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Ah, cooties—the fictitious love germ that has ravaged the hallways of nearly every elementary school in existence. It had once been my understanding that cooties were an imaginary sickness that only festered among the snotty-nosed and sticky-fingered. But, since turning twenty and attempting to navigate the universal phenomenon of love myself, it seems that remnants of the cooties ideology still reside within the shadows of adulthood in apparent social fear of oversentimentality and vulnerability.  Thanks to the bogus social pressures that remind me of the solitude that awaits me if I don’t pin down a boyfriend NOW, it has come to my attention how heavily the contemporary rules of dating encourage plain, emotional suppression.  

Let’s break this down a little more. Queue Heartless by Kanye West, please.

First and foremost, I think the bad habit of over-apologizing is one of the primary offenders behind this social rejection of affection. It wasn’t until I caught myself apologizing for “being so emotional” after having a personal conversation with a friend recently that I started paying active attention to the number of times the word “sorry” was subconsciously slipping out of my mouth. Frankly, the sheer frequency I felt the word start to form on my tongue on a day-to-day basis was absurd. I was placing blame on myself for things that I wasn’t even at fault for in the first place. I apologized for asking questions during class. I apologized for hardly reaching in front of a man who had parked his cart in front of the entire produce stand at the grocery store. I even apologized for sneezing while sitting in the car by myself. Yes, by myself.

By virtue of the rules of basic etiquette, we’re taught at a young age that, if we do something wrong, we should apologize for it. And saying “sorry” certainly isn’t always easy, especially in scenarios where doing so puts your pride into the firing line. But, when used as a tactic to people-please or save face when you’re not at fault, apologies seem to flow without hesitation. Why is it that we, as a society, value conformity over concern for each other and ourselves? Why do we use apologies to minimize our feelings? Where along the lines did we develop the belief that our human need to show emotion is in any way an inconvenience to whoever we’re with?

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times—long gone are the days of falling in love the “old-fashioned way” as our enthrallment with the never-ending conveniences of modern technology. It’s yielded ways where even dating can become as detached as a few swift swipes from your phone. I don’t at all mean to suggest that online dating is an ineffective approach to finding love, as the number of relationships out there that have been born via dating apps is certainly plentiful. However, given their technical nature, these apps prioritize carefully curated profiles and brief biographies over any sort of interpersonal connection or traditional communication, perfectly paving the way for the impassive dating norms that have jaded our emotional instincts entirely.

Expressing how you feel is both inexplicably critical to your own sanity and sense of self; it is also a key part of maintaining a healthy dynamic in every relationship. Approaching another person with your heart on your sleeve has been socially stigmatized as a major red flag, which I think speaks to how elusive emotional awareness is within our generation. While it’s only human to protect ourselves from anything that may pose a threat to our well-being, acting upon our emotional instincts is equally as innate. By apologizing for what we feel, we engage in a vicious cycle of self-sabotage that encourages us to fear commitment and thus further refrain from putting ourselves in the vulnerable positions that genuine relations require.

Allow yourself to relish in everything you’re feeling right now. Unapologetically. 

Meredith is a junior at UNCW working towards a B.F.A in creative writing alongside a certificate in publishing. Daydreams, film photography, and sunset ocean swims are a few of her most cherished pastimes.
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