While we live in an era of ease of access and convenience, young adult life is more complicated in 2015 than it ever has been before. When it comes to romance, this is no exception - no one seems to know what is going on. Life in your 20s has evolved into something completely different than what it had been 50 years ago, which explains a lot in terms of how we think and act. Here are some of the biggest changes that have greatly affected the lives we live today.
1. Online Dating
Online dating has almost singlehandedly dismantled all that humans once knew of romance. Online dating's earliest origins date all the way back to the 1960's - yes, that number is correct - when the earliest forms of computers could match people based on their responses to a long series of questions on a scantron. You know, the things you took tests on in elementary school with the little caterpillar bubbles? Yes, that is how online dating started. Through a combination of the algorithms used in those dating questionnaires, combined with the use of a 'profile' - which was used in the 'personals' section of the newspaper and in the short-lived 'video dating' - we now have what millennials recognize to be online dating.
These dating services caught on quickly in the early-to-mid 2000's during the years in which having a Personal Computer in your home became a more common thing. Today, online dating is more popular than ever, granting users access to these sites through mobile browsers and apps right on their phones. Mobile dating has specifically caught on in recent years, offering a 24/7 singles bar right in your pocket or purse.
The numbers don't lie; Between the years of 2005 and 2012, more than one-third of American couples that got married had met through an online dating site of some sort. Again, yes - that number is correct. Online dating is hands down the most common way people in the U.S. have met their spouses, more than through work and college and social activities combined.
Oddly enough, despite its obvious popularity, there is still a stigma attached to the world of online dating. People hear the word 'Tinder' and cringe. And while, yes, apps like Tinder obviously add fuel to the fire that is the hookup culture we currently reside in, there is no denying the success that the industry has seen.
2. We Always Need the 'Best'
This is proven fact. Our generation not only wants the best - we need it.
Why settle for second best? I don't want 'okay' Thai curry - I want the best Thai curry. Life is way too short for second-rate Thai cuisine!
There is nothing wrong with wanting the best. I think that it's a natural desire and you should always strive for it. Performing basic research before we spend our hard earned money on something is totally reasonable. But sometimes we go overboard and spend more time Googling Thai restaurants and reading all of the Yelp! reviews than we will actually spend enjoying the food.
This same development occurs in the dating world. While our grandparents - and even some of our parents - may have settled into a marriage that was simply "good enough" for them, we millennials are on a constant hunt for our soulmates. Our other halves. Our true love.
3. Emerging Adulthood
The concept of 'emerging adulthood' is something that would be inconceivable to the generations before us. To them, becoming an adult was starting your career, getting married and moving out of the house. The approach that we take nowadays is much different from this. Typically, most of us spend our twenties - or even some of our thirties - exploring the world (and ourselves) before we ever consider the possibility of marriage.
This is a period of development and self-discovery that really shapes us into who we truly are. We have bigger priorities than settling down right away. For the first time in our lives, we are free to explore the world around us with seemingly endless possibilities of romance. This independence helps us grow and learn to function as an adult while also having fun and enjoying the process.
And I'm not talking about the 'bar scene' and partying. While fun - especially during college years - those are things that should end sooner rather than later. Not all millennials are lame - many get involved in their communities and do constructive things in their lives during this period.
But, none-the-less, this period of exploration is a new phenomenon.
4. The Two Worlds We Live In
This is probably the biggest factor in the way we live our lives today.
As I stated in a previous article, we now live in two separate worlds - the real world and our phone world. The real world is Earth - where we physically live and interact. Our phone world is a realm where we enjoy a high level of privacy and freedom, which in the world of dating can create a fissure in our relationships. Issues such as cheating, jealousy, and sexual intimacy are all present in phone world, providing a whole new playing field of potential unavailable in the past.
Sexting is a big one. While sexually explicit photographs and letters have been being shared for decades, in phone world, it's an easier task than ever before. I could have literally snapped a provocative picture and sent it to someone, all while typing this sentence. It's mainly popular with the younger crowd, especially with apps like Snapchatthat make it easy to ensure your pictures don't fall into the wrong hands.This is a common way for people - especially young adults - to share intimacy, create sexual attraction or even just maintain intimacy while apart from your partner.
Casually swapping nudes isn't the only thing we use our phones for, however. Sometimes, cheating is made convenient in phone world. Before modern cell phones, it was no easy task to be in touch secretly with another romantic partner. Landline phones and mail made it a complicated process. But now, with the use of email, Facebook and texting, it's easier than ever.
Not to freak anyone out, but you could literally be laying in bed with your partner, and they could be texting someone else. It's that simple. Many people will disagree with me, but flirting is cheating. Sorry, not sorry.
