If You Are Hurting During Thanksgiving, Focus on the Love

When I was a kid and then a teenager, I had a simple and happy life. My childhood was great, and my family was supportive and wonderful.

Holidays were filled with laughter, traditions, love, friends, incredible food, and lots of joy. On Thanksgiving eve, I had a tradition of watching the Steve Martin and John Candy film: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. It is a movie about a businessman (Martin), who is trying like hell to get home to his family for Thanksgiving, and instead, gets stuck with an obnoxiously annoying shower curtain-ring salesman, (Candy) as his only companion. The results are hilarious. Back then, in my childhood innocence, I only saw the comedy in this movie, and not the sadder and much deeper messages that were present. My life was happy and pain-free, so I couldn’t really feel or understand the painful parts of that film. We see things from the foundation of our own experiences.

Years later, at age 35, I had finally found my soul-mate and my best friend for life. I was married, and we were very happy. We loved the holidays, and my husband and I had our own traditions. One of them was to put up / decorate our small Christmas tree in our apartment on Thanksgiving Eve, order take-out, and watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. My husband’s laugh was loud and infectious. It was my favorite sound. Back then, we both loved the comedy in the film, but also appreciated the sentimental themes about loneliness, loss, and love coming in many different forms. We appreciated the sadness and poignancy in John Candy’s character, (spoiler alert) who is a homeless widower, a fact that the viewer doesn’t find out until almost the end of the film. My husband and I had sympathy and empathy for him, but because our life was so happy and lacked grief or any real deep pain, we couldn’t ever comprehend what it was like to be him. We see things from the foundation of our own experiences.

Millennials: What Do ‘Grown-Up Relationships’ Look Like?

Have you seen these headlines?

‘Millennial Commitment-Phobia Threatens the Future of Love.’

‘Are Dating Apps the End of Romance?’ 

‘Love is Dead, and Millennials Killed It.’

Thanks for the laughs, Google. I wholeheartedly disagree.

While everyone is different, I believe that most Millennials do believe in love and commitment in some form or another. The fact that we’re free to feel otherwise and/or change our minds can actually strengthen our ultimate resolve to have these needs met. Millennials want joy and fulfillment in our relationships, in whatever way we feel is best for us.

Maybe that’s the key difference that’s scaring everyone. We don’t choose partners based on “whatever society says is best,” or even “what our parents think we should do.” We love in whatever way we feel is best for us.

The ways in which today’s singles ‘hunt and gather’ in relationships looks drastically different than previous generations, but that’s not necessarily new. Our parents’ love lives were different from their parents, just as their parents’ were different from their grandparents. As technology and culture jump forward, so do the ways in which we live our lives. Call it evolution, development, advancement, whatever – change can be uncomfortable for some, but it’s important.

In the 60s, ‘free love’ was said to be the end of relationships. Was it?

When women began prioritizing their education and careers, they were said to be ‘destroying traditional family values.’ Did they?

When divorce was legalized, it was an outrage. “Commitment is dead!” they said.

Fast forward to 2017: same kids, new toys. Millennials are not the first generation to shake things up, and it’s okay. Commitment phobia, ‘ghosting’ and one-night stands are not new concepts. We just have flashy new apps, websites and catchphrases for them now.

Instead of going out for milk and never coming home (as great-grandpa did back in the day), we can just press ‘block,’ ‘delete’ and then go on with our lives. It’s cheaper and safer than the old-fashioned alternatives, especially if marriage hasn’t entered the picture. Millennials aren’t forced to enter legal contracts before they’re ready (risking long-term unhappiness, family dysfunction, infidelity and more). We are free to pick and choose the kinds of relationships we actually want.

So why isn’t everyone celebrating?

As great as evolution is, these advances do make things a little more complicated.

In Scientific American, Helen Fisher (a relationship expert at Rutgers University and chief scientific advisor at Match.com) has said that she does not subscribe to the idea of a ‘relationship apocalypse.’ Instead, she describes modern dating trends as “slow love,” meaning that Millennials are taking more time to experiment and find out what they don’t want before they settle down with what they do want. 

Thanks to dating apps, we have infinitely more choices when it comes to selecting a partner. This makes love more complicated than it was for our grandparents, dating only within their own towns and cities.

If I’m offered three types of breakfast cereal to choose from, it might take five minutes to pick. But what about three hundred choices? I might be in the breakfast aisle forever.

