Love Life

For Women Afraid of Commitment-This Is for You

A catch up with girlfriends over coffee invariably becomes an all out hash-fest about our love lives. We do not hesitate to dive into the juicy stuff: who-likes-whom, who broke up, or—as it seems everyone is doing lately—who got engaged. Like every girl, I swoon for my friends who found Mr. Right and live on Cloud 9 and rejoice for that girlfriend who is expecting her first son. With engagement rings in my news feed and wedding vows being exchanged every month, the long-held stigma that men are afraid of commitment seems passé. But while obsessing over the minute details of my own current relationship with various gal pals, I made a startling realization: I am not the only woman on the world who harbors a secret. In my life, my guy is not the one hesitating about marital commitment. I am.

As someone who has lived in Manhattan for years, I love the active life of singledom made possible by this concrete jungle. Far be it from me to worry when my guy is going to put a ring on it, or spend sleepless nights envisioning a future of owning cats and living alone. In some ways, I take pride in being “single and sensational.” I do not avoid commitment entirely, per se. On the contrary, I try to be deeply loving and devoted as a girlfriend, friend, sibling, daughter, and while working with my clients through my company.

When it comes to committing to someone in marriage, however, I feel a deep knot of anxiety in my stomach. After all, marriage is for life.

In those honest conversations with my girlfriends, we share our dreams to travel, to start our own companies, to write. The same vision, drive, independence, and sense of adventure with which we navigate our lives as individuals simultaneously makes us afraid to dedicate ourselves to one person in marriage. We toss around questions like "How do I know if thisguy is the one to donate everything to forever?" or "What if we change?” “What if I have to give everything up?” These questions pose challenges to which we seek answers.

“You need a healthy fear of marriage like you need a healthy fear of the ocean,” a friend poignantly remarked the other day. No sooner had she finished that phrase than my mind instantly flashed back to my first visit to the ocean as a gangly middle-schooler. I felt awkward and uncertain, not sure how to deal with the ebb and flow of the violent waves. I watched other people swimming around me, but my own body felt like a rag doll in a blender. I was warned to avoid rip tides and still insist that a crab bit my toe. It was exciting and energizing to be in such a foreign environment, but also mildly terrifying. Today, however, I have less fear of the ocean. I have learned how to swim in it and even surf the waves. If marriage can be likened to the ocean, I have learned a few lessons on how we women can overcome our fear:

We need to acclimate to the environment:

We do not live in the environment of marriage. Although the divorce rate has steadily declined in recent years with 70% college graduates remaining married after the 10 year mark, marriage rates amongst millennials are at an all-time low of just 26%. The average age of first marriage continues to climb to historic heights, now hovering between 27 for women and 29 for men. In large metropolitan cities where young adults congregate, we are not surrounded by others who are married. For this reason, it is hard to imagine what life will be like after we tie the knot. Our married friends become harder to reach by phone, text, and e-mail, triggering our fear that those who get married no longer have lives outside of their new little love cocoons. To solve this problem, it would be helpful to hear more stories from married couples about their happiness, and be invited into their homes to get to know their families. We already do the singles bar scene well; we need to learn how to navigate a new environment.

We need to see examples of others who have what we want:

Who doesn't love Kate Middleton and Prince William or Beyoncé and JZ? Although we know our marriages won’t completely resemble theirs, to my driven and ambitious girlfriends and myself, we enjoy seeing married couples who still travel, who still have a romantic spark, and who are still culturally or professionally engaged. I think on some level, we also want marriages that not only enrich our immediate community but also play a pivotal role together in the culture.

Since these examples are so few, I personally searched the eastern coast to hand-pick exemplary couples who inspire me for their passion, purpose, and romance together. Setting up my “marriage mentors” panel with couples who have been married between five and 30 years reminds me that the kind of marriage I want exists. When I am ready to freak out about a small miscommunication with my boyfriend (and so much more!), I email them for advice or check in once a month to hear stories of their happy marriages. At my fingertips is a wealth of wisdom and encouragement, which is a game-changer.

We need to learn how to do it:

Finally, for the same reasons that made the ocean scary as a young girl, my fear of marriage comes from not knowing exactly how to “do it.” I am afraid of being incompetent. I ask myself, how will I deal with the storms that will arise, the ebb and flow of passion that swells and then dissipates after the honeymoon phase is over? What if a marital rip tide comes along and I have no idea how to get out of it? Just like I needed a swim coach, sometimes it is helpful to surrender my uncertainty to someone else. If you are like me, it is okay to confess these fears to a professional. We might need a life-raft. It could be a marriage mentor, professional therapist, a communication class, or the courage to be brutally honest in a relationship where both parties avoid talking about certain issues. Competence breeds confidence, and sometimes accumulating more skills helps alleviate the fear.

Making a commitment to marry is a huge decision and a big unknown. While still single, it is helpful to get acclimated to the environment of marriage, find concrete examples of married couples who have the type of life and love we want, and learn practical skills to help us move forward. As I do these things, I am confident it is just a matter of time before I am ready to go out into the deep.

This article first appeared on The Everygirl by yours truly.

