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Alex Smyth

Swipe Left: I never had young love – does that mean I’ve missed out?

Releasing expectations around age and romance.

06 Feb

I’m sitting at a coffee shop settling in to write this column when I realise that at 29, I’ve probably missed my chance at young love. The thought was triggered by a teenage couple at the next table, fingers desperately entwined and folding their bodies over the wooden surface top to close the space between them. Although I’m nearly 30, I mostly feel exactly the same as I did in my mid  – or even early – twenties. Still, in moments like this, when it’s easy to spot the youth in someone’s face or the way they carry themselves, I definitely feel the age gap. 

I smiled at them knowingly, but at that moment I realised that I actually didn’t know what it was like to be in their position. They were the literal image of young love – wide-eyed, giddy and so eager to form a bubble of intimacy in our mildly chaotic setting that their foreheads were almost touching.

It was a gentle recognition. I didn’t suddenly feel panicked or launch into an existential crisis. I generally try to resist the notion that there are standard timeframes for how our lives should play out, but with young love being so specifically associated with a certain period in our lives, I took a moment to consider whether my window to experience it has closed. If the answer is yes, have I missed out on something great?

“With young love being so specifically associated with a certain period in our lives, I took a moment to consider whether my window to experience it has closed”

According to the search results on Google, the qualifying age bracket for young love varies from source to source. It turns out that in this context, as in many others, the parameters of ‘young’ continue to be debatable. However, the primary markers of young love are relatively straightforward and seem set in the expression of it being all-consuming, tinged with naivety and often a little obnoxious. You know the vibe – nearly every teen drama in existence has a fated love story at the centre of it. The two protagonists meet, realise they’re the love of each other’s lives and then spend the entire series breaking up and getting back together.

These shows were my bread and butter growing up. I became so accustomed to watching the storylines play out that it felt like experiencing that type of romance was a rite of passage, but things didn’t quite play out like that. 

Compared to some of my peers whose parents let their boyfriends sleep at their houses when we were 14, I was somewhat of a late bloomer when it came to dating. Though my childhood and teens were full of intense crushes, I met my first boyfriend when I was twenty. During our eight month relationship, ‘I love yous’ were exchanged, but it quickly became apparent that our love for each other was rooted in a friendship that, all these years later, we’ve still managed to maintain. 

The situationships and dalliances I’ve had since, though meaningful in other ways, have all been too casual to fall anywhere near the category of ‘love’. Now, in the final year of my twenties, it feels like I’ve aged out of the wild abandon that young love feeds on. But maybe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Now, in the final year of my twenties, it feels like I’ve aged out of the wild abandon that young love feeds on. But maybe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing”

Alongside romantic scenes at extravagant fundraisers, dates at the diner and cute evening walks on the pier (I’m referencing The OC specifically if you couldn’t tell), the teen dramas I grew up on always contained equal amounts of heartache and hassle. Even in real life, I was often the listening ear for friends dealing with messy breakups or the consequences of not breaking up with their toxic boyfriend at the time. 

Although I’d try to help them through it, I can acknowledge that giving hopeful advice to a friend in need is different from actually navigating the tornado of feelings that come along with having your heart broken. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to hack it. Even now, though a far cry away from what I expect heartbreak to feel like, the standard disappointments of modern dating can be pretty upsetting. 

It’s only recently, in the last year or so, that I feel like I’ve finally clawed my way to a healthier relationship with dating. I can and will grumble about how trash dating is to anyone who even hints at the topic, but I feel like I’m now at a place where I can enjoy the process for what it is. If the stress that my situationships have caused me over the past ten years are any indication, I can’t imagine that my younger self would have been able to reach that point in one piece. 

“I can and will grumble about how trash dating is to anyone who even hints at the topic, but I feel like I’m now at a place where I can enjoy the process for what it is”

No longer than three minutes after the young couple next to me at the coffee shop left, they were replaced by another who were similarly clearly enamoured with each other. I’m sure, had I stayed longer or taken time to observe any other couples around me; I would have seen some who reflected a different type of love. 

Their youthful glee might not have been so visible, but I may have recognised other small demonstrations of care that they showed one another. I would’ve smiled knowingly at them, too. Again, not because I can attach an experience of my own, but because love is special and sweet at any age. With that understanding, I can admit that young love isn’t something I’ve experienced, and be comfortable in knowing that that’s okay.