It’s Valentine’s Day, which, for an occasion that barely constitutes as a holiday, seems to receive more polarizing press than it deserves. I guess it’s because, with its flow of reminders that you either are or are not in a fulfilling relationship, people find themselves lumped into some box or other and naturally become intensely defensive, not to mention the ridiculous amount of money that people feel obligated to spend. Now, I can’t attest to the boyfriend experience of the day (I imagine there’s an undue amount of pressure and stress), but, as a once commitment-averse woman myself, it’s a strange day to be thinking about love.

Of course, I’m approaching all this with a heterocentric gaze, but even outside of that, I think there’s some strange tension in the expectations of love that are placed on girls and women. This even extends beyond the realm of love and relationships— I don’t remember exactly when, but some time early on, I caught on to the notion that I would be cooler if I didn’t know or care about things. So, I was always rolling around in mud and wet sand and punching boys at church, and I only allowed myself to flip through fashion magazines on the toilet. As I grew up, I was always avoiding pop culture or pretending to not have spent thirty minutes reading about the personal life of Taylor Swift on Wikipedia. This idea of indifference somehow being cool just became a part of my daily life.

In love, too, I spent many years trying to be that girl, the one who cared less, the one who left first. And it worked— people seemed to like me more when I was being chill. I convinced myself that no one really wanted the girl who was all there. By my freshman year of college, it felt like blasé came naturally to me. I remember seeing someone and making sure to never seem too into it. (In hindsight, this may have been easy at the time because I was never really too into him.) And there it was, like a charm— he told me he loved me two weeks into our hanging out. (Obviously, I had to leave after that.)

I think it’s a multi-pronged beast, this alluring concept of not knowing or caring. Somehow, lots of people find obliviousness endearing. I was texting one of my friends this past week, and she was bemoaning her blindness when it came to some guy in her life, wondering why the less she acknowledged his romantic intentions, the more he seemed interested. This has to be some patriarchal connection of dumbness and cuteness. I don’t mean dumb like oh, I can’t tell time, but it’s been communicated for decades to women that men want to be made to play this game. Which is silly, right— if people like one another, why should they pretend to not?

This goes into another prong of embodying this “cool girl” aura, the stigma of making your needs known. Why are we made to always be guessing what the other person wants? It’s almost as if it’s embarrassing to have needs of other people, like it’s shameful to have some things to insist upon. Somehow we’re told that it’s more “chill” if we just let people hang around in our lives without some express role or purpose, when no one in the arrangement is satisfied at all. Really, it comes down to something I think everyone knows, but no one likes to admit— relationships are transactional. We keep people in our lives because they add value in some way. If the trouble outweighs the worth, and our needs are no longer being filled, we should walk away. But how can we expect people to understand what they can bring to our lives without telling them?

And then there’s the third element of the cool girl fork— becoming the hang-arounder ourselves. Because when relationships stagnate, we start wondering – Is there something better out there? Is this what I really want? – and by drifting on the sidelines of someone’s life, there’s no sense of accountability. If they retaliate by demanding answers to these questions, we can then say that oh, it’s just been a bit of fun, we didn’t know they wanted something so serious, and when we fade out of their lives, we leave an irritating smudge just in view— that this could’ve been something, but it was their fault for not making things clear from the start. But maybe they didn’t know that’s what they wanted at first, and maybe we kept ourselves on the sidelines because we knew we couldn’t play the game.

That was me for a long time. I was terrified of the idea of sacrifice, that someone else’s presence in my life would in itself be enough to make me decide some different way. It was a fear a lot of women have, I suspect, of losing autonomy. It always felt like real commitment meant losing control, that I would no longer be my own, but someone else’s, when looking back, some things I’ve done to maintain this “chill” persona already compromised who I was.

Now, a few years into unambiguous commitment, I’m starting to realize that love isn’t losing yourself. It’s bringing another person into the fold, unapologetically feeling like you have the whole of them, like you’ve asked them day after day to stay. And it’s a little humiliating, yes, but they do, and together you notice things, and you care about things, and you no longer feel ashamed for asking. So really, that’s something to celebrate, and it’s so much cooler than trying to be cool.

Featured photo by June Intharoek from Pexels