Fall in Love With A Real Person, Not an Idea

I was in high school and everyone was doing it. That is, making a list of the qualities our Mr. Right must possess. Forget the clichés–these lists went beyond merely tall, dark, and handsome to include minute details: adventurous yet patient, ambitious yet family man, chiseled like a Grecian god with, of course, the heart of a lion. After a painstaking hour of scribbling, I held up my full sheet and thought to myself, “He’ll have to be a deity.”

This was years before Lori Gottlieb conceived “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”. At my first glance at this book, I could feel my skin crawl as though someone were scratching their nails on a chalkboard. Settle? But what about my education, my dreams, my full passport, and big life plans? Wasn’t I supposed to find someone to match or better me, to keep my standards high?

Settling is a word that implies lack, as if suddenly I would be hooking myself to the ol’ ball and chain – a bleak prospect. Furthermore, settling has often resulted in unhappy and damaging relationships. And by the way, doesn’t everyone yearn for a love that draws us out of ourselves into a grand adventure?

Still, while settling might not be the answer, neither is the list of qualities.

The list reveals something telling – women often fall in love with an idea and not with a concrete person in reality. In this interview, Ms. Gottlieb explains her reasoning behind advocating that women “settle.” According to her, women sabotage their own happiness when their expectations extend beyond reality. For example, she shares that women are more likely to magnify trivial details (such as an odd Austin Powers impersonation) and overlook important issues (such as shared values) when evaluating a potential long-term romantic partner. In a survey, she asked whether women would be happy in love if their mate possessed 80 percent of their ideal qualities. Ninety-three percent of women replied in the negative.

Furthermore, when asked about what could be some reasons behind why a woman wouldn’t go on a second date with a prospect, women listed upwards of 300 various items that would hold them back. The “red flags” in question were often small concerns, such as “he wore a brown belt with black shoes and had funky style.”

And we women complain about the “lack of good guys” and “no dating.”

A recent Pew study observes that in 2010 only 44% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 were married. If marriage is something we truly desire, perhaps Ms. Gottlieb is on to something: it’s time for an attitude shift. Authentic love isn’t the result of a checklist about the precise specifications of our date’s fashion sense. Maybe it’s time to stop intellectualizing our idea of Mr. Right and look at Mr. Right Here with a more realistic eye.

Let’s take a minute to give some honest thought―what are those qualities that make for relationship satisfaction within a long-term relationship or marriage?

This article was written by me and first appeared at Verily Magazine.

 

 

Online Dating: Just an Endless Merry-Go-Round?

On a shuttle headed to the airport, I met a kindred spirit. She was an intelligent, successful former-pageant-model-turned-spokesperson forMiss America. Naturally, the conversation drifted to our love lives. She told the tale of meeting an attractive prospect through Match.com and dating him for a few months. He met her family, accompanied her to church, and the future looked bright. Until: “I’m just not ready for commitment,” said he. As quickly as he had arrived, he vanished into the fog of former faces that she had dated. “I just don’t understand why he was on a dating website, then! Wasn’t that the whole point?!” She wanted long-term commitment; he didn’t.

People everywhere are logging into an online world in search of that “it” factor. But the rise of online dating in recent years has altered the landscape of romantic relationships. According to the 2011 study, “How Has Internet Dating Changed Society?”, low quality marriages are being destroyed and the bar is raised when defining a good relationship, but people have become more disposable. While the results are clearly a mixed bag, it’s important to understand how virtual relationships alter the climate of commitment so that we can still achieve our hopes for love.

In the recent Atlantic article, “A Million First Dates,” Dan Slater takes a candid look at how online dating provides a wider access of meeting people, creating a perception of abundance. In the face of a litany of new prospects, dating becomes a numbers game-the “mass mailer approach” to love. When click after click provides access to a world of romantic possibility, young adults experience the “FOMO” syndrome, or “fear of missing out.” One can almost hear Bono singing, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Slater questions: What if the prospect of finding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?

Sure, it can be easy to be allured by the prospect of “what-if”; if you’re not looking for looking for another lap around the track, try these tweaks to help you focus.

Firstly, as my friend learned, it’s important to clearly state your expectations when evaluating a potential relationship. If your Mr. Perfect is looking for holiday arm candy and you’re hoping for a year-round commitment, find this out sooner rather than later.

Secondly, if you have found someone interesting, consider deactivating your online profile. Nothing is so distracting as getting notifications on your phone while heading home from a great date stating that “Ben26457” sends you a wink.

Thirdly, speaking of phones, am I the only one who doesn’t like them out during a date? I’ve seen phones resting on the table too many times to count. It sends the message that “I’m here with you, until things get boring and then I’ll be elsewhere.” Dan Slater describes one gentlemen who fielded texts from prospects throughout a dinner date. Put yours away and be present. The simple act of courtesy speaks volumes.

Finally, with the ease of meeting people online, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that one should have a gut feeling instantly whether this is “it.” And while sometimes this happens, don’t underestimate the value of a second look, or fail to remember that compatibility is something that is created together.

With so many prospects, does online dating make it more difficult to fall in love? Maybe. While online dating can be a helpful tool to start an interaction, take care to navigate the waters thoughtfully when getting to know a real live person. Behind the smiling face and pleasantries, the favorite movie and elite hobby, there’s another beating heart searching for that same “it” factor.

This article was written by me and first appeared at Verily Magazine.