The other week I went to a screening of The Dating Project, a new documentary about the current state of dating culture. The documentary seems to have sprung from the mind of Boston College philosophy fellow Kerry Cronin, who for over ten years has given her students an assignment to actually ask someone out on a date, giving them very clear guidelines on how to do so: do it in person, make an actual plan for the date that does not involve alcohol or a group activity, and don’t let the date last longer than 90 minutes. Apparently, the assignment came out of a lecture that Cronin was giving where a student raised their hand and actually wanted to know how to ask someone out on a date. As in, what were the specific words to use to ask someone out.
The truth is that these days we have no script for dating or adulthood in general, and we’ve never been taught how to improvise. And that lack of a script can sometimes be paralyzing.
I’ve never been one to live my life by conventional standards. School, work, relationships; I’ve always found myself on more alternative paths. I don’t say this as an attempt to romanticize my life; it’s not always fun to live a life that others don’t understand. But as I have gotten older I have learned to appreciate and be grateful for my nonconforming tendencies (rebellious and stubborn would also be accurate adjectives). It has allowed me to see that there are so many more possibilities in how to live a life than most of us are even aware of. I didn’t follow a standard career path (or even really have a plan) after graduating college, and yet God in His mercy and grace has given me the opportunity to do exactly what I have always wanted to do: write the things I want to write and on my own schedule. My life still doesn’t look how other people would expect it to, but it works for me and I’m grateful to be exactly where I am.
Romance is another arena that has always looked a little different for me. I’ve gone on dates but would never say that I’ve seriously “dated”, and at 31 years old that can strike people as a bit strange. Like Cronin’s students, sometimes this was because I simply didn’t know how to go about dating in the first place. I’ve lived through times where I was completely miserable about this fact, partly because I was lonely but mostly because our culture had taught me that I was supposed to be miserable if I wasn’t in a relationship. But my singlehood is again something that I have learned to be grateful for. I’m grateful for my unbroken heart. I’m grateful for a certain lack of regrets. I’ve had challenges and heartache in enough other areas of my life that I am quite content to experience romantic drama only in my fiction.
The narratives we are given in movies and TV shows of what life is supposed to look like is such a narrow view of the world, and yet it’s all that we see most of the time and so we come to believe that is all there is. We can argue about representation and diversity in our movies, TV shows, and books all that we want, but we also have to stop relying on that media to show us what the world is really like. Instead of learning about relationships from Rom-Coms and TV shows like Friends, talk to real people about their experiences and ask their advice (you don’t have to follow it unless you actually want to). Instead of following a career path just because it seems to be what is expected, think about what is really important to you and start brainstorming ideas on how to accomplish what you want. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to explore paths outside the “norm”.
I think that the hardest thing about growing up these days isn’t that we don’t have a script, but that we expect there to be a script in the first place. We expect to have all the answers and to have everything mapped out for us. We’ve lost that concept of forging our own path. And with social media it seems as if everyone is watching and judging how we are doing with our lives, and we no longer have the freedom to figure things out in relative privacy. You can graduate college and move across the country (or right back home), but all of those same college classmates are still going to be following everything you are doing and comparing it with their own lives (and vice versa). And when things don’t line up, we assume that everyone else has things figured and we are the only ones who are clueless about life.
Even before I found my faith and learned more about God, I always had this inherent trust that the “universe” would take care of me and show me what to do. I now call that the Holy Spirit, and He hasn’t led me wrong so far. Just have a little trust, listen to your instincts, and don’t be afraid to look a fool from time to time as you are figuring things out (there is a reason that humility is a virtue and pride is a sin).
From my book, An Adult-ish Toolkit: 30 Things I Have Learned in 30 Years.
Chapter Seven: No One Really Has Everything Figured Out
One of the fascinating things about growing up and becoming an “adult” is talking to other “adults” and realizing that they are as clueless as you are about some things but also have wisdom to share about others. Our common blind-spots and ignorances can be surprisingly comforting, but it is when we can help each other move forward that we truly benefit.
The idea that there are people who have everything in life figured out is a myth. No such people exist, I guarantee you.
For starters, there is simply far too much information out there in the world for a single human brain to be able to sort, categorize, and retain it all, even if they were able to accumulate it in the first place. There is also a great deal of knowledge that comes only from personal experience, and no human life is capable of experiencing everything that is possible (partly because so many experiences, by definition, exclude you from others, such as one type of childhood versus another type of childhood).
It is literally impossible for a single person to know everything that there is to know.