Andy Trattner

February 2, 2024

Learning To Love

I remember talking with an elementary school friend, Quentin, after we saw a Milwaukee Bucks game and admired the cheerleaders. As second-graders, we swore to each other we wouldn't go on dates or have a girlfriend before age 18, because girls were obviously silly and pointless and we weren't trying to get married as was Wisconsin, after all.

My friend showed some degree of epistemic humility, "Maybe we should change it, instead of age 18, to hitting puberty or something?" I was open to learning, "What's puberty?"

In college, I knew that it was time to branch out, to gain some exposure to the ladies. I had kept my promise quite firmly and only kissed one girl, at age 18, as part of my neurodivergent role in the school play. I must have been well cast because I was still missing so many big, obvious things.

I was most explicitly interested in experiencing the physical aspects of romance. Equipped with plentiful examples from porn videos, I set out on my mission. I had no idea what "dating" consisted of. I was not ready for any kind of commitment, and I didn't really understand that about myself either.

I was a walking disaster for more than a couple years, and I'm not proud of it. In most circumstances, I cannot say I acted like an adult. It's really astonishing how much MIT, in certain ways, resembles a high school campus—many hearts were broken, for various reasons, both mine and others'. But I did manage to obtain a wide variety of experiences, including disgusting physical acts far outside my sexual disposition, as well as unexpected and wholesome training on things like empathetic communication.

Probably my biggest issue was subconscious insecurity about my future. I had a stress-inducing, ill-defined desire to "succeed" professionally. Success, I thought, meant sustainable financial independence. It meant feeling fulfilled in my career. It meant being free to do other things. Mostly though, it meant achieving something impressive and reveling in self-satisfaction.

As my standards continued to expand from those of a high-schooler, aligning more closely with the working world and society at large, I became less impressed with myself. Hitting bottom and clarifying my path forward as an adult, I finally freed up the emotional capacity to ask: what else is truly meaningful?

Fitness and health were no-brainers, pre-requisites for life itself, but it was time to clean out the old self-actualization cabinet and ditch my dream of becoming a chess grandmaster. I no longer felt that process was sparking joy. It was high-effort and negative ROI, just like grad school and many other titles I would have otherwise liked to collect.

After college, reading the Defining Decade convinced me that Love is a category of human activity to prioritize, at least in the long run, on equal footing with Work. It's a real achievement when done correctly. 

Since that awakening, I've been interested in creating a family at some point. I have now dated a few people (out of dozens) whom I considered potential partners. From either my side or theirs, sadly but ultimately for the best, all have become clear no's within a couple months. 

It's very tough. Even though I've been open to dating for the past 5+ years, and now increasingly prioritizing it, I've never been in a long-term relationship. Even though I have a lot of ideas, I'm sure there will be many unknowns when I finally enter into one. 

I suspect a relationship might be like teaching in some ways. I had small pieces of prior experience and a decent grasp of theory, but the actual act of taking charge of a classroom gave me new daily challenges that required a lot of learning and practice to overcome. There's definitely a dance to it. 

Thankfully, I'm a quick study, my social needs are low, and I'm more than comfortable spending time with myself. But I'm also eagerly looking forward to hanging out with my person when she comes along. 

I'm excited to learn to love each other, together!

About Andy Trattner