I was fooled into thinking that I was a loser because I was never in a relationship while in high school. Of course, no one was force-feeding me these thoughts. It’s really no one’s fault but my own.
My favorite film of all time is ten things I hate about you. It’s about a high school nerd who, in order to date the girl of his dreams, pays the bad boy to take out his dream girl’s sister. (That sentence makes the plot sound convoluted but I recommend you watch it.) The film is set in your typical American high school, complete with a song number and a marching band.
In retrospect, a lot of the films I’ve watched are set in high school. Most of the romcoms I watched as a teenager involved other teenagers pining over each other, so when I didn’t get that sappy highschool romance, I felt like I was missing out.
I thought that by the time I turned sixteen, I would have had that puppy love type of romance. The kind where you experience all your firsts. The kind where you’re both shy about things, and you may not end up together but there will always be a space in your heart occupied by that person, owing to the cliche of “never forgetting your first.”
The reality, however, was that at sixteen, I spent my days hunched over my study table, head buried in books as I desperately tried to take in enough information to get me into a good university. There was no sweet sixteen; no falling in love and (thankfully) no heart break. Just pure, academic pressure characterized by regular breakdowns.
Then came college, and no one piqued my interest either. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me that everyone was either casually dating, casually hooking up, in a committed relationship, or single but had previous relationships. Still, there was a nagging voice at the back of my mind making me feel like I was lacking in worth because I wasn’t in a relationship. These thoughts and feelings weren’t bad to the point of affecting my mental health, but they just sat there like a scratch that needed to be itched.
See, I wanted to experience all those rom-com worthy scenes: the jacket lending in the cold and the dancing in front of headlights. But, of course, life isn’t a 90s teen movie. This might be a reality to some, or maybe most, but, at the time, it wasn’t reality to me.
My days involved studying, hanging out with friends, and org work. None of what I envisioned for myself turned out to be true. This did not make my situation bad— just different. In hindsight, things weren’t bad at all. I was never in a relationship, but that didn’t mean I was miserable.
It’s easy to feel like you’re missing out on something when you feel like you could be happier if there was someone in your life. Hollywood romances tend to play this up. We hear couples saying “you make me the happiest person on earth” and we think that having someone in our life would be a quick fix for the problems we have.
One thing I learned when I turned twenty was to find happiness in my own company. I could go for a drive, blast music on my car stereo, get some iced coffee, treat myself to some retail therapy and my day would be set. Alternatively, I could curl up on my bed with a scented candle twinkling in the corner of my bedroom and Pride and Prejudice playing on my laptop and I would achieve that same effect.
Of course, I still have my debilitating bouts of loneliness. But it comes in waves and it’s impermanent. It’s nothing the company of my family and friends can’t fix. And I’m glad I learned all of these things before ever being in a relationship, because now I wouldn’t need to turn to someone to fill a void that only I can.
I also like to think that had I been in a relationship during the times that I felt like I needed to be in one for the sake of it, then it wouldn’t have been such a sound decision. The judgment would have been motivated by pure desperation to get out of singleness and a fear of being alone rather than true affection or love.
As a woman, when you reach a certain age, there’s pressure for you to do things. Get married in your twenties, have babies by your thirties– it’s a constant race against your biological clock.
I’m only twenty now, and I’m content with how things are in my life. Sure, things can feel uncertain and lonely at times, but I also believe that my future is bright and full of endless possibilities. My happiness is no one’s responsibility but my own.