Every Monday night I tune in to ABC and watch The Bachelor. Not because I actually enjoy it (I regard the two hours of “He’s so amazing!” and helicopter dates like a kind of torture) but because seeing a group of 22-year-olds compete for a 36-year-old makes my reality, the world of millennial dating, seem normal.
Like, it could be worse. I could be one in 30 vying for the approval of a mediocre guy — on national television.
Recently, a male friend of mine expressed that he still “believes in love,” and would like to “get married and have kids and stuff.”
And my jaw hit the floor.
This is a guy who I’ve never seen consume anything solid, or watch a show that wasn’t featured on Adult Swim, and even HE was less jaded by romance than I was.
He still “believes.”
I guess marriage just doesn’t even register as a viable option at this point. The institution, in my mind, is about as foreign and crazy as a group of 22-year-old women competing for the love of a 36-year-old man. Like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, it’s on a whole other plane of existence: People agree to spend the rest of their lives together? Get out!
My feelings don’t stem so much from a disbelief in love, or an active will against marriage, so much as this: I’m tired and I have other things to worry about. Plus, during the times when I’ve actively pursued a “serious” relationship, my options always proved to be pretty hopeless.
(Potential prospects have included one or more of the following: Guys with creepy affinities for Taylor Swift, guys who steal their friends’ cell phones and send cryptic texts followed by strings of eggplant emojis, guys who lie about their dads dying, guys who report my car for parking tickets as birthday presents to themselves, et al.)
I tried online dating, but that proved to be even worse than meeting guys in real life. Online guys lied about their height constantly and thought frat parties counted as dates. One of them, beyond providing the least thoughtful setting imaginable, even proceeded to low-key insult my education.
He said, “Oh. I thought you went to, like, a real college.”
I was a senior enrolled at a four-year school. Meanwhile, he was still in community college. Which, normally, I wouldn’t have thought twice about. But given his lack of self-awareness in the situation, I couldn’t overlook the double standard.
The last straw, however, came with a more recent prospect. I was recapping all these dating mishaps (because he asked) when, halfway through, he said, “I feel like I could tell you anything and you wouldn’t judge me.” Followed by, “About three girls are in love with me right now. And I don’t really want to date any of them. But, like, I also don’t want them to stop loving me.”
At which point, all my faith in anything ceased.
Having attracted so much failure in love, my thought process has become a steady decline from: “What’s wrong with guys?” to “What’s wrong with people?” to “What’s wrong with me?”
One time I mistook a hot pepper for a string bean (because I’m an idiot) and continued to sit at the table, with a straight face, even though I was dying inside. That’s what millennial dating feels like.
I’ve waded through articles with discouraging headlines like, “Men May Like the Idea of a Smart Woman, but They Don’t Want to Date One” and “Women with Higher IQs Are More Likely to Be Single.” An exercise that fanned my ego, but didn’t do much in the way of explaining my apprehension when it comes to pursuing relationships. I’m a woman, shouldn’t this stuff be in my DNA?
Clarity didn’t come until I went to a bridal shower for a childhood friend.
During a Q&A aimed at making the guests familiar with the bride and her groom, someone asked, “What do you love most about him?” And she said something along the lines of, “I can be very hard on myself. I constantly think I need to be better, or that I should be doing more for other people. But he reminds me that everyone could be better, and that this is just a part of life. He makes me feel like I’m enough.”
And it hit me: I can’t even imagine what it’s like, to be loved so exclusively, and sincerely, as I am. Sure, I’ve had plenty of boyfriends. But not a single one showed true compassion when I revealed that I’m just as vulnerable and desperate as any other human being. If anything, these moments felt exploited, like license to tear me down. And I can’t lie and say that, for me, this hasn’t amplified all of romance’s ugliest parts. (The capitalization of marriage, all the lies Nicholas Sparks told us, how flowers die and franchises like Fifty Shades of Grey make emotionally abusive relationships seem ideal.)
So much of modern life has turned love into a game. Hence: “About three girls are in love with me right now. And I don’t really want to date any of them. But, like, I also don’t want them to stop loving me.”
Dating feels more like an ego trip, or power trip; an exchange of push and pull rather than give and take. In short, there is always this looming anxiety that if one shows her cards too earnestly, she’s in danger of being told: “You are just one in 30.”
So what other option is there, other than to numb yourself out?
The only way I know how to describe it is: One time I mistook a hot pepper for a string bean (because I’m an idiot) and continued to sit at the table, with a straight face, even though I was dying inside.
That’s what millennial dating feels like.
Still, I guess acknowledging this reality has never really been the problem. In fact, I have more difficulty admitting that I’m really just like anyone else. I want to find someone who I don’t totally resent to watch Netflix with, who I’m enough for and vice versa.
Which, I know, is just a matter of being patient — love is difficult and complicated for everyone. And finding the “right” person is going to be a process.
Until then, I’ll be living my life like the laziest Bachelor contestant in ABC history: In the background, trying to look inconspicuous, next to the cheese platter and sipping wine.
I’m not here for the guy; I’m here for the vacation.
by Cat Olson
Illustrated by Leah Garlock
Cat Olson is a writer based in Jamestown, NY. She works as a classified sales rep and columnist for the Warren Times Observer. And her work has appeared in Elm Leaves literary journal. She hopes to eventually go to grad school, but in the mean time she posts quotes on Instagram (@catniss___), and maintains a personal blog—where you can read more of her work (waywardpiggy.com).
Leah Garlock is a interactive designer and visual artist with an insatiable curiosity for other cultures and people. She employs an empathy-driven design process where she’s had opportunities to serve on a wide range of socially conscious design projects. You can follow Leah on Instagram @unapologetically_single where she explores themes on self-love, singledom, and personal development.
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