These days I am inspired by, of all things, Vogue magazine when thinking about love. For some time their editorial spread has been framed with a view toward individuality, not following any fashion rules or trends. The most relevant view these days toward style, body image, career path, etc, is that following your own rules is the only rule. But while we’re far from the days when you had to dress a certain way (a coat 1/2″ longer than your dress? Matching bag and shoes? No white after Labor Day?) to be considered acceptable, in a lot of ways we still have a very rigid notion of one of the most important experiences of our lives: how we love.
Of course, young women are no longer expected to find a husband soon after college and become an impeccable hostess and homemaker. But there isn’t still a lot of acceptable gray area where people (especially women) can explore loving and intimate aspects of their identity. If you’re single, this means you ought to be searching for a “meaningful,” often long-term committed relationships, or something that could develop into one. If you’re in a relationship, this means said relationship should be on a continuous, stable path toward marriage–almost always one with children. In essence, this isn’t so different from the pre-feminism paradigm of “find a husband/become a mother and wife,” even if most of us now prioritize our careers much more.
There isn’t anything wrong with following this model if that is true to your being already. But it’s definitely not the only way to experience love–nor does it mean you’re not normal if you don’t follow this route. I feel that what’s much more important than following a certain rubric and timeline, is having an authentic connection with someone–whatever form, color, or length that may take. I think the sooner we accept that there are different ways to love, the happier we will feel. Here are the things to feel okay about your love life.
1. It’s okay if you don’t want to get married–ever.
Despite the picture media paints of women, some of us actually don’t want marriage. There might be all sorts of reasons for this. She might choose to focus on her career rather than having a married life. Or she might not think lifelong monogamy is right for her. Or perhaps she doesn’t think you need to be legally bound to have a fully evolved, mature relationship. Whatever the reason, this doesn’t mean she’ll “change her mind.” Similarly, if a long-term couple chooses to not marry or even cohabit, that doesn’t mean that their relationship is less valuable and caring than one that’s bound by matrimony.
2. It’s okay if you don’t want to have children–ever.
In our society, not wanting to have children is usually taken as the ultimate offence against our common humanity. Why wouldn’t you want to experience such a life-affirming, one truly meaningful thing that is child-rearing? Of course, no man is ever really harassed for this choice because the assumption is he will eventually come round and “settle down.” But if it’s a woman who feels this way–especially over age 30–everyone has to tell her she’ll change her mind, she’s going to regret her choice, she’ll die lonely. If she still doesn’t change her mind, it’s taken as a sign of her failure as a female. But the choice to have children has no bearing on how loving, tender, mature, or womanly someone is. Let’s all agree that women are more complicated than that.
3. It’s okay if you don’t want Love with a capital L.
The assumption in our society is that women who don’t want a Real Love with the One are cynical, unruly, shrewish, and most importantly, slutty (hate that word). Again, men never suffer the same prejudice because of course they are indulgently expected to want variety and novelty. But contrary to all rom-coms out there, here is the truth: real, authentic, and fulfilled women can and do look for intimacy without the weight of commitment, companionship, and singularity. This doesn’t mean she’s broken, confused, or emotionally immature.
4. It’s okay if you know something isn’t going to last but go for it anyways.
Connecting with someone deeply in all sense of that word (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) can take a long time, or it can happen in a flash, in an unexpected place and time, with an unexpected person. There is no right or wrong way this can happen, but what you do need to do is appreciate it fully in the moment. One of the most fulfilling relationships I’ve ever had lasted only two months, with the understanding that once summer was over we would go our separate ways–yet it turned out to be one of those things in life that changes you. You miss out on a lot of chances to learn, grow, and yes, love if you only insist on a certain kind of Love.
5. It’s okay if you don’t believe in anything else except Love.
One of my friends holds the traditional view that dating is what you do to find a sharing, caring long-term relationship, which should lead to marriage and kids. If that’s what makes you happy, it’s completely legitimate to only insist on that…just as long as you don’t downgrade everyone else’s relationships based on your criteria.
7. It’s okay if you haven’t fallen in love by a certain age.
I do think people should experience love in their lives, but for some of us that starts at age 16, for others not until 26. The fact that you haven’t done certain relationship things (like saying “I love you,” having sex, etc) by a certain age doesn’t mean you’re not a loving person, or that it will never happen to you. Conversely, you can experience intense feelings at a young age, and that’s great too.
8. It’s okay if your love life doesn’t look anything like what you’ve read in books/ seen in movies/ heard from friends.
Some people fall in love violently, madly, dramatically–others more quietly like snow falling on snow. The way I love is even night-and-day different from the way my sister loves, and she is genetically the closest person to me. There is nothing wrong or less with either, or any myriad shades in between…Life is all different colors, why would love be any different?
9. It’s okay if you’re really happy on your own right now.
Sometimes you really are not looking for any sort of romantic or intimate relationship. This is when you focus on being yourself, finding who you are, spending time with friends, eating takeout on a Friday night in yoga pants and painting your toenails and feeling great about it. That’s also completely healthy.
In this day and age, I think the point is to find the way to love that is true to you–not to please anyone else’s expectations but your own. As Fitzgerald put it, “There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.” Every kind of love has its own reasons for being. I think that’s much more romantic and optimistic than anything else.
What do you guys think? Anything else you feel should be on the list?
Also on Love: What a Living with My Boyfriend for a Year Taught Me
Photo: Dustin Gaffke via Flickr; Benurs – Learning and lea via Flickr