The love advice that used to work so well doesn’t fully apply in a new world. Here are 7 dating pressures that didn’t exist 30 years ago.
This past Sunday night I went out with one of my favourite couples. They’re great leaders and mentors to probably hundreds of people (no exaggeration), and I’m fortunate to call them friends. Something I’ve really enjoyed in the last 10 or so years is branching out in my friendships beyond my age group. Being in my 20s, it’s very rewarding for me to not just stick to people in my own set of life experiences, but those who are further ahead. And this couple in particular is winning in so many areas of life that they truly are two amazing people to learn from in a whole lot of areas.
We inevitably got talking about the world of dating and relationships, as its an area that all three of us are very passionate about. In the last few months in particular I’ve been talking on this topic with quite a few older couples in my parents’ generation on the subject. It’s always interesting to hear what they have to say. “It was never this complicated in our day, why are people making it so much harder?” And I certainly agree that there are so many cases where overthinking and blown out expectations are making things harder than they should be. And yet as a member of this generation, having experienced quite a few different forms of relationships in my life and the lives of my friends, I can’t help but react sometimes and say, “Yes, but there are some challenges our generation faces that you never had”.
Now, I’m not saying the old skool advice doesn’t apply, because frankly, most of the time it really does, and it has a proven track record to boot. But what I do want to do here is explore the challenges of our modern relationship experiences. Here are 7 dating pressures that didn’t exist 30 years ago.
#1: Instant messaging capabilities
Remember the days when lovers used to bring out their best quill pen, their finest parchment, and spend yonder afternoon expounding upon the beauty of thine beloved? And then you’d put the letter in the mail, wait a few days, not know if they got it, and hope that you received a reply.
What’s that? You don’t?
Well, that time did exist, but it has long since been replaced by a beast with a vastly different set of challenges: instant messaging. Whether it be text messages, MSN Messenger (hello), Skype, Skype for Business, Facebook, WhatsApp or Line, there exist so many different channels for gaining immediate access to your potential lover. Just stop and think about that, because I don’t think our generation realizes what a drastically different effect that has on our ability to relate to each other. There isn’t a lead time. There isn’t always time to think about your response for several days. Mate, she’s SEEN the fact you’ve read that message, and the fact that you liked that stupid Arthur meme, so if you don’t reply within the next few hours, you’re screwed.
It really does change the game completely. I can literally access you anywhere you go. Whether you’re in front of me, in town, overseas, or even in the lav, I can get you wherever and whenever. And you can get me too. And hey, that’s a challenge. We are always connected. And we are always connected to multiple people. I can message my friends in Canada, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and London even faster than I can make a phone call. We make assumptions based on sentence tone. Without the right emoticon, your “Haha” is the sarcastic destruction of my soul.
Add to that that a lot of people don’t know how to have a big conversation in person any more, and you’ve got an overwhelming challenge that we really need to be aware of in how we relate to others.
#2: Constant bombardment with options
So you had a nice night with that guy. You really were happy that she said yes to your 5th date and things seem to be going steady. It’s really great that your lover is showing you affection in a way you didn’t know was possible.
But wait. Check out what SHE did for her man. Wow, did you see that photo of the flowers he got for her? Isn’t that amazing that he literally rode in on a horse in shining armour for something as simple as a picnic in that perfect meadow?
All of a sudden, your potential lover don’t seem to have much potential any more.
We live in a world of constant and, once again, immediate bombardment of opportunities to compare. As a result, the decisions we make slowly but surely become less appealing when we see all these potential what if scenarios unfolding before our eyes. As a result, we end up seeing and hoping for a whole lot of different things, but we end up living out a whole lot of nothing ourselves.
Options are the enemy of progress. If you want to stump your growth in life, do everything. Try to address every problem. Give your attention to everything. Christine Caine, founder of the brilliant A21 Campaign, wrote a book a few years ago called “Can I Have It All and Do It All Please?”. As a bit of a spoiler, her answer was no. The reason is because if you’re trying to do everything and consider every path, you fail to walk down the path right in front of you.
Could it be that the perfect guy or the perfect girl for you is right in front of your face, but thanks to all the options you feel like you have, you can’t see what’s right in front of you? And that question, my dear friends, makes our dating lives much more difficult.
#3: Lack of modern conversation etiquette
On the topic of immediate messaging, my mentors and friends on Sunday were saying how there are some topics that really shouldn’t be done via message, and that this was one of the biggest causes for frustration in the lives of the people they talk to. While it may be debatable whether or not you should ask someone out over text, there are certainly topics and strategies that shouldn’t be done using instant message – discussing big family issues, working through big disagreements, breaking up with or getting back together with someone (anyone who’s had that happen over message knows what that one’s like), and even just having a lack of sensitivity that a certain topic is becoming so important to someone that you really do need to explore it face to face. Modern communication forms can be cold, impersonal, and very very easily misinterpreted.
