07/17/2013 07:26 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Mastering in Love: LGBT Dating and the Journey to the Ring

Finding "the one" has become an increasingly pressing concern amongst the college-aged LGBT community today. The same goes for the recent college graduates I work with at OneGoodLove, a long-term gay dating website. In our discussions, we've concluded that getting the college degree, a rocking job, and an amazing partner has become the new "white picket fence." And as many queer individuals reach graduation and beyond, this white-picket-fence frenzy goes into overdrive. Maybe it's a hormonal thing, maybe it's a maturity thing, or maybe it's just them realizing the possibility that they may someday die old and alone, surrounded by cats. But for me, I think this increased obsession is primarily a product of a narrow social definition of success. For most people, after graduation, marriage is the next major societal landmark.

It is interesting to note that on a purely observational level, a wedding and a graduation are quite similar. Both are surrounded with an arcane amount of pomp and circumstance. Both require heavy, uncomfortable, and redundant clothing. Both are prefaced and followed up by an insufferable amount of photographic documentation. And both represent the end of one "major" step in one's life and commencement of the next. Whether it is the end of the undergraduate experience or the end of spinsterhood, both ceremonies supposedly mark one's life progression in an upward and linear trajectory.

However, this doesn't have to be the case. Just as graduation does not necessarily mean the graduate's life will progress in a steady upward motion, marriage does not necessarily signify that the newlyweds have found the key to everlasting love. As cynical as it sounds, this may be a healthy realization.

So for the young people out there stressing out about finding "the one" to hit the next milestone, perhaps a healthier way to think about it is to treat the process like college -- not graduation but the college experience itself. (I know the following extended metaphor uses a very narrow definition of "love" and "marriage," but bear with me.)

If the whole college process culminates with graduation, and the whole life-partner search culminates with marriage (once again, narrow definitions), then dates are the "classes" you take to help you get from point A to point B. In both cases, there are those who seek just the end product. They pursue the degree, the ring, the wedding gown with a laser-focused zeal and speed through the process to reap the rewards of the end result.

While this is a valid process, of all the college grads I've talked to who followed this method in college, almost all of them regret it on some level. They wish they had experimented more with classes, gotten to know their professors, and diversified their understanding of the academic landscape. They were so focused on getting to the end of the journey that they missed out on some of the most crucial points of the journey itself, which raises an important question: What is the point of the process? Is it to reach the end or to enjoy getting there?

To me, the point of college is to learn. While the classes and grades are graduation requirements, the actual lectures attended, the books read, and the topics covered are what truly makes college college. This, in turn, shifts the focus, making graduation an outcome of the primary pursuit of knowledge. So to connect this incredibly convoluted extended metaphor, perhaps the same can apply to the dating world.

Maybe if people stressing over finding "the one" treat the dating process more as a sort of learning process than a degree-seeking one, then true love might be all the more tangible. Instead of dating to find Mr. or Mrs. Right, date to learn more about yourself and what makes you happy. Make it less about getting the ring and more about discovering what it is that makes you want to give someone a ring. And use each relationship to hone in on what your ideal life will be like and how another person can complement it.

Once you have figured all that out, you will (A) be more mature, (B) have a more grounded sense of who you are and what you are looking for, and (C) not have to rely on a social expectation to define your success and happiness. So when the ceremony comes, the redundant outfits are donned, and the insufferable photos are taken, you will truly be an expert in your field, well-versed in the dual majors of true love and self-love.