of love, partnership, and patience. Today’s societal norms (thankfully) let us do whatever we want, and there’s so much room for growth and exploration. I wish she had had that, but I’m thankful for her strength, her patience, and her love. I wouldn’t be here today without it.
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