Questioning Societal Assumptions About Dating: I don’t have all the answers, but something seems fishy.

By Sumner Lewis

Dating is, in the simplest term, weird. It’s exhausting, exhilarating, confusing, and so much more. I’m a freshly 21-year-old woman and I am filled with questions; it’s overwhelming.

Why does the world focus on the ideal romance instead of a solid partnership? The everyday love and respect that makes up a good partnership doesn’t sell books or movies. Therefore, all we are fed through the media is the thrill of a new relationship: the honeymoon period. 

It’s the all-encompassing bliss that lasts anywhere between 6 months and a year at the beginning of a relationship. Once it wears away, the real life of the relationship begins and people typically either fall into a routine or fight and part ways.

Romance stories still have an audience (myself included) even if they do not fully reflect reality. They keep us on the edge of our seats, comfort us, and give us something to aspire to. Those of us who haven’t experienced running into the love of our lives at a coffee shop eat it up. 

Why do people believe that the right person “fixes” someone? People don’t fix other people; people fix themselves. Maybe someone comes along who helps them or inadvertently teaches them a lesson, but it’s the person in question doing the work to better themselves. 

A good partner can inspire someone to be the best person they can be. They can question comfort zones or destructive behavior. But it is up to the person to change themselves, and only if they want to. It also isn’t only romantic partners who can inspire change. It could be a friend, boss, therapist, parent, or anyone. Romantic partners don’t have the monopoly on inspiring self-improvement.

What is up with the sentiment that people become “whole” when they are with the right person? Comedian Daniel Sloss has an incredible monologue during his Jigsaw stand-up special that has broken up multiple couples. It makes the viewer assess their relationships and where they want to be in life. He uses an analogy where the core of one’s being is a jigsaw puzzle. 

No one has the image of what the puzzle is supposed to look like, so we start out with the edges: simple things that make up who we are such as family, friends, hobbies, etc. Once the edges are in place, most people think that the missing middle piece is a partner. They’ll be complete once they get that perfect person.

People believe this so much that they try to jam just anyone into that middle spot when their piece is the wrong shape. When it doesn’t fit, one has to acquiesce and change some part of their edge pieces, the foundation of who they are as a person, in order to fit that ‘perfect’ partner into their lives and finally be whole.

I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that a partner will be the center of my jigsaw puzzle. My future spouse won’t define who I am as a person, nor will they ‘complete’ me. I am already whole.

What’s the goal of dating? Society dictates that dating leads to a relationship, which leads to marriage. Using the transitive property, the goal of dating must be to find someone to marry.

Choosing who you are going to legally tie yourself to is a huge life decision. It’s not just about love; you have to think about who would be a good parent to your possible future children, who you can stand to cohabitate with. Are they good with finances? That question answers whether or not you’ll get a joint account together. If you do get a joint account, do they have student debt that you’ll now be paying off too?

The first couple of dates can test compatibility through similar likes, dislikes, and how easily you settle on an activity or restaurant. After that, time together should obviously be enjoyable, but it should also be spent exploring shared values and how you could feasibly live life together.

What about casual dates and official relationships? I don’t see the point of dating someone I won’t marry, but I also want diverse dating experiences so I can form my own first-hand opinions of relationships. Also, going on dates is super fun. You get to know new people, share experiences, and learn about what you do and don’t want in a future partner.

I enjoy the casual date and getting to know a person. I just don’t think I want to be in an official relationship until I’m sure that I’m vetting them for marriage. 

Entering an official relationship is a big decision to make. You have to want a life with the person you’re entering it with, not just to have them in your life. You have to want to do the work with them, to be a team against the problems in the world. It’s significant to be committed to someone even if there isn’t a legal document binding you together. No matter your age, having a significant other should be treated with gravity.

Why am I asking these questions? I have unpopular opinions about how we view dating as a society. I prefer to be a realist about it: whoever you marry will set the course for the rest of your life, and who you date will wind up being who you marry. 

Date smart. Figure out what you do and don’t want in a relationship and then only date those who fit the bill. In my case, it’s important to me that my spouse is also Jewish, so I only seriously date Jewish guys. Remember that your values and who you are as a person should not be compromised for anyone. A spouse should complement you (and compliment you, because we all love some good positive reinforcement).

It does seem daunting to be looking for a spouse in your early twenties. But if you analyze your dating life early, there might be less heartbreak involved in the future. I hope you find what you’re looking for out there in the dating world. I know someday I will.

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