A Quick Lesson (and Rant) on Love

My senior year English teacher once stopped class to give a bunch of hopeless teenagers a lesson on love.

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“Get out a piece of paper,” she said sternly, her usual intricate gray bun sitting imperiously atop her head. Her hair – as she told us – reached below her knees when she loosened it out of its bun. She never cut her hair after high school, save for a few trims, as was the Native American tradition her Pawnee grandfather had taught her. Dr. Lara was by far one of the most interesting teachers I ever had in my educational career (which is saying something, since my 50-year-old communication applications teacher once had a screaming fight with her boyfriend in the middle class over the phone). (Also I had an English teacher claim that Julius Caesar was essentially Jesus Christ because they both had the initials “J.C.” But that’s beside the point.)

“Get out a piece of paper,” she commanded, “and write down three things you look for in a romantic partner.”

I blanked for a second. What do I even look for in a person? I realized I never looked for specific traits, I was either attracted to someone or not. I never really thought about why.

…Intelligence, I wrote down. Kindness. I couldn’t think of a third. I could think of a lot of qualities, but none that I considered an Ultimate Character Trait.

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“Next, write down three things that you would never want in a romantic partner. Three deal-breakers.”

Violent/brutal. I paused for a bit. Ignorant. Untrustworthy.

“Now, move your desks in a circle.” And then there was the usual cacophony of chairs scraping against carpet and backpacks shuffled about and pencils rolling off desks.

“Alright, Ms. Shankar,” (She never called us by our first names.) “Tell us what three things you look for in a romantic partner.”

Rayna (aka Ms. Shankar) smiled confidently – always the extrovert and always fiercely unembarrassed by any situation.

“I said, funny, smart, and fine af.”

There was a ripple of small smiles around the room.

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“Most young people – teens and preteens – look for physical beauty in a significant other,” Dr. Bissett spoke carefully, “but in doing so, you can be limiting yourself from several compatible romantic partners. Additionally, as you fall in love with someone, everything associated with them – their appearance, their personality, their passions – these all become beautiful to you. So I wouldn’t worry about physical attraction as a top priority in looking for a relationship.”

“However, I do agree with your first two criteria. It is easy to share your life with someone who won’t bore you, who has the mental capacity to understand your complexities. And it is even easier to share your life with someone who has your sense of humor, who can make you laugh.”

I looked down at my piece of paper. Of course. That would complete my trifecta of Mr. Perfect’s character traits. I wrote down “sense of humor” next to “intelligence” and “kindness.”

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It’s been about a year since that spring day when we were all just struggling through another class period, counting down the days until graduation. I didn’t realize then how keeping in mind a three-point criterion for a date would help my love life. But I think I get the purpose of it now. It’s helped me avoid chasing after the wrong guys or chasing after romantic notions of “this guy isn’t exactly Mr. Right, but I can change him!!” It’s helped me avoid wasting my time on kindling relationships that I know won’t work out. It’s put something concrete and objective to a very abstract, subjective thing – love. And at least for now, the organization helps. Because the rom coms, the chick flicks, and the Romeo/Juliets hardly prepared me for the reality of romance. This did.

I’ve modified my list a bit. It’s now “intelligence,” “humor,” and “compassion,” because not only do I want my S/O to be a nice person, I want him or her to be a person who cares deeply about humanity and the world.

And here’s my two cents of experience. I’ve found guys who are tear-inducingly hilarious. I’ve found guys who are arousingly smart. (Intelligence is the new sexy after all.) But I have yet to find someone truly and genuinely compassionate from the micro level of caring for a baby brother to the macro level of worldwide politics. At least, it doesn’t show itself often.

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So why is this? Why isn’t a passion for kindness something that we promote in our outer personalities, something that shines out of us radiantly? Boys will make stupid jokes to catch a girl’s attention (their version of humor). Boys will show off their sharp wit and acute cleverness by cracking more stupid jokes and occasionally answering a question correctly in class (their version of intelligence). But, from my experience, few boys will go out of their way to perform a random act of kindness or stand up for someone against their friends or rail against the evils of homophobia or even simply offer their jackets when it’s cold to impress a girl. What is it about fiercely, bravely, and confidently being nice that is so scary? What is it about compassion that is so damn hard?

But I suppose it’s unfair to blame it on the male population. Looking at it all on a grander scale, the world isn’t totally short of funny people or smart people. The rarest element of all is compassion. I know my special someone will be special, because he will be compassionate. And if it took one day in a 12th grade English class to learn that, then hey, maybe my entire grade school education wasn’t a waste.

