Growing up my cousins and I had a special place at the back of my aunt and uncle’s suburban tract home. This magical room (for some unknown reason) was always called “Never-Never Land.” During every Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and Fourth of July that passed during the 1990s, the five of us young cousins escaped into that secret land to have our adventures. We hated to be wrested from there back into the reality of the adult world; having to eat our vegetables before dessert, suffering through small talk about how much we had grown, and dodging Aunt Jackie’s large camera and light setup that was aimed at producing countless photos of us.
But eventually we did get older.
Notice I don’t say that we all grew up, because, ironically, the name of our special place was pretty apropos. Not just for us, but for our entire generation.
It seems in some ways that those of us now in our 20s are fighting against the tides of time, against growing up.
We even have a word to use when showing our mutual disgust for the typical features of grown-up life – “adulting.” And one area of life where this resistance to growing up is seen clearly is in the way we view relationships.
Now relationships are, and always have been, difficult.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the ways in which God so clearly chooses to reveal Himself within earthly confines, also have the potential to be so devastating. If the relationship between Christ and the church is like marriage, and the relationship between God and each believer is like a parent to a child, then of course the enemy will make it his priority to decimate those areas of our lives.
Betrayal. Abandonment. Divorce. Abuse. Competition. Gossip. Loss.
It sometimes seems easier to give up on a traditional view of relationships. And our society encourages this.
The seeming zeitgeist of our generation is the phrase, “30 is the new 20.” This encourages us to put off the typical “adulting” process of finding someone to settle down with and have children, and instead, pursue a somewhat perpetual adolescence while in our 20s.
And yet our time (and our hearts) can only hold so much. Instead of just boring, mundane, grown up tasks, we tend to fill our time (and hearts) with social media, binge-worthy TV shows, funny videos, GIFS, and memes. This online world we live in has the appearance of reality, of community. And it certainly feels “safe”.
There’s also something “safe” about childhood memories. Our generation has the ability to spend countless hours reliving our past through all the media available online. When we live inside nostalgia it allows us to escape from the present, and to dwell on a life we lived without the annoying necessity of accuracy.
Unfortunately, with the digital world and our penchant for nostalgia, we’ve also developed a somewhat immature definition of love that finds a false emotional safety within fantasy, and the belief that relationships are about me.
It feels emotionally safe for my mind to dwell on fantasies about that one “right person” I’ll fall in love with one day. Of course, after I’ve had all the life experiences that I want to have, however long that may take. And of course, the “right person” being the one who completes me, makes my life meaningful, and meets the requirements of my fantasy boyfriend/girlfriend. It makes sense that we would think this way, given the fact that we live in a fantasy world on the Internet where we can self-fashion ourselves without the demand of authenticity. It’s much harder to fall in love with real, deeply flawed people.
(Or even just ask out that person we like for fear of rejection).
And it feels emotionally safe to settle for superficial, self-aggrandizing substitutes for relationships. This doesn’t just happen with dating relationships. Even with friendships, it often seems easier to carry on small talk or gossip over coffee than to come to my friends with my struggles. It’s easier to just “hang out” than share another’s burdens or truly be myself. We stay in ill-fitting friendships rather than embrace new, meaningful ones because the old ones are comfortable. To be vulnerable with another person, to get to really know someone else, to “put myself out there,” is scary because there’s no guarantee of an end result.
But C.S Lewis wisely pointed out years ago that there really is no such thing as a “safe” love. He wrote, “Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell”
As someone who is currently single, this speaks to me. I realize I need to avoid building walls around my heart, and instead, build into the lives of the people God has brought into my life, even if they’re “just” platonic friendships. Instead of pining for the day when I will finally “meet the one,” (to then have my expectations horribly dashed when I realize that “the one” is just another human), I should allow my heart to practice a higher form of love.
Love is selfless. Love forgives. Love is honest…
…Love is hard. Relationships are hard.
But, of course, it’s really the challenging things in life – the things that aren’t easy, the things that make you risk the most and give the most – that end up meaning the most.
And maybe seeking those challenging things, rather than running away or avoiding them, is really what growing up is all about.
There’s nothing wrong with reminiscing about childhood while listening to ‘90s music playlists or resurrecting the jean overalls trend. But let’s be the generation that boldly walks the path of mature love, seeking to “lay aside every weight” that would hinder us from fulfilling the most important calling of our life – loving as He first loved us.
 C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1960), 121