It’s so discouraging.
This spring the New York Times again asked college students to write essays on “the plain truth about what love is like for them.” They have been publishing the best of those essays in a series called “Modern Love.”
In reading the essays of past winners, I’m finding that the one constant in modern love is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with love and everything to do with narcissism. And that these stories make a great springboard for discussing our lives as Catholic singles in an upside-down world.
The winning essay in 2008 was entitled “Want To Be My Boyfriend? Please Define,” by a young Vermont College student named Marguerite Fields. In it, she talked about the utter absence of any willingness to commit among the men she knew or had dated. These men weren’t ashamed or embarrassed about their commitment-aversion.
In fact, they celebrated it. They were proud of it.
They stories would be funny if they weren’t so sad. One guy kissed her and told her he wanted to be her boyfriend, and then on the next date said he had meant boyfriend “in the theoretical sense of the word.”
Another moved away, called her and told her he was falling in love with her and she had to come see him right away and then called back to say things were moving too fast and he wasn’t ready.
Another slept with her and then at breakfast told her he had just gotten out of a long relationship and was seeing other people. But he liked her, she was “special,” and while any plans to see each other again would be “too much, too soon,” she should give him a call if she ever happened to visit New York again.
To me the saddest part of this article was that there was no happy ending. She didn’t finally find the guy who saw the future as more than a series of hook-ups. She didn’t come to some realization that she’s worth more. In fact, the whole essay seemed like one long rationalization, trying to convince herself that she’s wrong to desire “happily ever after.” She closes, describing that final encounter with the New Yorker, by saying:
“I tried to remember that I was actively seeking to practice some Zenlike form of non-attachment. I tried to remember that no one is my property and neither am I theirs, and so I should just enjoy the time we spend together, because in the end it’s our collected experiences that add up to a rich and fulfilling life. I tried to tell myself that I’m young, that this is the time to be casual, careless, lighthearted and fun; don’t ruin it.”
The thing is, she’s wrong.
The desire for commitment – so maligned in our “hook up today, gone tomorrow” world – is encoded into our genes. We’re made for it. We aren’t made to give our bodies to virtual strangers in a quest for a “casual, lighthearted and fun” way. It isn’t fun, and it doesn’t lead to a rich, fulfilling life. It leads to heartbreak, misery and loneliness.
And that makes me sad, for Marguerite Fields and for everyone like her who is looking for fulfillment in places it can never, ever be found.
Editor’s note: Read our take on this year’s “Modern Love” winner.