Lately, I've been thinking about a conversation I had with my grandmother several years before her death. I had driven down from Indiana to Alabama to visit her; we were sitting in her retirement home apartment drinking coffee.
"I've been so worried about you," she said. "You need to find a nice boy and settle down."
I had recently been abandoned by a man I'd dated for over two years. I say "abandoned" rather than "dumped" because a breakup was never formally discussed: he got a job in South Dakota and left. A few months later he sent me a letter telling me that, at long last, he'd met a woman he could fall madly in love with.
It was, of course, my misfortune alone that I'd been madly in love with him during those years that we'd seen each other.
I smiled at my grandmother.
"I have been trying," I said, choosing not to argue against her notion that a woman has to find a man and get married or she'll end up as a sad, lonely failure. "It's not as if I can just wander the streets, find a man I fancy, knock him over the head and drag him back to my apartment and live happily ever after."
She seemed strangely unconvinced.
Since then, I've watched many single friends get that same "why don't you just find a nice girl/boy and settle down?" spiel from older relatives and even older married friends.
These people act as though single folk can just mosey down to the local DateSmart, peruse the shelves of compassionate, responsible blondes, brunettes, and redheads, and say "How much for that broad-shouldered fireman who likes classical music? Can I put him on my Visa?"
They act as if those who have been unlucky in love have somehow been intentionally shopping from the bargain bin: "Oh, honey, another manic depressive with bad credit? Take that one back and get a refund this instant!"
What universe are these parents and married folk living in? This dating shit is hard.
Decent relationships are real treasures. And finding one is often like finding a gold coin in your neighborhood street, in the hallway of the college, in the couch cushions at a friend's party.
In other words, it's distressingly random.
You can go out, advertise yourself with clothes or makeup or a winning smile, meet new people; all that will of course improve your chances at finding The One you're looking for, just as playing a row of slot machines instead of just one will improve your odds for a jackpot.
Most of us don't get this amazing choice our elders seem to think we have. Models and rock stars and pro athletes, they get to choose (and seemingly choose badly, based on their divorce rates). The rest of us mere geeky mortals can only choose to date, or not date, whichever randomly-met individuals seem interested in us.
But you don't get to choose whether or not the people interested in you want the same things in a relationship as you do. You don't get to choose whether or not they fall in love with you. And you often don't get much of a choice as to whether or not you fall in love with them.
Wuv. Twue wuv. If you find it, cherish it. Because a lot of people in this world have looked a long, long time and have never found it.