I’m not fickle or indecisive for using multiple dating apps. Like any sensible human, I want to consider all the options before making a decision. It isn’t impulsiveness or fear that leads Millennials to jump around; it’s actually a sense of responsibility.

The behaviors we engage in are not new; our openness about them is. LGBTQ+ Americans have always been around, whether we were socially accepted or not. The gender spectrum hasn’t changed, our language for it has. Single parenthood, premarital sex, polyamory, fetishes, and infidelity are not new ideas. Neither is blaming ‘those damn kids’ for things that make us uncomfortable.

Being open about our needs has a number of positive benefits: safer sex, improved psychological health, better relationships, increased acceptance of ourselves and others, and fewer wasted years trying to hide and fit into lives that aren’t genuine. With that said…I get it. Dating is fine and dandy, but what about commitment?

In a generation that notoriously struggles to ‘adult,’ what do Grown-Up Relationships look like?

I remember sitting in the schoolyard at five years old, trying to picture myself at twenty. I imagined I’d be married, have a house, two kids and a dog. Now that twenty has come and gone, I can’t help but giggle at this outlandish fantasy. The vast majority of today’s twenty year-olds can’t afford their own rent, let alone support a family.

To understand why we most likely aren’t married (yet or ever), let’s consider some of the factors surrounding our life decisions. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials are more educated but significantly less affluent than previous generations. Adults in their 20s and early 30s are more likely to still live with their parents; this comes not out of desire or laziness, but of need. Most of us can’t afford to throw a wedding in our twenties, let alone buy a house and start a family. While the bar for success has risen with our education, the odds for a stable career are lower than ever. Is it any wonder then, that most of us won’t marry young?

If by ‘grown up’ you mean financially stable, most of us aren’t there yet. But if maturity is a measure of emotional independence, personal commitment to improvement and working hard to attain stability – then yes, we’re all adults, here.

Millennial relationships are Grown-Up Relationships. And modern grown-ups don’t need to get married. We need love and support – and that doesn’t necessarily mean following blueprints set by our parents. Most of my Millennials friends don’t consider marriage a bad thing, but they also aren’t ready (or willing) any time soon.

I married my partner, but I am definitely not a “grown-up” with a house and two kids the way my five-year-old self had anticipated. Our world is not that of our grandparents, so today’s typical marriage looks a little different. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to make the same choices as me, or vice versa. My grown-up relationship is not your grown-up relationship, just as my  day-job is not your day-job. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Don’t let outdated standards determine your modern needs.

Perhaps instead of worrying that our love lives aren’t ‘mature’ by ancient standards, we can look at the big picture and accept that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be for this time in history. If you’re one of 1.8 billion Millennials navigating love in an unprecedented world, I applaud you. You’re not alone, you’re not the first, and you’re certainly not the last.

Welcome to Millennial Love. What does it mean to you?

Why the Advice “You’ll Find Love When You Stop Looking” Could be More Harmful Than Helpful

This cliché line is helping exactly… no one. So why are we still saying it?

When you’re single and looking for love, you’re bound to hear some useless (and cliché) dating advice.

You might be familiar with famous eye-rollers such as: “You just need to get out more” or “Just have fun, don’t overthink it.” Sigh.

But one piece of advice sticks out to me as particularly unhelpful: “You’ll find love when you stop looking.”

Don’t get me wrong, I understand where this idea comes from. After all, it sort of makes sense: if you’re not stressed out about finding love you’ll probably feel more relaxed, conversations will feel less forced, and you might even be more likely to take chances.

But there’s a problem with this “stop looking” logic.

Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a relationship expert (best known for Lifetime’s Married at First Sight), points out that it’s like saying, “You’ll find a job when you’re least looking for it.”

“It’s possible,” she says, “but rarely happens.” She adds that,“For the most part, people who wait for a job are unemployed. For me, it’s just an excuse for being scared to go and put the effort in. Yes, it happens, but no, it’s not a good strategy.”

And sure, maybe one day someone great will fall into your lap: you’ll have instant chemistry, everything in common, and the two of you will live happily ever after. We’ve all heard stories where something like that happens to a friend of a friend, so I guess it’s possible.

But you shouldn’t bet on it.

