Modern Love


In my 2 decades, I have had my share of trysts. I’ve been in love. I know it was love because I shamelessly clung to him. I have had my share of ups and downs but have no idea if I’m doing the whole love thing right or wrong. We don’t tend to define it that way.

In this age of cyberselves, with hookups just a Craigslist ad away, the game has evolved to the point of no rules. It’s not the ’50s where you can be asked by some boy to wear his pin and take a ride in his daddy’s car.

For my generation, friendship often morphs into a flirtatious encounter and then reverts to friendship the next day. And it’s easy as long as you don’t put yourself on the line or try too hard. Don’t have a prospect? Check Facebook. Afraid to call? Text.



With so many avenues for communication, one might expect an onslaught of romantic soliloquies, but that isn’t the case. Casual is sexy. Caring is creepy. You don’t want to show your hand, and you certainly don’t want to fall in love. At least until you do, and by then it’s too late.

Planned romance is viewed as nothing more than ambition, so it’s important that things be allowed to happen naturally.

Relationships are great but not to the point that they should be actively pursued. It’s hard to even flirt with a boy without feeling obvious and embarrassed, since the greatest displays of cheesiness come from the pursuit, making it disgusting: “Oh, you drive a Volvo? What’s that like?” Realizing I’m flirting, I cringe and do my best to restrain myself. An encounter is best when unsullied by intentions, leaving lust or boredom to take over.

The typical sequence goes like this: Friends meet up at some sort of bonfire or impromptu game of night volleyball. Maybe that boy from your history class is there, and you start to talk. Neither of you has expectations. But just hanging out and swapping stories, laughing a little, creates a spark and the attraction builds, eventually leading to the big wet kiss (or what have you) that changes everything and nothing.

This is the perfect hookup, a pressure-free surprise. With a stranger, everything is new and acceptable. His quirks are automatically endearing. This first encounter is the perfect place, but where does it lead?

In the best case, nowhere at all. The next time you see him in class, you act the same as you did before, and so does he, except for the knowledge you share that what happened last week might happen again. If it continues, you have an understanding, physical chemistry and great conversations. You meet two or three times a week for no-strings hangout and long-winded philosophical talks.

Most importantly, you aren’t lonely. Maybe deep in the recesses of your mind you think about possibly loving this person. What’s the standard response? Nothing. If he asks, “How do you feel about me?” you answer from the heart: “I see you as an unexpected treat from the heavens. I don’t know how I deserve this.”

Your relationship is good. Your relationship is strong. But it isn’t a relationship, and that’s the key. You aren’t hoping he will become your boyfriend, and ideally he is not looking for anything more, either.

I might not be a typical youth, and maybe my friends aren’t typical, either, but hardly anyone I know aspires to be “that guy” or “that girl,” those once-dynamic individuals who “found someone” and suddenly weren’t so cool. On some level, we envy the scope of their feelings, but we certainly don’t want to become them.

But staying out of relationships can be just as much work as maintaining one. After hooking up with the same person several times I’m sometimes haunted by the “Relationship Status” question on Facebook, and I’ll linger over the button, wondering whether to make the leap from fun to obligation. I envision holding hands, meeting his parents and getting matching t-shirts.

Then I come to my senses and close the window.

Maybe this disconnect has always existed. As one 60-year-old said to me, “Every generation thinks they discovered love.” Which might be true, but I’m not sure any previous generation has our plethora of options and utter lack of protocol. This may reflect how our media obsession has desensitized and hypersexualized us.

But I think it goes beyond that. Our short attention spans tend to be measured in nanoseconds. We float from room to room watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing Frisbee and finding satisfaction around every corner, if only for a moment.

Out of fear, we shrink ourselves. There have been many times I should have cried but stifled the tears. Instances where I should have said, “I love you” but made a joke instead. I’m fairly certain I could have saved the entire endeavor with a soul-baring soliloquy of what was true and what mattered to me, but I couldn’t muster the courage. I don’t know many who can.

We’ve grown up in an age of rampant divorce and the accompanying tumult. The idea that two people can be happy together, maturing alongside each other, seems as false as a fairy tale. So when a relationship ends, it isn’t seen as bad. It’s held as evidence that the relationship was never any good to begin with.

MAYBE it’s just that we have learned nothing can compare to the perfect moment of the unexpected hookup — wet lips on the beach, lying in the sand — and so we aim to accumulate as many as possible. Or maybe we’re simply too immature to commit. That has been the rap against guys forever, but now women think the same way. With the world at our fingertips, it’s difficult to choose, to settle, to compromise. But I do occasionally wonder: If we can’t get past ourselves and learn to sacrifice to be with another, then what is in store? A generation of selfish go-getters fueled by nothing more than our own egos, forever seeking that rare dose of self-esteem? An era of loneliness filled with commercial wants and mate selection based on the shallowest of criteria?

As a staunch proponent of my generation, I believe that, despite what it may seem, we appreciate the ways of love and affection but are simply waiting for them to take over. We might dally in the land of easy hookups and stilted text-message flirtation, but deep down we crave the warm embrace of all-consuming love.

I do, anyway. What else could have been behind my crazy idea to go out with someone?