Love: Expectations v. Reality

Love is everywhere. From the time we are born, we see love happening around us in real life and portrayed in movies, music, books, and other media. We see Valentine’s Day celebrated each February. We hear about weddings and people becoming “married”. We hear that Aunt so-and-so is getting a “divorce”. Our older sibling now has a “boyfriend”.

We begin to love too. We have loved for so long that we can’t remember when it began. Maybe it starts in the womb? Maybe it begins when our mom first smiles at us and holds us in her arms. Regardless, it’s a natural part of our lives as children. We love our families, our pets, our friends, and we love our favorite stuffed animal or toy.

Very early on, we form an idea of this “love”. We fantasize about other love in the future. Someday we want to be a mommy too. Someday we want more pets to love and snuggle. Someday we want a boyfriend. Someday we want to get married like Ariel and Prince Eric. Our understanding and expectations of love change drastically throughout our lives.

I clearly remember my childhood expectations of love. In 5th grade we had to write an autobiography. Our final paragraph was about our future plans. I had it all figured out. I wanted to get married when I was 23. I would have 9 dogs: 1 German shepherd, 1 husky, 6 shepherd/husky puppies, and a chihuahua. I’d start having children at 25: 3 boys, 3 girls, and adopt a little girl from one of those sad places I saw on TV.

Yeah…expectations change.

Everything we see and experience influences our perceptions–especially at a young age. Some of these earliest impressions of love in American culture are quite skewed. Too much emphasis is placed on joint happiness rather than personal happiness. Personally, I feel its a huge cause of dissatisfaction in marriages. The needs of the couple eclipse the needs of the self, or it’s conceived that partner needs are the same as one’s personal needs. People have to tend to themselves first.

It seems that more people are realizing this invaluable truth. At 26, I have very few friends who are already married. Those who are married, were together for an extended time period (5-7 years) before tying the knot. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2019, the median age of first marriage was approximately 28 for women and 30 for men. Aside from the fact that life expectancy has increased over the years, I think that personal happiness and dreams are beginning to precede the “American dream”. We are headed in the right direction of cultural value shift, however, we aren’t yet where we need to be.

Over time, I have also experienced a value shift regarding love and its connection to personal fulfillment. In high school I remember wanting a boyfriend so badly. I thought I would be happy if I just had a special someone. It would be perfect. Why? If anything, my few crappy high school relationships were just that. Crappy high school relationships. I learned from each one and grew. I thought I met the love of my life. He cheated on me with someone who was also cheating on her boyfriend. Ha. Yeah–it made me so happy. No one knows what they want out of a relationship when they are 17.

But this time I had it figured out for sure! In 12th grade, our high school newspaper published a seniors article. It featured a brief bio of each senior and their college/future plans. I wrote that I would be attending Penn State University in the fall. I planned to settle down in central PA and live on a huge farm with lots of animals and a big family.

Yeah…expectations change.

Then came college– certainly I would find the love of my life there! Again, not true.
What? If you don’t meet someone in high school or college where do you find true love?
Ugh! Why is that ingrained in our brains? Oh yes, you will find true love by the ripe ol’ age of 22. Once again, you don’t know what you want out of life when you are 22.

But why? WHY do we think our love life will be complete in our early twenties?
Again– everything we see and experience influences our perceptions. It was normal, if not expected to be married at a young age in previous generations. My parents were both 23 when they were married. Even my sister, who is ten years older than me, was mas married at 25. Aside from personal experiences, possibly the main source of our somewhat outrageous expectations of love is fiction. Books, movies, TV shows, plays, and music–all of these things are overflowing with depictions of love.

It bothers me that most stories have the protagonist end up with the love of their life. I get it— it’s good storytelling. We like seeing characters fulfill all of their life’s dreams. The story might not feel complete otherwise. I guess the part that bothers me is truly the timing of it all. Our hero saves the day, escapes the hardships of their everyday life, figures out their internal struggles, finds and marries their true love all in a nice concise time span.

It’s okay to have finding true love on your list of things you want to accomplish in life. Just don’t expect it to happen before you figure out some personal goals.

Love is a journey. You have to experience all of the terrible first dates, crappy high school relationships, and heartbreak to figure out what you really want. Decide what is important and don’t compromise on it. There is someone who wants the same thing. The journey doesn’t end there. When you find the right person, your journeys become intertwined. They do NOT merge. They simply flow alongside one another.

I used to think that what I wanted out of a relationship was wrong. I wanted a companion. Sure I wanted to go out on fun dates, but I wanted someone who could just hang out with me at home too. Previously, I had boyfriends who didn’t want to hang out more than once or twice a week. I thought I was asking for too much. I thought I had to settle, but I just hadn’t met someone yet who wanted the same thing as me. It is incredibly validating to have that now. Don’t ever feel like what you want in a relationship is wrong. If your partner disagrees, they just might not be the one for you.

So now, at 26 I have it all figured out. I have a boyfriend and two cats. I want…….
To wait and see what happens next.

You can’t expect your life to happen on a time frame. You have to let it happen naturally. It is so fun to think about and plan for the future! Work for it, but don’t put ridiculous constraints on yourself. Plan on getting married one day, but please don’t say, “I’ll be married by 28.” It doesn’t matter when it happens. All that matters is your happiness.

And honestly, you don’t know what you want sometimes until you have it.

References
United States Census Bureau. (November, 2019). Median age at first mariage: 1890 to present. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/families/marital.html

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