Thought Catalog

The Modern Dating Struggle

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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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    • caro

      This is excellent! I hate how casual cheating and friends with benefits have become. I realize that sometimes relationships and labels are complicated, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to go hurting people.

    • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/08/the-modern-dating-struggle/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

      […] Thought Catalog » Love & Sex Add a comment […]

    • http://www.raymondthimmes.com raymondthimmes

      An accurate summary as to why I haven’t been seeing anyone in months. Even casually. As desperately as I may want to.

    • mailymail1
    • JK

      What’s a beach whale?! It’s BEACHED whale. Jeez.

    • Elizabeth

      Great article. This “limbo” that you describe that many of us are in with someone relatively special is so frustrating.

    • A.J.

      As someone who went through the “I love you, but I’m not *in* love with you because I’m afraid of commitment.” BS with her best friend/not-girlfriend only last night, this post hits me right in the heart.

    • http://twitter.com/Tonks07 Mandy (@Tonks07)

      I really enjoyed reading this! & man do I hate that middle land of are we or are we no dating! For me it seems like a lack of communication thing. So many of us younger people communicate in quick bursts of texting or Facebook and the like. But now sitting down with one person and having a canversation about expectation and feeling seems scarier than usual! Because we don’t get quite as much practice maybe? Just a thought. But then on the oppisite side of this idea- why is it so easy to open up our hearts to strangers online? I wonder what the statisic is of relationships that start online is?

      • somebody that he used to know

        ^ this

    • https://thoughtcatalog.com/author/jenna-coy/ Jenna Coy

      I love this article!!! Fun to read. Reminds me to be thankful for the awesome dude I’m dating who isn’t afraid to admit it! :)

    • AliceW

      A good read as I hit the tail end of extreme levels of frustration after a two year whatever with someone. I’m trying not to regret it as we’re still friends but its very hard. I’m not doing that again. It’s not worth it.

    • Wekan

      Good article. I have a hypothesis regarding the high divorce rate and relationships not working out:

      Our culture is very individualistic. In some ways that’s good, but kids are raised to believe they’re special and they don’t learn empathy, compromise, and sacrifice – the essential parts of a relationship.

      On an unrelated note, your 7th paragraph is really good. I’ve seen this a lot and it’s always sad.

    • Oh wow

      Ha, okay, good to know it’s not just me. Ambiguous pseudo-relationships that never really go anywhere, Let’s no be exclusive. Let’s just get really jealous over each other’s real or imagined sex lives until one of us can no longer stand it. Repeat (with someone new, obviously).

    • StephM

      this is true. and depressing. the worst part is that the people who want the whole enchilada seem to only find the people who only want to half date.

      • cat

        ^ exactly.

    • http://twitter.com/PPAguilarE Pedro Pablo Aguilar (@PPAguilarE)

      Cheating on spouses was actually much more accepted in the US in the early and mid 20th century than now. Remember how everyone knew JFK had mistresses and it was fine? Remember how Clinton got impeached?
      As far as marriage, divorce rates have actually been declining for about 10 years.
      Dating lots of people is nothing new. People before would date, but not “go steady” a lot.
      This article is misinformed and and seems to be based solely on the fact that dating has gotten harder for the author. Which is what happens to every person who ever leaves middle school.

    • kim

      It’s actually pretty simple. If you have feelings for someone, tell them. If the are acting “relationship-like” with you and you expect a full relationship, tell them and don’t settle for anything less. If you walk away when they won’t commit and they chase you down, then they want you. If they don’t follow, then they don’t care enough. Someone who wants to be with you 100% will be with you 100%. If you have to beg, plead, cry, chase, work really really hard to get them to pay attention to you, then they don’t want you badly enough. Only in rare circumstances is “bad timing” a legitimate rationale for someone not committing. In most circumstances, it is because they may like you, but not enough to go the extra mile and you should be seeking better.

    • http://www.facebook.com/hananaboat Hanna Mullins

      Loved the last paragraph the most.

    • sarah

      I stayed single all of my twenties, on purpose. I was watching all the crazy around me and I wanted to just focus on myself, professionally and also to really figure out what I wanted in a partner and the way I wanted to live my life. Somehow, magically, at 32, I found a man who was for me just four months after I started looking and being open to it. I think you really need to know yourself and be strong enough to tell other people what you believe and need. If you want something you have to ask for it. If the person you want to be with doesn’t want to be with you, get out fast and don’t look back. If you are the person who just wants to be casual and you know someone is falling for you, please stop it. Those two decisions can only be made by a person who knows what they want.

      • BBL

        Well said. I wish I could’ve known that before I dated my first.

      • Jennifer

        Definitely well put. I’m only 23 and recently met someone who’s 26 and we had an instant connection. I’ve already had two “serious” relationships and I’ve learned A LOT from them. I know EXACTLY what I want and how I want to be treated. Even though this 26-year-old can tell me he thinks I’m incredible, smart, funny and gorgeous he can’t commit to me – because of work…a demanding big-city job. And his career. Idk, it just hurts. But, he’s okay with spending time with me. Luckily, I just drew the line and gave him one last chance to make this work. If not, like you said – i’ll get out fast and not look back. It’s been three months of the “dating” and that’s about all the casual dating and sex I can do. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too – is what I always say!

    • http://sassybrokebitch.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-modern-dating-struggle-thought-catalog/ The Modern Dating Struggle | Thought Catalog « ♡

      […] The Modern Dating Struggle | Thought Catalog. […]

    • Sam

      I am genuinely, truly worried about how Facebook is destroying all kinds of relationships and how there’s nothing I can do to stop being alive during this time

    • Tom

      Story of my life, right here. Great article.

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      […] The Modern Dating Struggle […]

    • http://rikkicustodio.wordpress.com rikkicustodio

      This is pretty realistically scary and it’s just sad that there are fewer and fewer people afraid to take the risk and to give ‘commitment’ its true meaning these days

    • http://imnotinlovethisisnotmyheart.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/modern-minds-and-past-times/ Modern Minds and Past Times « Memento Mori

      […] off Thought Catalog (x), The modern-day situation that’s trending is something I like to call ‘intermediate dating’. […]

    • Gerh Allan

      well put evocative realism.you should also talk about whatsapp,texting and all that virtualism.the oldskool dating is gone.

    • http://www.datingssutra.com/dating-then-and-now/ Dating Then and NowDating Tips

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