Anyways, the simple possibility of this occurring causes trust issues, especially with those who have been the subject of betrayal before. For some, it creates a burning desire to know what the heck they are up to in their phone worlds. Unfortunately, some people also lack the control the refrain from prying - even I am guilty of it on a couple occasions. I am ashamed to admit that, but it's true, and I have learned from it. And trust me when I say, the feeling of wondering is a lot better than what you'll find within. So if you have your serious doubts, just break up with them.
If our phone world makes it easier for us to cheat, it makes it just as easy to get caught.
5. Misunderstanding 'Love'
As Woody Allen puts it in Annie Hall, "Love fades."
And this is true in a sense. The problem is that people - specifically young adults - misinterpret what it means.
It is important to understand that there are two phases of love. The first phase is called passionate love. You know, that crazy, burning, undying feeling that you get when you think of your partner. It's a great feeling. What's actually happening is your brain is flooding your neural synapses with dopamine - the same neurotransmitter that's released when you do cocaine or orgasm. Crazy, right? But it's true.
Unfortunately, this changes with time. Don't think of it as fading. Think of it as evolving. After about a year or so of feeling passionate love, your brain will start to find its balance. It grows used to your partner's smile, smell, presence, etc. This is when a new kind of love begins. This phase is known as companionate love. Companionate love is much different from passionate love, and rather than a sudden rush of emotion, this love is a love that grows gradually over time.
There is a difference between falling "out of love" and transitioning into companionate love. This poses two problems for young adults. First, most don't understand the difference and mistake the transition as falling out of love with someone, so they jump the gun and end the relationship in search of more passionate love. Second, some just simply don't have the patience for companionate love, as our world of instant gratification has changed the way our brains receive certain things.
6. Settling Down
Many factors go into people's fear of settling down. But when you really sit down and analyze it, most of it is irrational. All the glamour and fuss of the glorious single life strikes fear into our hearts the second we meet someone we would consider as a possible partner. It's really just about numbers - it's simply unnatural for human beings to be exposed to the endless possibilities that online dating and emerging adulthood have granted us.
Walking through the city every day I pass countless suitors on the street. Hundreds of possibilities, people who I could simply approach and start a conversation with. Add in all of the faces I'll see on my screen - Facebook, Tinder, OKCupid, etc. It's sort of ridiculous when you think about it.
In my opinion, I couldn't care less if I fell in love with an amazing girl who I then decided to spend the rest of my life with - isn't that the entire point of dating? I wouldn't miss out on years of fun - I would share that fun with another amazing person. I won't worry about meeting someone better because I will have invested my time and love into the best. It takes almost no effort to meet someone. It does, however, take some effort to build a relationship with that person.
We have to stop worrying so much. Meeting people is supposed to be fun and exciting, not stressful. Loosen up your outline of the 'perfect partner' and explore your options a little more in depth. Stop with the endless string of 'first dates' from people you meet online. Trade some extra potential first dates for some second and third dates with someone else. Just because you didn't have the most amazing first date of all time doesn't mean that person isn't worth your time. If you invest a little effort into someone, you'll be amazed at what can develop out of it. You'll enjoy a deeper, more dependable type of dating that way. You may even enjoy intimacy, or even better - love.
I'm not saying we should go back to getting married in our early twenties. There's a reason things change. I'm also not saying that you can't have a little fun with your lives. Being single can be really fun. Spending time with friends, going on new adventures and learning how you function on your own are all very important things to do before you can ever really settle down in the long term.
All I'm saying is that you shouldn't be afraid of love. You shouldn't stay single just because you are worried you'll 'miss out' or 'find someone better.. While all this technology definitely connects us to the world, it doesn't really bring us closer. In the end, you have to put the phone down, log off the computer and direct your eyes to the world around you.
No matter the changes that we face or obstacles that arise, humans will always find a way to love. Love is natural. Don't ever allow the superficial to replace that because then love will truly be lost.
The week that my Atlantic essay, "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough," was published, Bella DePaulo wrote me an email asking whether she could have her publicist send me her book, Singled Out.
I didn't take Bella up on her offer, but if I had, I hope I would have had the courtesy to give a fair critique rather than do what Bella did here, which was to attribute quotes to me that weren't mine, take every cited portion of my essay wildly out of context and, with these glaring inaccuracies, fail to convey the nuance of the piece and, as a result, its actual point. From someone who's a social scientist, this seems pretty unscientific to me. But I don't know -- maybe that's what they mean by the "social" sciences.
