Teen feels pressure to be in a relationship

Photo+illustration+by+Asa+Lori

Photo illustration by Asa Lori

Urmilla Kuttikad

Photo illustration by Asa Lory

The pressure to be in a relationship manifests at such a young age. At first, it’s so subtle we don’t even notice the pressure. We mistake the feeling for disgust toward the opposite sex, which in turn plagues a few years of our childhood with the panic-inducing worry of contracting cooties.

That part is harmless.

Before long, though, the feeling grows more insistent. Giggly chats about crushes during recess, determining self-worth based on the number of valentines in your box on Valentine’s Day and the absurd elementary-school marriages so many of us have nostalgic memories about fill the last few years of grade school.

Our mothers are still cutting the crusts off of neat triangles of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; teachers are still pushing our swings higher for us; we’re still wearing light-up shoes, yet we still find in ourselves the maturity to get married at eight years old.

It’s an odd desire we have at eight years old, to be grown-up and married and in love, but it’s not a surprising one given the influence of the media.

The pressure began to swell the first time I rifled, wide-eyed, through the pages of Seventeen magazine; as I realized with dawning horror that Fred and Daphne in “Scooby Doo” had a ‘thing,’ while I listened to The Beatles crooning “All You Need is Love” through the dusty speakers in our living room.

In middle school and junior high, these pressures began to bear results as boys and girls at school began to shyly profess their ‘like’ for each other and (among other things) hold hands.

My parents, strict and foreign, were adamant: I wasn’t allowed to be in a relationship. I always wished I could say, “But little did they know…” and launch into a story about young, illicit love, but as the close of each year found me single, I told myself I was too young to be in a relationship anyway, that no relationships at my age worked out in the long run. I decided it was better to avoid the inevitable heartbreak and nights spent gorging on ice cream and sniffling to my impressively extensive collection of sad songs.

But then I came to RBHS last year, and couples were everywhere, suffocating the hallways with their hand-holding and eye-gazing and lip-locking. It felt like they were forcing me to look at their overly-advertised affection, like they were deliberately trying to make me feel bad about myself.

I resisted the urge to pantomime retching behind their backs. You could say I was bitter.

But it was when the guy who I’d liked for a while started dating someone else that the pressure swelled in earnest and finally blew me over.

The situation is not uncommon, but something about the savage sting of freshly unrequited love mashed into the burn of perpetually unrequited love ensured the swift crumbling of my “pumped-to-be-single” attitude.

Something had soured in the way the ever-mounting pressure to be in a relationship affected me. So many people were in genuine, non-childish relationships now that I couldn’t rationalize with my lack of a relationship any longer.

All of a sudden, whenever I thought about being in a relationship, it seemed embarrassingly clear that if I were any good, a guy, any guy, would have shown some interest in me by now. To my knowledge, no guy had ever even had a crush on me, so it was clear what that meant.

A stash of thoughts sat hidden in the back of my mind; I worried over them so often that they were like my guilty pleasure, except they never made me feel good.

At first the thoughts were vicious and resentful toward my physical attractiveness. Maybe if I were actually pretty? Maybe if I attempted to lose weight? Or if I weren’t so awkward-looking all the time?

Then the thoughts lashed out at my attractiveness as a person. Maybe if I weren’t so boring? Maybe if I weren’t so incredibly introverted? Or if I tried to have a personality for once?

I never turned to extreme measures to try and change myself, but in a way, these thoughts that weighed bitter and heavy in my mind like an obesity of malice were just as self-destructive. I was clawing at my self-esteem from the inside, and all for what?

I was able to stop, breathe and take a much-needed break from myself during the summer, and even though that wasn’t enough to cut out the tumor of malicious thoughts festering in my mind, the break at least gave me some direly-needed perspective.

Wanting a relationship isn’t the problem. Believing yourself to be flawed if you’re not in one is. Being in a relationship validates neither your appearance nor your personality; it has no bearing on the quality of your character.

Too often, it seems, we forget we have an inconceivably long expanse of time ahead of us to be in a relationship, and instead try to live our present and our future all at once.

By Urmila Kutikkad

Listen to Urmila read it aloud here

This opinion piece is labeled as such on the desktop version.