Thought Catalog
August 5, 2012

The Modern Dating Struggle

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What is the issue?

In school when kids began ‘dating,’ I remember questioning their motives. I wondered if they really felt a connection, or if it was just somebody to hold hands and make out with. Even at that ripe young age, I was skeptical of two people coming to an agreement and declaring themselves ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’. Of course the legitimacy of a seventh grader’s love life is typically not serious. I mean, aside from Cory and Topanga, I don’t know of one middle school couple that endured the winds of change, and came out of high school or college together. I’m sure they exist, but they’re rarer than the holographic Pokémon cards I collected back in the day.

My point is that I realized at a young age that dating was something I didn’t trust or fully comprehend. So for years, I watched from the sidelines. I never had a girlfriend but I studied others, making mental notes and developing philosophies about the concept of dating. It wasn’t until high school that I’d get off of the bench and exclaim, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!”  What I embarked on was a full-fledged rollercoaster that proved my studies to be useless.

I was a late bloomer of sorts. I was shorter than all the girls until sophomore year of high school. I didn’t have a first kiss until that same year. Most kids were disregarding cooties and awkwardly smooching as early as elementary school. Despite my lack of experience, I was under the impression that my days observing other couples had fully prepared me to slay the beast of dating. Boy, was I in for a treat… If treats taste like constant arguing, jealousy and pettiness, with a dash of salt – which is extracted from the gallons of tears cried throughout ‘relationships’.

As we get older, the seriousness of relationships matures with us – hopefully. Some of the people who got together late in high school or college remain intact. Others had children and got married. Then, there are those who are still dating — testing the waters and keeping their options open. The problem is that these waters are full of vicious piranhas, boring starfish, crabby crabs and beached whales (interpret that however you want). Dating nowadays is somewhat peculiar; the game has changed from the traditions we’ve always heard of.

The modern-day situation that’s trending is something I like to call ‘intermediate dating’. It’s that thing where you’re not sure if you’re best friends, sex-buddies, boyfriend/girlfriend, or enemies with a person who you interact with regularly. How can we genuinely not be able to identify what we are with someone else? If you spend significant amounts of time together, and your time apart is full of interaction via cell phone – isn’t it safe to say that you’re with each other? Or does it not count because it was never officially discussed? Yeah, it probably doesn’t count. I mean, if you don’t even have an anniversary date, how can it be a legitimate relationship? I don’t know, and in all likelihood, the parties involved don’t have a clue either. Sadly, this is a stressful scenario that many are tangled up in today.

Romantic associations being indistinguishable are becoming a social norm, but there’s certainly a purpose for this. As embarrassing and preposterous as this is, people consider Facebook’s ‘In a relationship’ label to be the equivalent of an online wedding band. Gossipers think so-and-so is single if his/her relationship status doesn’t say otherwise. Aside from Facebook, it’s got a lot to do with the brand of people currently being created. Yes, many things that used to be considered taboo, or serious matters are taken lightly in our culture now. Take cheating, for example. People nonchalantly cheat on their significant other, as if it isn’t a terrible thing to do. Then we have divorce rates which are ridiculously high. We constantly see failed marriages and people giving up on each other left and right. This has an effect on many – some of whom become a product of their environment.

There’s a rise in the fear of commitment, leading to a lack of labeling. It’s simpler for some to see movies, eat dinner and talk to a person whenever there’s time, than to define themselves and have a relationship classification to live up to. So while certain people want to half-date, there are a number of people who want the whole enchilada – which is a disastrous combination. It’s hard to be relaxed about trusting someone you care about when they can be involved with anyone else, and attempt to justify it on the technicality that you’re not ‘official’. Then there’s the fact that even if you claim not to care, and have a friends-with-benefits type of connection, you’re probably destined to fail. Eventually someone will develop stronger feelings, and if they’re not reciprocated, it’s catastrophic. Most physical based relationships, with no committed agreements come with an early expiration date.

Guards are up. Not just people with mommy or daddy issues – but everyone. People in general seem to be especially concerned for their emotional well being going into new connections. It’s like when you see people running away from something, so without knowing what they’re evading – you run too. We’re guided naturally by instincts to protect ourselves, even if we’re just mimicking preventative measures that we see others taking. The fear of commitment and highly protected hearts are evident in multiple ways. There’s no scale to measure it, but I assure you that we’re a part of the most sarcastic, cynical generations ever. We make jokes and excessively attempt wittiness to stave off compliments, affection or the professing of feelings. Each humorous comment serves as a bouncer, rejecting people at the door of your heart. It’s not that we can’t be serious, it’s that many just don’t want to. Serious is scary.

Realistically there are plenty of other specific reasons why dating has seemingly grown more difficult. Despite there being billions of people in this world, it’s hard finding people who you can open up to, and completely trust with your heart. Ultimately we can only do our best to give others the benefit of the doubt, and treat each other as individuals. We can’t categorize a bunch, because of the behaviors of one or two not-so-great people. Yes, we see more cheating and separation than ever – but we can’t allow ourselves to date in fear of it. All a dater can hope for is that their heartbreaks and rejections weren’t for nothing. That eventually the road leads to meeting someone special. Someone who makes you feel as if you don’t need to deflect, and equally important – doesn’t deflect you. TC Mark

image – ShutterStock

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