In any event, I'm surprised by the outraged vehemence of Bella's reaction for several reasons, one of which is that few people would dispute what I'm saying in the piece, whether it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy or not: Quite simply, a woman at 30-years-old is more likely to find a higher caliber of partner than that same woman might at 40. Likewise, most 40-year-old men would rather date a 35-year-old than a 45-year-old, all else being equal. And finally, the majority of heterosexual women in this country want to get married and have kids. Is that so controversial? Am I really "hurting America" (to quote Bella quoting Jon Stewart) by writing a piece based on these widely accepted beliefs? All I did was take them a step further and say to 30-ish single women: be aware and act accordingly.
As someone who decided to have a baby on my own with the optimism that I'd find Mr. Right later, only to realize now how difficult that might be to achieve given the realities of gender politics, I was suggesting -- and I never insisted that people had to take my advice; I was only offering it by way of opinion -- that at a certain point, say, your mid-thirties, if you haven't found The One, go with the guy who's nice and smart and interesting, and would be a good husband and father and a person you'd enjoy eating dinner with every night, even if he doesn't make your stomach get all jittery with butterflies whenever you see him, because the "zing" isn't the thing most long-married couples talk about anyway when asked about what makes their marriages work. As I said in the piece, the day-to-day of marriage (yes, even good marriages) is more about whom you want to run a household with than whom you want to go on vacation with. Again, not exactly controversial, and not a dating concept that hasn't been around for quite a while, but for some reason Bella portrays me as an affront to women everywhere for stating the obvious.
Meanwhile, for those who have been misled by the blatant inaccuracies in Bella's post, I'd like to set the record straight on as many as I have time to address (between work and childcare and what, as Bella probably believes is most important to me, Match.com). Like, well, her opening line. I don't, as she asserts, have "one word for single women of any age: Settle!" In fact, I suggest settling specifically for women in their thirties who don't want to be alone for the rest of their lives and/or want the kind of traditional family in which there are male pubic hairs on the toilet seat in the master bathroom. How she got the impression that I suggested it for 18-year-olds, or 25-year-olds, or 45-year-olds, or gay women, or people with OCD who can't stand someone else living under the same roof and spreading all those guy germs, is beyond me.
Second, Bella erroneously states I'm urging readers to settle for guys who, quite to the contrary, I refer to in the article as people for whom I would clearly not advise settling. Interestingly, Time magazine recently devoted an entire issue to the science of romance, in which there was a piece that cited better health for both partners as one of the many benefits of marriage, partly because you have another person reminding you to get regular doctor check-ups. (Time magazine's writers use actual studies to back up their reporting; Bella would approve.) Perhaps Bella, without a spouse around to mention that she needs a vision test and reading glasses, took my examples one hundred and eighty degrees out of context not because she was willfully twisting my words to back up her point (that would be unethical, after all), but because she just couldn't see all that well (I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, being a fellow presbyopic singleton.) Had she actually read what I wrote, though, she would have noted that rather than urging that anyone "settle" for these men, I was suggesting that the kind of settling I was talking about shouldn't involve that much compromise, which is precisely why I was advocating doing it in your 30s, when you can still find a great life partner you'd likely be happy with, even if he doesn't meet your (perhaps unrealistic) definition of The One.
Third, and under the heading, "Her own little world" (which can't be that little, given that I share the desire for a traditional family with a large number of single woman in this country -- at least the 1,000 who claim to belong solidly in my little world in emailed responses to me after publication of the article), Bella asserts that I'm "creating my own reality." News flash: This is a personal essay. Note that it's written in the first person. I'm not writing about someone else's reality as a single mom in her 40s. I'm writing about my own experience and observations and conversations with men and women both single and married. Which in no way implies that I'm "the mom telling [my] kiddie readers that they must do as [I] say 'because I said so!!!'" First, I have never placed three exclamation points together in my life. But also -- and you can fact-check this with my 2-year-old son -- I've learned that using "Because I said so" is a highly ineffective way of getting my point across. In fact, it often results in a very childish response, similar to Bella's: mockery. So although Bella has responded to my piece the way a 2-year-old might, my essay was simply expressing a view, not shoving it down people's throats as the only way to live one's life. If your definition of a fulfilling life is one that consists of three cats and physical contact only with uncommitted partners or the masseuse at Burke Williams, then put down the Atlantic and go stock up on kitty litter. Obviously, this piece isn't written for you. But please be aware that you're the minority in the subset of heterosexual women in this country who have never been married.
The mommy line isn't where the unfair attacks end. Bella also takes issue with, of all things, the pull-quote the magazine ran. Hey, Bella, I don't have any say over the pull-quotes, okay? I'm just the "myth-peddling" writer. Can you get any more nitpicky? I mean, I know why I'm not married -- I'm controlling, moody, and nitpicky. So maybe we have something in common after all.
