By Alexander Pereira
Television, books, video games and Taylor Swift’s first album lied about Romance and dating to all of us. We were promised and taught to expect a certain type of future that was so incredibly unrealistic that it’s amazing any of us would’ve been stupid enough to fall for it. Except I did. This is what it did to me.
I’m an unfortunate mix of the bitter cynic, chronically shy person and a hopeless romantic all jumbled into a great bundle of angst and social awkwardness. I grew up with my head wedged deeply between the pages of Tolkien and Tamora Pierce, of Fantasy and Science Fiction with its might heroes and star-struck romances. I took to the idea of being a fantasy knight seriously. True love and fate became a part of my expectations for life in a way that still affect how I approach romance to this day. That stuff? Not really that bad. It makes things like casual dating or the idea of casual sex really hard to stomach for me personally but I don’t feel like it’s hurt me, just put me in hard mode.
The stuff I really want to talk about is the nonsense television shows like Kim Possible, Lizzie McGuire, and Boy Meets World ingrained in younger me. Those shows all promised you that no matter how awkward and social weird you were; you could find your soulmate in high school. Even more importantly, that soulmate was your attractive best girl/boy friend who you’ve known forever. The lessons were that you both know you like each other but neither of you wants to admit it. So I came to expect that the path to true happiness was to realize my soulmate was that best friend I’d grown up, fall in love with her, date through college with a series of sickeningly adorable adventures, get married after graduation and have 2.5 kids by the time we were 28. Simple. Easy. It’s exactly what everything society was saying happened after all. Now, I don’t know if I’m just an idiot or if this happened to a bunch of us but I got really invested in this model for life. I knew in my bones that I was destine for a story of true love and early life bliss. Everything would be perfect and we’d choose our colleges together, figure out our careers and build our life together. I became so married to this idea I could hardly conceive of a world where this wasn’t my life.
It goes without saying that this plan for a perfect life didn’t happen. It didn’t even come close. The first real love of mine broke up with me after three months (summer time fling), and we spent our entire senior year of High school sniping and claw at each other. It took us years to figure out what it meant to be friends and not ex’s and work through the anger and hurt but eventually we figured out how to be friends. We’re best of friends now. – Yes if you’re wondering, I wrote really bad angst blog posts and some fiction about it too here go check it out: redbreardsmusings.wordpress.com) — This shocking state of affairs left me genuinely feeling like something was broken with me. It was as if I wasn’t a proper person because I didn’t have the same romantic arc of Lizzie and Gordon; Ron and Kim; or Cory and Topanga. I just knew that since I didn’t find that perfect happiness in high school, I’d lost that entire future forever. No family, no adorable daughter or beautiful woman to come home too (or hell, to have come home to me). Not even the white picket fence. I was heartbroken and I started panicking as I rolled into my freshman year of University because I didn’t know what my life was supposed to look like anymore. I thought my life couldn’t have meaning any more. There is another post to be told about me dealing with the depression I faced, and may still face, through my freshman year of university but I know for a fact that this helped contribute to it.
The older me, looking back at that time is really glad things worked out the way they have. I’ve seen a few classmates marry the high school sweethearts and it feels myopic. Like the people of Plato’s Cave ignore the existence of an outside world. Not that I don’t harbor a quiet mourning for that childhood dream but I know I’m a better me for having had to grow past it. I thought for years that I was the kind of person who’d be happy staying in the same town for ever. I thought about how wonderful it would be to raise my future kids in the same place. I’ve been slowly learning that this isn’t true. That I’m not actually someone who enjoys stagnation like that. I have a tendency to let myself become stagnated but I don’t enjoy it.
I’m also thankful that I didn’t end up falling in love with my childhood best friend because guess what? We’d have been (still would be) an awful couple. The things I’ve learned I need from a partner and the things I know she needs don’t remotely match. This post-knowledge didn’t keep me from confusing genuine, almost familial, affection toward her for romantic feelings several times over the years though. Every time I realized I was trying to force a square peg into the round hole of my expectations before I genuinely damaged our relationship but it was a near thing at times.
I’ve moved beyond the expectations for a high school soulmate, for obvious reasons of course, but I’ve also managed to uncouple my sense of self-worth and identity from the ideal. I’ve become self-aware enough to figure out where other unrealistic expectations are come from. Things that Romantic Comedies have hammered in with their stalking ideation or even the idea that College is a sexual banquet for everyone. That last one did its own number on my ideas of self-worth but I’m running out of space. I’ve very careful to be mindful the media I consume, especially as we move in on Valentine’s Day because I know it can still knock me into a depressive cycle. I don’t like being single and the upcoming deluge of happy couples and “only couples are complete people” is always dangerous. For all of you, I hope this made you feel a little less alone.