“You’ll find love when you stop looking” is dumb

People like to say things like “stop looking for love” because trying to find a great relationship is hard and not finding someone after putting yourself out there can be disappointing. You could potentially do everything right: you could introduce yourself to new people, go on dating sites, join clubs, go on blind dates, and still not have that special someone to bring to your cousin’s wedding.

It can be disheartening, scary, and disappointing to be out there looking for love knowing that there are no guarantees when it comes to relationships. Dating can make anyone feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. So, taking a step back and saying “Psh, I’m not even looking for love right now” might seem like a good way to make sure you aren’t disappointed.

But stopping the search isn’t the answer.

In fact, putting yourself out there and setting yourself up for disappointment is part of the whole “relationship” thing. Looking for love and finding is all about leaning into the scary stuff: putting yourself out there, being vulnerable, and taking chances. And that doesn’t end once you get into a relationship.

In fact, it’s usually just the beginning.

I met my fiancé in high school. We’ve been together for almost a decade now and in just a couple months we’ll be getting married. I know how uncommon it is to marry your high school sweetheart (in fact, it’s statistically ridiculous). So, for a long time I thought we were the poster couple for the “you’ll find love when you’re not looking” philosophy.

After all, people were always saying I was so lucky to have found my future husband so early in life. And I am lucky. I’m blessed with a great relationship with an amazing guy, but our relationship isn’t based on luck or chance. We didn’t get to 10 years by accident.

We choose each other.

Happy loving couple

We’ve been together for so long because every day we make the choice to be together. We make ourselves vulnerable every day: taking risks and making compromises. We make plans around each other. We have love because we truly and completely want it, and are willing to work for it.

I like Dr. Pepper Schwartz’s advice because I think that getting into a relationship is a lot like landing an amazing job. To get that job you’re probably going to have to put in a lot of effort: you’ll need to go back to school or get some training. You’re going to need to do some research and improve your skills.

You might even need to update your résumé, get a new suit, and all-around make yourself a good candidate for the job. And if you don’t get one job, it could be embarrassing or disheartening, but soon you’ll find a new one and you’ll apply for that too.

But the important thing is that it doesn’t get easier once you finally do get hired. It’s really only then when the real work starts. That’s when you have to start making compromises, focusing more time on your career, and working hard to make the relationship…I mean job… great.

You can’t be afraid to do all the things you need to do to find a partner, because that same stuff is required to maintain the relationship. This idea that singles should stop looking, that they’ll get more out of trying less is only setting people up for disappointment and bad relationships… and that isn’t fair.

Like I said, when you’re single, you’re going to get all kinds of bad advice. But the idea of trying less is probably one of the worst.

Maybe there is no great advice that works for everyone, no magic words of wisdom to guarantee everyone exactly the relationship they want. But, I’ve found that if you can take the risks and do the work to find someone special, you’ll be ready for the relationship, and the love, you deserve.

Tradition and Dating: What I Learned about Happily Ever After

Being a self-professed traditionalist in dating may not be the correct way to describe myself after all.

All my life my family teased me about how much I valued tradition. Whether it was holidays or dating or following certain etiquette rules, I always placed a lot of value on certain customs. Little did I know, maybe I’m a little more modern than I think.

Here is my journey of being a traditionalist in the world of dating:

The value of a title

These days, most people date casually or just hook up and don’t worry about titles. Some don’t even bother with getting married. I always wished for the marriage and kids thing and when I was young, while watching sitcoms like Full House and later dramas like Dawson’s Creek, I always wanted a boyfriend.

Fast forward to years later. I didn’t date anyone in high school so college was my first experience learning what I wanted in a relationship. I ended up getting into a very brief relationship with one of my best friends. We are still close today which is really nice. What’s even nicer is the way he asked me to be his girlfriend. It was romantic, innocent and one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.

It was our senior year of high school and I had just moved out of a hellish suite situation into a double room with a roommate who was never there. I was watching Mona Lisa Smile in my room just relaxing on a Saturday night. I suddenly looked down at my (dating myself here) Motorola RAZR and saw a text from a friend that my male friend was in her room, nervously eating chicken nuggets and sipping vodka. With a slight push and support from her, he was going to ask me to be his girlfriend.

Cue Laura Linney in Love, Actually (fast forward to about 2:07 in that clip to know what I mean) laying there in my uncomfortable dorm twin bed. My friend took so long to work up the guts to ask me to be his girlfriend that I got almost entirely through Mona Lisa Smile again.

