During my first week at Duke, my advisor asked me, “What is one thing you want to accomplish during your four years here?” My answer came without hesitation: “I want to be in a long-term relationship.” I arrived here tired of high school relationships, freed from parental oversight and optimistic that love was waiting for me in college. It seemed inevitable that love would find me in a place of peers who checked all the boxes I had: intellect, drive and personality. But, three years later, I still have not accomplished that ever-elusive goal. I am single, with a few relationships behind me, and unsure if I have ever been in love.
I have met people who would make fantastic partners, but I turn them down with the excuse that I am too busy to date. Or, perhaps awkwardly, I have met people I am willing to make time for who do not feel the same way for me. During the couple of times that I had jumped into a relationship, I never felt content. I was convinced that the relationship was one of convenience—that it was there to occupy a lonely void in my life and that it would eventually fizzle away when we got too busy. These conclusions always turned out to be true, albeit “true” from a rear-view perspective. It is possible that my relationships have had moments of true and mutual love, but I have always walked away from them skeptical. I surely fit the stereotype of ‘cynical college student jaded by failed attempts at love.’
The intention to fall in love is there. My parents have a strong marriage, and I have always sought to emulate their commitment in my own relationships. I actively seek out monogamy and need it. I want a partner who becomes my best friend and someone I can learn from. I want to be these same things for my partner as well; I want a relationship founded upon give-and-take. But for some reason, every relationship has become a barrier, a burden, a task that requires constant maintenance with ever diminishing returns.
It is a dilemma neither unique to me nor to Duke. Many of my college peers, at Duke and beyond, complain about the lack of long-term prospects at their schools. We all want to date, but it just never seems to work out. Sometimes it is our partners’ faults; other times it is our own. Many of us have no viable candidates to date; others have too many to focus on just one. Time, distance, lack of options and geography become the go-to excuses for failure. Summer romances always seem destined for failure, because how can we date once we return to school? I am equally skeptical of starting a relationship my senior year, because what will happen when I graduate?
Am I really too busy to date, though? People say if I really want something, I will make time for it. Well, I do really want to date, but the time is still a barrier. Other people say that love is not something you can look for, but something that finds you. That is hard advice for a proactive college student to swallow—advice that obviously will not work if everyone is just sitting around waiting to be found. Most people say I have not found the right person and that all this pessimism will be submerged in the wake of true love. That is definitely a possibility, but an unsatisfactory consolation nonetheless, since it again leaves love to destiny.
Maybe I am not ready for commitment—and by “commitment,” I do not mean faithfulness. By “commitment,” I mean the long haul—the recognition that relationships have ups and downs, long periods of boredom and a lot more give than take. I arrived at college with the boundless freedom to date whenever, but that same freedom makes it impossible to do so. I enjoy being single too much, not for the hedonism, but for the freedom that comes with not being reigned in. I enjoy being able to only worry about my concerns—to not be constantly attempting to understand someone else’s qualms and emotions. I clearly am not as selfless as I would like to be.
There is always the concern that my standards are too high. Maybe I am perpetuating my own loneliness by refusing to start something with someone who does not fit my idea of what love should look like. If that is the case, how do I fix it? ‘Letting go’ or ‘being more open’ is frustrating advice to hear—maybe because I refuse to let go of my standards. Conversely, it is also quite possible that none of this is my fault and that I have just been unlucky in my selections. Frustratingly enough, it is impossible to know which is the case.
These are all dubious musings. They are dubious because they are whiny complaints, crafted by an impatient young adult who wants to discover the idea of love now. But these musings also stem from the worry that being single says more about my inability to find love than it does about personal choice. Did I really want to be in a long-term relationship when I came to college, or did I feel like it was just time? Am I too picky or just unlucky?
Perhaps, most importantly, am I the only one who feels this way?
Patrick Oathout is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Patrick on Twitter @patrickoathout.