 

 

How a Cynical Romantic Got a Tinder and Why She’s Kept It

A friend got drunk and made me a Tinder. That’s what I tell them. It’s passive, casual. I’m not the desperate one; my friends are just being friends. We’re all more normal and the problem of who’s to blame or who’s desperate for love or who wants to hook up is solved, or left purposely ambiguous.

It is technically how I got one. But that doesn’t explain why I let her nor why I have yet to delete said Tinder account. Often it’s the why not the how that’s so much more interesting, because the why is where it doesn’t make sense.

After all, the cynic in me says wtf are you doing. The cynic in me says love is just a superficial emotion based on the seductively deceptive belief that beauty is goodness. That beauty is love. The cynic in me says Tinder is just a way to perpetuate that superficiality by making uninformed decisions based on six or less photographs and a generic bio of “I like music and working out.” You would think that the entire male population in America likes music and working out and that’s all folks. Music, work out, sleep, repeat.

The romantic in me says WTF ARE YOU DOING in all caps. The romantic in me says THE WHOLE POINT OF YOU KNOWING LOVE IS SUPERFICIAL IS THAT YOU CAN BE ABOVE ALL THAT YOU DUMBBUTT. GET OFF TINDER, DELETE YOUR ACCOUNT, it demands. Romance can be found in hopeless places. You can have a real connection with real people off of a screen. Someone will come along and love you for who you are without you having to sell your soul to a dating app. It’s pleading now, begging me to stop. And when I don’t, the romantic in me sighs, laments, weeps.

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I have to admit swiping right on cute guys can be fun at first. Matching with cute guys? Even better. Until you’ve accumulated 50 matches and you’re feeling kind of dead inside. What’s the purpose of this? So many fish in the sea and they’ll all swipe right so it seems. So many fish in the sea but none of them are really for me. I suddenly have mixed feelings about it, mostly negative feelings. I don’t feel special, I just feel like another face on Tinder. I feel predated on, part of some sexist community of boys who see women as conquests. Most of all, I’m disgusted with myself. Why am I still doing this? Why do I keep coming back to the app like some unhealthy relationship? I’m suddenly tied to this sick, self-validating cycle of swiping right and seeing how many matches I can collect. Why am I talking to strange men? Is it to make myself feel better after years and years and years of sitting around waiting, thinking ‘what is wrong with me’ as other boys dated other girls and I just somehow always was forgotten? Lizzie’s so pretty. I’m going to ask Yasmin to prom next week. And then, oh yeah, there’s Francie. She’s alright, I guess.

It’s easy – so easy – to fall prey to loneliness. Part of why I’m still on Tinder is self-validation. I’m floored and flabbergasted and somewhat flattered that someone could find me remotely attractive. After rejection, crush after crush of going nowhere, four high school years with no first boyfriend, no first date, not even a first kiss, it’s hard to believe that I’d ever be noticed. It’s a twisted way for me to confirm my self-worth. As a romantic, it’s a desire to be romanticized as much as I romanticize others. I see the world through a lens of literary tragedy; I see everyone as a storybook character. It makes the world that much more beautiful. Subconsciously, I think it’s my turn. I want to be seen as someone’s protagonist, someone’s love interest, someone’s romantic hero. A girl with sad brown eyes who listens to Matchbox 20 and goes to arboretums – what a gem, what a catch. I just want to feel unique; I just want to feel like art.

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Then again, part of why I’m still on Tinder is wishful thinking. That’s also my old pal, the romantic in me. I want a purpose from all this, as if there is one.  I want that cute guy in my human geo class that I matched with to whip around one day as he’s heading out the door and ask “So why’d you swipe right?” And then I’d mysteriously answer “curiosity” before leaving in a sexual tension-charged blaze of glory, the perfect start of a beautifully intellectual relationship.

And another part of why I’m still on Tinder is the overestimation of my ability to flirt and not be awkward. Like I could ever answer a question about love confidently. I can barely wink. But something in me says that if the stars align and I play my cards right, I can flirt my way into true love.

These are misconceptions about myself and about love. I’m inexperienced, innocent, and way too young to be flirting with college graduates. I’m a girl who stays up until 2 AM writing blog posts about unrequited love. I’m not a hookup girl, I’m just a sad romantic. Sad romantics belong on Tumblr, not Tinder.

Yet I’d be lying if I said that I deleted my Tinder account. Maybe it’s my Stockholm syndrome speaking, but maybe the curiosity isn’t such a terrible thing. Maybe I keep coming back because I’m still trying to figure out why I keep coming back. I’m still trying to figure out who I am and what I want in a relationship. And maybe, hopefully, somebody will jerk me back to my senses and make me realize why I don’t need a Tinder account and have never needed one. And maybe, hopefully, that somebody is me.

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