There’s nothing like the cool hands of fate wrapped around your heart when you scroll through social media and find engagement photos of people you went to high school with. To be fair, it’s not chilling in the sense of envy, but more in the scary way that we’re all coming to the age where people feel societal pressure to pair off and start being true “adults” with a significant other.
In reality, I think it is safe to say most college students aren't really thinking about marriage, and if they are, they’re either religious or codependent. According to Pew Research Center, millennials are the generation waiting the longest to tie the knot. With the median age of marriage for millennials bottoming out at about 28, most of us 20-somethings will likely have plenty of time to ruminate on the very scary concept of lifelong nuptials just as our predecessors before us have.
With that clarified, another adage comes up about the purpose of dating. I don’t know about anyone else, but I grew up with the voice of my mother echoing in my head that I should date to marry. Clearly, the advice didn’t take, but it brings up an interesting nuance: “If Gen Z isn’t dating to marry, what is the purpose of dating as a young person?”
This question immediately brings to mind at least a dozen conversations I have had with my roommate who comes from a family in which everyone got married by the age of 20.
If I had a dime for every time we have lounged on our multicolored L-shaped couch and talked about boys and girls and dating and love, I wouldn’t need to think about marrying rich — I already would be. Many times when we have these conversations, there is a significant amount of frustration in my friend’s voice directed toward the bad dates and failed relationship seedlings that never grew into long term material.
Every time we get to this place of abject vexation toward all of the bad dates and terrible dating app convos that start with a “Heyy:)” I tell her the same thing: “At least it was a good learning experience.”
The truth is that dating at our age isn’t going to end up with “happily ever afters” and riding off into the sunset arm in arm with our soulmate every time we swipe on a cute pic or go get coffee with a stranger. In fact, that might only happen once when we are a lot older, wiser and psychologically developed.
With this being said, dating as a young person who isn’t chomping at the bit to settle down can be an extraordinary opportunity to truly get to know one’s self and what a person wants in a partner.
We are a generation with nothing but time and societal leeway that gives us the ability to truly investigate the qualities we want in a life partner. The only way to truly discover these preferences is to go on dates with people you feel lukewarm about.
I never would have figured out the types of men I want to be with without meeting some duds along the way. But even with these frog kisses that never turned into princes, I am that much more equipped and adept at sleuthing for a prince for the future.
At the end of the day, love — real love — is rare, and a college-aged person cannot feel discouraged when they’ve gone a significant amount of time without finding it. We are effervescent pools of bright potential, and we deserve to find ourselves through casual dating until we are rooted in the substantial foundation of self-assurance before we even think about long-term commitments like marriage and mortgages.
We’ve got nothing but time, so while we wait and date around for the sake of relationship research and good times, there’s nothing wrong with liking those engagement photos of that girl you were in homeroom with or that guy from the drama club. Maybe they’re lucky and found their person early, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t find your person just around the corner of your 20s.
Until then, there’s nothing wrong with kissing frogs for the sake of eventually finding a prince.