Rolling the Dice When Young and In Love

I'm told an absurd number of Modern Love columns turn into book deals. Given the competitive submission rate, whatever the editors choose to publish tends to be pretty good. This past Sunday's column was one of my favorite.

It's about a popular romantic predicament for people early in life: They fall in love with someone in high school or college. They'd marry the person if they were 35, but they're too young to marry, and still have things they want to do before settling down. Do they commit to the girlfriend or boyfriend in their early 20's even if it means sacrificing other goals? Or do they roll the dice and break up, go do other things, and hope that later in life they can re-connect? (Or, have faith they'll find someone even better.) I've seen men and women play it both ways, with success and with failure.

Mike Ives, in the column, discusses how he chose to part ways with his high school sweat-heart a couple years after college. He figured they'd get married eventually. He traveled the world and lived life. He enjoyed his youth. Three years passed without seeing his girlfriend. He realized he missed her greatly. He wanted to re-kindle the love of old. Alas, by the time he saw her next, she had gotten involved with a new man and was firmly on the road to marriage. It's not clear he made the wrong decision; after all, good decisions can have bad outcomes. The story is poignant either way.

For the first half of my 20s, the Rest of My Life had appeared to wait patiently. And time, like a gift certificate, seemed like something I could hold on to and cash in later. But that night I felt as if the rest of my life was already upon me. Time was short, and I couldn’t think of anything to look forward to.

I grasped for something winning to say. Nothing came. I was drunk. She walked into the station and didn’t look back.

3 comments on “Rolling the Dice When Young and In Love
  • I recently had to make a decision like this. Either go traveling for a year or more, or stay with a very recent girlfriend.

    On one hand I didn’t want to cancel my trip. I’d been planning it for a long time and i was sure (still am) that traveling is a very smart way to grow up, gain experience in all sorts of areas of life, and all around a very good time. On the other, i value relationships a lot, and one as serendipitous as the one i fell into was also something i hadn’t fully experienced and longed for for many years.

    And if i decided to break up, would it be a healthy thing? Would i come to resent the trip, or see it as a terrible decision? Would my view of everything be distorted by the love i resigned? How much could this cripple me emotionally? Would i turn into a mumbling fool, unable to get past the girl i willingly flushed down the toilet?

    If I stayed, would i be overly critical of the relationship? Would i resent her in some way? I mean, i cancelled a whole year for this. It better be damn good a relationship. Would this alone destroy it? The pressure?

    And why was I so stubborn on the idea of not staying here? Chile isn’t a bad country. If i cant be perfectly happy here, why would i be truly happy anywhere else? I know “if you’re scared of doing it, do it” is usually a good compass on things you obviously want to do, but in the end what was i more scared of? Being happy while traveling through the world, or achieve happiness staying perfectly still? Why do i see travel as superior? Would my year of travel really be quality time, or would i just come crawling back a year later with a busted liver?

    Without wanting to sound corny, I decided that I could travel any time I want (as long as i dont get anyone pregnant), but falling in love just doesnt happen that often. It happened, and i decided to live it through. I don’t believe in destiny at all, but i don’t think we have as much control over our life as we’d like to believe. I think there’s some wisdom to being flexible to thing that life throughs your way.

    This was 9 months ago. I stayed. And honestly, even if i broke up right now for the worst of reasons, i wouldn’t see it as a waste of my time, On the contrary, im convinced that my reasons for travel weren’t as pure and high as i thought they were, and if i had done it 9 months ago, even without the added heartbreak, i would have spent several months scrambling to decide what i was really there for. Im sure i wouldn’t have become as emotionally crippled as i feared i would, and i trust myself to be self-sufficient and objective enough to have been able to find true and real happiness in either path.

    A friend told me something that i think is critical: whatever your choice is, embrace it fully. Otherwise it’s lose/lose. You wont enjoy your choice and then feel shitty afterwards anyway.

    The phrase “For the first half of my 20s, the Rest of My Life had appeared to wait patiently.” sounds flawed to me, and “He figured they’d get married eventually.” made me cringe. Im not judging him for his decision, but that’s a pretty narcissistic way of looking at things.

    (i know it’s not necessarily the way you see it and you’re simply stating what the article clearly said)

    There is no rest-of-your-life. This is it. I know the 20s is still young, but you’re not a kid anymore. What you do and the decisions you take have as much consequence as they will when you’re 30, 40, 50, 60, etc. One should act accordingly.

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