by Ben Howard
I don't watch the Bachelor or the Bachelorette with any regularity, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the show when I do. In my defense, I love sports and the sport of competitive dating is no different. But I also love fairy tales and the Bachelor/ette is, at its core, a fairy tale. It's a fictional story of people who fall in love in a magical land and live happily ever after. The show ends happily ever after; pay no attention to the broken engagement behind the curtain.
I've always been a hopeless romantic at heart, so I often give myself over to fairy tale daydreams of love. I don't just want love and a wife, I want a story, and a good one at that. I want one of those stories that you tell your kids for like eight years and becomes the basis for a hit sitcom on CBS. Simple enough, right?
But there's another side to me that's deeply rational and a bit cynical. This is the side that is over fairy tales and the artistic machinations of love. This is the side that talks me into signing up for dating websites.
Everybody has a dating website. JDate if you're Jewish. Christian Mingle if you're a Christian. OKCupid if you're poor and/or bored with normal humans. Personally, after a fair amount of internet dating experimentation, I've settled on eHarmony. It's like dating, but with more math and less of that messy personal interaction.
Seriously, it's fantastic. You can work through a list of potential matches to see which one's short answer writing style sets your heart aflutter. Personally, I weed out all matches that set off personal pet peeve alarms. This includes anyone who says they read Captivating or Twilight unironically as well as anyone who refers to God with capitalized pronouns (unless they were feminine pronouns, then I might be intrigued).
I've even re-worked my own profile multiple times. I've written it serious and straight-forward, manic and ridiculous, gentle and sweet, and, most recently, semi-honestly. I use the best picture I've ever taken as my profile picture, even though it's more than two years old and it only shows half my face. I just really want people to see the best version of me, which coincidentally, is only tangentially related to who I really am.
This is insane. This is ridiculous. This is real life.
Sometimes I'll joke that I really want to start a relationship six months in, or better yet, like six years in. I want to be comfortable and vulnerable with the other person now. I want to trust them now. I want them to understand my weird quirks and my occasionally bizarre anti-social behavior now. I want to be known, but I don't want to go through that messy, awkward process of letting someone get to know me.
I'm caught in this trap, really we all are, between who I am and who I'd like you to think I am. The first is comfortable for me, but I'm scared you won't like it. The second one causes me deep anxiety, but I enjoy the affirmation.
Though this seems disingenuous, I'm not certain that it is. Maybe we have to let people get to know our somewhat artificial, definitely superficial selves before they can get to know the beautiful/frightening person on the inside.
I've had friendships that were birthed out of emotional difficulty. They are wonderful and I love these friends very much, but there is a problem. It's hard to be normal friends with them, it's hard to just hang out. We can talk about life and death and pain and suffering and I know things about them and they know things about me that I wouldn't share with another soul, but a normal conversation sometimes eludes us.
I don't think we earn the really valuable, long-lasting relationships we crave unless we go through the mess and anxiety of learning about each other slowly, over time. I think we need the often frustrating path towards trust and friendship and love. We don't need a fairy tale, because they aren't real, but I don't know if we need formulas either, because they aren't true.
Love is insane. Love is ridiculous. Love is real life.
Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87.
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