The other day, my mom said something that scared me.
We were having one of our typical phone chats — talking about our respective days, “Dancing With the Stars,” and eventually, one of my recent dates that left me feeling a little defeated and deflated. “All I’m looking for,” I sighed, “is someone I can have a better time with, than I can by myself.”
“Oh, honey.” I could just see her standing in her kitchen, shaking her head. “That’s a very tall order.”
She was absolutely right … but so was I, dammit. In fact, I’d heard a similar sentiment from several of my single friends on various occasions. What was the point of a better half if they didn’t make you, um, better somehow? As products of the much-maligned “millennial” generation, many of us were fortunate to grow up without the pressure to hop onto the marriage train at College Station and transfer to the Baby Express at 25th Birthday Street. Instead, the focus was on getting educated, traveling, building a great career, and having fun with friends. And why shouldn’t it be? There’s plenty of life to be lived and enjoyed, with or without a partner.
Plus, almost every pop culture creation that emerged during my formative teen years seemed to echo this mentality. I was in awe of Julia Stiles’ stubborn, snarky character in “10 Things I Hate About You,” and Destiny’s Child, who harmonized about the merits of being an independent woman. Hell yeah, I bought the shoes on my feet and the clothes I’m wearing! My 14 year-old self bopped along; I was too young to fully relate to being an “independent woman,” but that lyric “I depend on me” stuck with me. It made me feel secure. It made me feel badass. Above all, it reminded me that I was the only one responsible for my own happiness. If Beyonce didn’t need a man, why would I?
What I’ve noticed, though, is that while us ladies were absorbing and embracing this independence, our male counterparts were apparently getting the same spiel: “Date around,” “Don’t get serious too quickly,” “Take your time.” Over and over again, the bottom line for all of us seemed to be “Don’t settle.” And it’s great advice. Sensible advice. Reassuring advice. But sometimes, I worry that I’ve heeded it a little too strongly, and I can’t help but wonder if all this self-reliance has taken a toll on modern dating and relationships.
Don’t worry, I’m not going all Princeton Mom on y’all. I’m just legitimately curious as to whether the lack of pressure to pair off these days has put our potential partners at a disadvantage before the first date even begins. With no real impetus to settle down, when does the search end? More importantly, will we really recognize when we’ve found someone worth ending the search for?
A couple years ago, Zosia Mamet from “Girls” summed it up perfectly on “Conan” when she said, “90 percent of the time when I go on dates, I’m thinking, ‘I could be reading my book instead.’”
Though that may sound like a slight against the dude(s) in question, I’m not so sure. I’ve had many a perfectly pleasant conversation with a perfectly nice guy over a perfectly wonderful dinner, and still found my mind wandering to the bliss and comfort of the cup of tea, the unoccupied couch, and the RSS feed that await me when I return home. It’s not that I don’t like him, necessarily. It’s just that, well, I like myself a little more.
On the other hand, it seems silly to believe that we’re all destined to Instagram lame online dating messages until the end of time, never feeling like anyone fits the bill quite as much as a large pepperoni pizza and our Netflix queue. And maybe, just maybe, our stubbornness is actually working in our favor rather than to our detriment. Maybe our independence is allowing us to create relationships that are even more solid, more stable, more worthy of our time and our affection in the long run. Maybe us kids are alright after all.