I’ve always said the phrase “catching feelings” with a hint of shame like I’ve caught some kind of disease. It’s involuntary, admitting weakness and potentially one-sided. Stepping into the world of casual dating for the first time, catching feelings feels more taboo than ever.
Luckily, my best friend prepared an arsenal of preventative measures.
“They’re called icks,” she explained over the phone. “They’re basically scenarios you can imagine them in to help you get over it.”
Our chat was then flooded with TikTok videos of people sharing their favorite “icks,” or mortifying scenarios to picture their hopeless love interests in. Some of my personal favorites include imagining them running with a backpack on, chasing something that’s blown away in the wind, wearing water shoes and also, of course, imagining them coming to my house for the first time, going down the stairs, falling, dislocating their arm and then having their leg humped by my dog while they cry.
As funny as these were, I don’t think they worked for me. I also came to realize the sheer number of people out there who are desperately afraid of being emotionally vulnerable.
Don’t get me wrong; I value being in touch with my emotions, but I think casual dating and hookup culture can be empowering. Without the messiness of emotional investment, people get to explore their sexuality and find out what works for them. It’s fun meeting new people and having intensely intimate moments with them while also having the option to pull away from it whenever you please. You hold no real obligation toward anyone; there are no expectations or commitments. The only real rules, I suppose, are to make your intentions clear and to not get attached. At least, that’s what I’ve started learning recently with college culture and dating apps — and that’s why I’d rather not catch any feelings.
This whole scene only gets problematic when it begins affecting how we view and engage with emotional vulnerability and love dynamics, which have already been warped by the often questionable ideas we were raised on. Personally, my ideas of love were formed by the romantic movies I watched as a kid, which often taught me that love comes in the forms of obsession, possessiveness and jealousy. Movies such as “The Notebook” and even “Twilight” set me up to expect toxic tendencies in my own relationships, and I saw these tendencies as signs of validation when they did come.
That idea of love is hard for me to let go of even now, and it clashes with the realm of casual dating; they’re extremes on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the degree of emotion present in the relationship. One thing that they do have in common, though, is that they are both not sustainable forms of love.
So what is sustainable love?
Life coach Lynn Motley defines four keys to achieving sustainable love. The first is realizing that love isn’t easy or instantaneous and that the cultural myth of a “perfect love” is false. The second is understanding the importance of self-responsibility in our relationships and that it isn’t our partner’s job to make us happy, but our own. The third is viewing love as a generative process instead of an outcome and dropping our unrealistic expectations. And finally, the fourth is working on our relationships every day. This entails making mistakes, learning to listen and accept one another and learning to apologize.
Being the immature college student that I am, reading up on sustainable love made me want to tear my hair out. Almost like a weird defense mechanism, I envisioned it plastered on a counselor’s wall in a cursive font next to a “Live, Laugh, Love” plaque. Because what’s the point of being young if I’m not riding on the back of someone’s motorcycle and making stupid life choices because of a passionate love affair? Why would I choose sustainable love when I can have intimacy on demand from casual dating and hookup culture? Why would I drop my unrealistic expectations for love when I’ve already seen the entire Twilight saga? My youth entitles me to an unhealthy relationship: It’s a rite of passage!
It’s so weird putting that feeling into words because of how ridiculous it really is. The truth is that everyone deserves sustainable love; it just isn’t easy to stop romanticizing the thrills of spontaneous hookups or the toxicity of passionate lovers in movies.
At the end of the day, I really don’t know anything about love, but I want to learn how to love sustainably. I know I deserve a relationship that is well-balanced and nurturing. So I hope I’ll be more willing to catch feelings and to open myself up, flesh and guts, allowing people into my life for longer. It’s involuntary, it’s admitting weakness and it’s potentially one-sided — but who knows where it could go? I might end up with someone I love, “icks” and all.