A quick spin through my Facebook feed one afternoon netted the following: Instagrams of questionable-looking lunches; Instagrams of grinning, gap-toothed babies; a notification that someone had reached the next level in Farmville; sonograms of babies-to-be, and passive-aggressive digs at anonymous employers.
Wedged selectively between these posts about my friends’ lives was a rant about how much romance sucks -- especially, the post said, “breaking up.”
I paused for a minute, unsure if I wasn’t paying attention when this romance-skewing friend first told me about the guy in question, or if I maybe missed the passing of a telltale Facebook relationship update.
I checked my texts, and my memory had in fact served me correctly: My friend had gone on just two dates with this guy before he’d faded into the great unknown. Two dates, where you’re still getting to know the other person and how they pronounce words like “water.” Two dates, when bellies full of $25 chicken piccata do not warrant the loosening of buttons and zippers for the sake of comfort. Two dates, when butterflies are kicking, but contained.
She translated his disappearing act into a full-blown breakup worthy of Ben & Jerry’s-flavored sympathy. Meanwhile, I was left scratching my head.
Since when does two dates -- hell, even five dates -- constitute an actual relationship? We eventually caught up, and I listened to her go on about how well they’d connected from the get-go, she and this phantom dude, and how distraught she was that he hadn’t returned her dozen or so phone calls to assess the situation.
I held my tongue each time she referred to it as a “breakup,” secretly wishing I could tell her there was nothing to assess, to get a grip, or that she needed to get back in the saddle and keep riding into the sunset; she was hurt and needed a friend to listen, not someone to play Pollyanna.
Because, sure, it sucks when things don’t work out, including those delicious early-stage crushes. But that guy was not her boyfriend, not in my book, and I’m fairly certain that if he, whoever he was, caught wind of her telling people they’d broken up, it’d serve as yet another strike against women as the crazier sex.
Maybe I’m calling the kettle black. I enjoy dating around -- not everyone does, I know that -- and I have a modicum of an idea of what I’d like in a potential mate. But I’m also prone to panicking when things get too real, like the time a guy I’d been seeing for several months asked if I wanted to be exclusive and I responded by having a Joan Crawford-style meltdown in his living room.
If there ever was a product of hookup culture, I’m it. And as I mentioned in another essay, I don’t want kids -- not now, not ever -- and so I’m relieved of the pressure of a biological clock. Still, my friend’s insistence that she’d suffered a terrible blow rubbed me the wrong way -- because it’s early-stage dating we’re talking about here, folks.
Not matrimony, and not the six-month mark when a couple poses for a photo outside an apple orchard holding his-and-her pumpkins. Dating lets us test the water, and if the temperature isn’t to our liking, we can move along, no harm, no foul. Or we can dive right in. But hey, pickings are slim -- or so the media says, so we’d better hop to it, already.
Practically every news outlet I follow is eager to slap its readers in the face with doomsday reminders about things that are down (marriage rates, fertility rates, moods) and up (the average age at which a person marries, divorce rates, manchildren). Yet with the variety of dating services available at our fingertips -- literally -- we’ve never had as many choices as we do today (according to The Atlantic, that’s a problem in itself).
Our gender roles are shifting, which is both scary and awesome, and there’s no wonder why some women feel compelled to cling to the scraps of tradition that have been left behind in the shuffle; no one wants to miss the boat, or be left with a guy whose idea of a good time is crushing Bud Light cans against his forehead in his bachelor pad while we bring home the bacon.
But preternaturally applying labels where they don’t belong, or exaggerating, is silly and unnecessary. I understand, and even sympathize with the urge to move through emotional uncertainty. Tidiness is kind of my thing.
Love, though, does not come from heart-shaped cookie cutters. And if that’s what we’re after, we should be honest with ourselves, and stop referring to our hookups, jump-offs, and two-date wonders as the real thing, lest we continue to annoy the shit out of our friends about the one that supposedly got away.