A complicated relationship with relationships

staff note

I’m 19 years old, and I’ve never been in a relationship.

I suppose that isn’t particularly earth-shattering. My generation is one of MTV dating shows and AIM chat rooms (now a mere remnant of the past), a cohort reared by the internet and inundated with its progressive notions of relationships. We’ve rebranded “hookup culture” with the creation of Tinder and embraced its casual nature. It’s completely normal not to be in a long-term, monogamous relationship, or never to have dated at all.

And yet that doesn’t make me any less bitter when a couple strolls in front of me on the sidewalk, holding hands and exchanging smiles. It doesn’t lessen the sharp sting I feel when I watch a film and the main characters fall in love or when an especially romantic Etta James song comes on. Heartache and longing consume me with an unrelenting fervor — I want a Sunday kind of love, too.

Boys weren’t really interested in dating me in middle or high school. In hindsight, I realize their inattention was a gift — God, who has the emotional bandwidth to deal with relationship drama and the throes of adolescence simultaneously? — but at the time, it hurt me immensely. I wanted so badly to love someone. Wes Anderson films and sappy TV shows had molded me into a hopeless romantic, a girl who wasn’t very pretty or popular but regularly daydreamed about the first boy she’d ever date and methodically crafted mixtapes for her potential suitor. I thought being in a relationship was the highest form of emotional fulfillment I could ever feel with another person.

But the longer I daydream and construct false, yet always so lovely, realities, the more afraid of dating I become. The motions aren’t unfamiliar to me: I’ve exchanged phone numbers and kisses, I’ve gone to dinners and sat through movies, I’ve (remorsefully) been on Tinder. I’ve even fallen in love, as one-sided and haphazard as being in love can possibly be. But I’ve never had a person with whom I can share everything  — my smallest thoughts (you’ll never guess what I saw on the way to the grocery store today) and my biggest worries (am I a good person?), my corporeal form, my romantic inclinations and the mundanities in between. 

Somehow, though, those indications of a relationship are intensely familiar. The way I love my family and my friends — fiercely, without reservations or apologies — is curiously close to what I assume it’s like to be romantically entangled with someone. I know my loved ones like the back of my hand; I can name their quirks and mannerisms and hopes and dreams as easily as I can recite the alphabet. While my friends and I are not sexually intimate, we fashion our own kinds of intimacy, from sharing difficult secrets to cooking meals together to crying with each other when life feels impossible to live. I’ve never had a thought or experience that I felt I couldn’t share with one of my friends, and they’ve only ever encircled me with warmth and support. My loved ones form the backbone of my existence.

I keep imagining and searching for this Other Half, whom I’m supposed to love like I’ve never loved anyone before, with whom I’ll fashion an entirely secret world of inside jokes and memories and moments that’s unseen to everyone but us. It’ll be special and intense and fulfilling, unable ever to be fully captured or replicated. 

But why am I only allowed to feel this way about one person? I don’t consider myself a half, but a composite — a complex mosaic of everyone who’s ever been proximate to me, irrevocably changed (for better or worse) by the friendships I’ve had. Each of my friends and I have our own tiny universe between us, a shared history that only we are privy to, and that’s okay — love doesn’t need to be withheld or reserved for it to be meaningful.

So I’m scared for what my first relationship might hold, but I’m not entirely unknowing of what giving myself to another person will be like. And, as painful as it might be that I don’t have anyone with whom I can sing romantic songs or hold hands as we stroll, I have an entire circle of people who are willing to share their existences with me. Their experiences and thoughts and wishes and worries are mine, too, a load that I carry without feeling encumbered or burdened but, rather, fulfilled. (After all, as Bojack Horseman says, “In this terrifying world, all we have are the connections that we make.”) A life well-lived, I believe, is one spent cultivating meaningful friendships and spreading my love as far as it can possibly go.

I think it’s time I stopped daydreaming and moodily listening to love songs. Yes, I’ve never been in a relationship, but my loved ones are enough. Every day I choose them, and every day they choose me — perhaps that’s exactly what I’ve wanted all along. 

Nina Wilder is a Trinity sophomore and the Recess Managing Editor.


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