In fact, we do agree on one thing. At one point, Bella looks at the piece more objectively and states: "I will give Lori Gottlieb this, though: Scientific findings are about averages. There are always exceptions." True, and let me add that scientific findings are prone to error. As a former scientist myself (in medicine), I know from experience... oops, "my own reality" ... that studies are flawed and often not replicable in the so-called real world (not just mine, but even the real real world in which Bella implies she lives but I, apparently, don't). Especially studies that ask people to fill out questionnaires about how satisfied they are being single versus actual conversations with single people that probe more deeply and subtly than blunt questionnaires often can or do.
Hilariously, though, after this cogent observation, Bella moves on to the heading, "What does Lori Gottlieb want?" - a question by which even my therapist has been flummoxed for the past 10 years, but which Bella thinks she can answer in two inches of blog-space. Here, Bella continues to take text from the piece and apply it in an entirely different context. She seems to have missed that I was making fun of, rather than advocating, what relationship books tend to suggest. Unlike those books, I was recommending that people commit in their 30s to a perfectly lovely man with whom they may not be "feeling it," and not that they do what the relationship books urge, which seemed to me to be selling one's very soul in the service of finding a partner. In fact, my main point of the piece is that by tying the knot in your 30s with a great guy who perhaps isn't whatever idealized notion you have of "true love," you won't end up in your 40s or 50s or 60s with the only options for partnership being men who might make you feel like you are selling your very soul.
Oh, and I do want sex. True, I wrote in the piece that most married couples aren't having it as much as they did while dating, so the "chemistry" factor women look for in a mate might be over-emphasized. In the Will and Grace example, the point I was making -- which again, Bella twisted entirely -- was that I probably wouldn't be having a lot of it even if I was raising little kids with Mr. Exactly Right. That's the reality of married life with toddlers. But yes, I'd like to be having sex. I hope that clarifies "what Lori Gottlieb wants."
In regards to my "tragic husband-fixation" (let's not confuse this with, say, the "tragic" situation in the Middle East or Darfur), I hate to pop Bella's we-are-the-world view of female friendships but, no, my fellow single mom friends don't want to watch my kid so I can eat lunch. They want a break, like I do, because we never have a hand-off and can barely juggle our own kid. We're out of gas. When we single mom friends are together, we want to relax and -- gasp! -- have an adult conversation. Not eat alone for 20 minutes and then run around with two rambunctious toddlers so our friend can eat alone for 20 minutes. Unlike married women, we don't have another adult in the house to talk to on a regular basis, so eating alone while our single mom friend is 50 feet away on the jungle gym isn't quite the same as having a husband. Is it really that hard to see the difference between the two scenarios?
Bella really goes off the deep end, though, when she maintains that I consider myself to be "shockingly unconventional." Interestingly, my entire piece is about how much I crave the same thing most people do -- a traditional marriage rather than being the so-called trailblazers we single moms are often assumed to be. Nor am I trying to be original. As I said, there's nothing original about the idea that women have better marriage prospects at age 30 than at 40, and if we don't want to end up alone, we should pay attention. Why then, are people like Bella so incensed? Are they perhaps shooting the messenger because they don't like the message? Is that why so many women have written to me, thanking me for saying what they already knew, but also mentioning that they've been afraid to post publicly about this for fear of being attacked by people just like Bella simply for saying that they agree or found the piece honest or thought-provoking? Look, even I don't like the message, but I was still able to write about it because, to my mind, it's true for a lot of women.
Still, even if Bella were to accurately understand my points in the piece, and even if she still disagreed, I'm not sure why she felt the need to attack me so forcefully and personally. She even felt the need to denigrate my piece on her book's Amazon page. Again, I'm no social scientist, but I'm one class away from a graduate degree in psychology, and I have to wonder, shrink-intern that I am, whether my ideas have struck a raw nerve for her. I mean, if it's not advice that works for you, so be it. Stay single. List your fellow single female friends on your emergency contact form at the doctor's office, ask your female friends to make you chicken soup when you have the flu, eat dinner each night with your single female friends (but don't talk about dating or men; who needs them?). If she really finds the piece (and, by extension, me) ridiculous and laughable, then why spend so much of her clearly fulfilling free time as a single woman debunking it? Instead, the mere intensity of her reaction (rather than, say, a more calm and reasoned response to the actual message of the piece, or even simply sharing her thoughts directly and privately in the email in which she offered to send me her book) makes it seem like, well, Dr. Freud, sometimes a blog post isn't just a blog post. As we say in the trade, I think she's got some, uh, issues here.
Oh, and speaking of that email, Bella, thanks for your self-promoting offer (I lost count of the number of times you referred to your own book - chapter and page numbers included, in your post). Yes, please have your publicist send me a copy. I can't wait to read it with the same degree of intellectual integrity and objective critical thinking that you gave my Atlantic piece.