When should you phone call? When should you message? When should you go to their house? Which emoticons convey the right sense of emotion to your lover, or potential lover? How will they know what tone your text is actually carrying out?
The challenge is we do not really consider the etiquette of how we are having these bigger conversations.
#4: Rampant sexual assault
Sorry to turn up the reality factor, but I would say that the increased rates of sexual assault over the last 30 years across the entire world have been absolutely devastating to many relationships and potential relationships. Now I’m not saying sexual assault never used to happen in the 80s and earlier, but the statistics are revealing to us a disturbing trend, and if anything, we are much more aware of the stark reality facing our societies.
I’m Australian, so check the statistics in your own country, but here 17% of women and 4% of men have reported to have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15. Additionally, 93% of abusers are male. So, why bring that up? Because that’s way too many people, and the effects of assault stay with the victim for the rest of their lives. And with the overwhelming percentage of abusers being male (although there certainly are women who are perpetrators of sexual violence too), we can see that a lot of us have a lot of reasons not to trust the opposite sex.
I know a lot of women personally who are victims of sexual assault, and some men too. And whenever the conversation of relationships has come up, it’s been like a dagger in their heart, and a source of great fear. The fear of being able to trust a man or a woman after what has happened. The fear that they won’t be good enough. The disgusting sense that they are nothing but “damaged goods”.
Can we go there? Can we talk about this stuff? Because I think the dirty secret in the cupboard is destroying far more relationships than we’re willing to admit.
#5: Romantic idealism
If you’ve read my writing before, you know how much I hate this one. I think the main reason is because I have seen so many people hurt by this. And so many people who are now quite a bit older who’ve realized that they had some shots with a realistic guy or girl earlier in life while they were waiting for some magic moment that never came on its own.
I love movies and great love stories as much as the next guy (or girl), but we are overwhelmed with these. And most of them set us up to fail with unrealistic expectations of how people find each other, fall in love and build relationships.
A lot of what we’re expecting out of a partner simply just isn’t real. We train ourselves to believe that any feelings of awkwardness or uncertainty mean that we should absolutely run in the opposite direction. We feed ourselves imagery of perfect women who have no physical flaws, or of men who are able to give you a sexual experience that lasts for 3 weeks. Of immediate fairy lights and the angels singing in the background. Anything less, well sorry son, sorry sister, you out of here.
Sure, there was plenty of this 30 years ago, but the sheer quantity of opportunities we have today to experience very dodgy and dangerous relationship guidance is far and above anything our parents’ generation experienced.
#6: Painful divorces
Pain is a powerful disincentive. And the taint on our generation is the larger percentage of people who have been affected by divorce. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a divorce that was easy, or that was just a decision someone made lightly.
I think the movie Fireproof gave a powerful visual to describe what it was like. One of the guys talking to his friend who was thinking about it took a salt and pepper shaker at the table and superglued them together while his friend was trying to use one of them. When he went to pull the salt away, his friend said “Don’t, if you pull them apart now, you’ll break one or both of them”.
Like the rest, this isn’t intended to be a judgmental point or anything like that, but rather a reflection on the reality of our world, and that is that breakups make us weary of entering into anything at all.
#7: More fluid gender roles
The final point is one that really applies more in Western societies, and that is the dramatic changes in gender roles over the last 30 years. Now hear me out, I’m not saying that gender equality is a bad thing. I’m a big fan, actually. What I have observed though is the same sort of pressure that comes from number #2, and that is that we have so many more options. 30 or so years ago, it may have been that people would work to a certain age before “settling down” or finding a partner and having children, but now, with career opportunities, additional goals and higher education, we have many more decisions to make.
And as a result, we have our freedom… but with our freedom comes additional confusion if we aren’t really sure what we should do. Before at least the status quo pointed us in a general direction that gave us a more palatable set of options, but with great power comes great responsibility. And that affects our dating life, too.
But not all of it is new… There are many dating pressures today that still existed 30 years ago. Like fear. The fear of the wrong decision. The fear of the right decision. Things like childhood issues. Cheating. Not feeling like you’re good enough. Feeling uncertain in life. Many of these issues have been a universal part of the human condition since the very beginning.
And I think we just need to realize exactly what pressures are affecting and forming our decisions as we approach the areas of love and marriage. I think it’s good to be wise, and I also think that our generation has a unique challenge of having to develop new levels of wisdom in a world where we have so many new challenges that simply have never existed in any other point in history. And hey, there’s a whole generation coming up behind us. Imagine having been on Snapchat since you were 6 years old and how that sort of mentality would frame your dating relationships. Crazy.
How about you? Have you ever felt these modern dating pressures? Do you think any of these aren’t worth it? Were there any you thought I missed? Share your thoughts in the boxes below.