He finally walked in and didn’t say a word, just putting in the Phantom of the Opera movie remake, fast forwarding to the “All I Ask of You” scene. After that, he put in my worn When Harry Met Sally DVD, fast forwarding to the last scene where Harry professes his love to Sally, saying things like “I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich.” I suppose he saw us as Harry and Sally at that point in our lives, and knowing it’s my favorite movie of all time, he ran with it.

After that, he asked me to be his girlfriend and we kissed for a long time, eventually falling asleep after talking all night. I woke up and was nearly late for church the next morning, but I couldn’t stop smiling.

Moving forward another few years, I met my current boyfriend. After having a first date at Starbucks and more wonderful dinner dates at our respective apartments, I was out covering a lunch for my former job working for a newspaper.

Things were quite typical of the lunches I covered and I was getting a little bored and restless. I felt my phone vibrate in my purse and reached down to check it. I saw a text from my boyfriend that read: “I had a great time last night.” I smiled and responded: “Me too.” He wrote back, “You know what I was just thinking?” I quickly typed back a question mark, careful not to be too conspicuous. He wrote back: “That I have the best girlfriend ever.” He included a smiley face at the end.

I don’t remember much else of that day, nor anything about that lunch, but I will always remember it was May 10, 2012 and once again, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Call me old-fashioned…

the role of tradition in dating

I’ve always thought how cool it would be to save myself until marriage. I am a huge sucker for those old Notebook-esque couples who have only one sexual partner—each other. To me at least, there’s just such a beauty and pure romance to it all. Not that I don’t mind if others have more than one partner, I am a strong component of the phrase “You do you.” I just know that for me, it’s always something I thought I want to do.

I still have managed to save myself for marriage. My boyfriend, who also grew up with similar values, has been fully and completely respectful of my decision and thinks it’s pretty cool if we make it. While we’re working on the next step of our relationship, I honestly am happy I didn’t give in and go for it with some guys—guys like this one who walked me back to my apartment after a date and suggested an after dinner drink.

I mixed us drinks and as we got about halfway through them, he went for it and tried to start going hot and heavy. I knew exactly where it was going and I quickly wriggled my way out from underneath him. I explained that I’d at least like to get to know him first before having sex, a standard I knew I had at least wanted to hold onto, no matter how much I fell for a guy.

He left hurriedly and ultimately ghosted me. I am relieved I didn’t give in and just go for it because I knew I’d regret it.

Then there’s another guy I dated for about six months. He never wanted to meet my family and when I went to visit him in Chicago for a weekend, he didn’t want to be in any photos. It was like I went on a weekend trip with myself. The only evidence I have of him there is a faint reflection of him in my sunglasses as he snapped my photo on a boat.

While I definitely “did” more with him than the first guy, I am glad I didn’t go any further. He clearly didn’t love me and that was fine. I’m just lucky I realized it early on, and got some pizza in the process.

These times were two instances I could honestly say that I am glad I call myself a traditionalist.
…Or Maybe Not

Lovers having a romantic walk

After mapping out how I wanted to write this essay, I realized that maybe I am not so traditional after all. For someone who places so much value on the steps from when you first meet someone to marriage, I moved in with my boyfriend after dating for just a year. After a lot (and I mean a lot) of decision-making, I had a good gut feeling about the move. I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do, tradition or not.

Also, I realized how untraditional our actual relationship is. As much as I would like to get married someday, when people ask if I’m happy, I can honestly say I am. We’ve got a nice little family going on, with my boyfriend and our elderly English bulldog. That’s a lot more than most people have, which often reminds me just how much I get the warm and fuzzy feeling when the three of us are spending a cozy Saturday night together on the couch. It’s comfortable, it’s easy and it’s romantic in its own way. I realize now that happily ever after doesn’t necessarily mean engaged, married, babies—it could be a far less traditional decades-long relationship, dogs and a whole lot of Netflixing on the couch.

While thinking about this topic, I had the realization that what’s important is making sure you’re happy. Who cares what others think when it comes to your relationship, whether you’re traditional or completely out there (a Charlotte or Samantha, if you may). Most of us are in that nice in-between sweet spot anyway.

Happy dating!

Interested in learning more about dating in the modern age? Check out this piece, a talk with LOVE TV’s Karinna Karsten.