How Millennials Are Changing Relationships

“Millennials don’t want relationships,” I read this morning on social media.

And, admittedly, my first response to this was something akin to: oh great, is this another thing millennials are killing, along with diamonds, golf, and napkins? Are millennials responsible for the death of relationships as well?

Once my initial reaction was out of the way, I started to think about this claim a little deeper. I mean, in this culture of Tinder and social media dating, you are more apt to hearing people wonder about what the future of dating is. So is there some validity to this claim that millennials don’t want romantic relationships, in a society where social contact is established through a screen?

As a millennial myself, do I want a relationship?

Well, yes. Someday. It just isn’t high on my list of priorities right now.

I am twenty-three years old, and right now, my life is a little bit rocky. I’m in the process of figuring out how I can move to another city. I’m trying to decide what I want to do with my life. My career and my pursuit of my dreams have sort of taken priority for the past few years, as I learn to navigate through this crazy, little world that I inherited. And, yeah, I would eventually like a relationship, but I don’t necessarily see myself settling into an image of domesticity, at least not any time soon. Right now, I’m still trying to find myself.

And so are the majority of my fellow-millennial friends. I have friends who have jumped from relationship to relationship, not because they don’t want to stay in one, but because they’re still learning and figuring themselves out. I have friends whose every romantic encounter is a Tinder hookup, because they aren’t emotionally prepared to settle down yet. I have friends who settle into happy, serious relationships, and then a few months later, break up and post all about the whole experience on social media.

And, personally, I don’t see any of this as a sign that millennials don’t want a relationship. It’s just that many of us are still very young. And a lot of this is pretty par for the course of young people, social media or no social media.

So then why do I keep hearing people say that millennials don’t want relationships, or that millennials don’t know how to make lasting connections with people?

Well, 1 – I think that this a pretty common complaint for every new generation of youths. Let’s face it: elders just like to complain about us. And, considering young people are consistently trying to find themselves and explore their environment, whether it’s the 1960’s or the age of Tinder, this is probably going to continue being a complaint for many, many years to come. The baby boomers will say it about us. The millennials will say it about the next generation. It’s just the circle of life.

But I also think that there’s another side to all this, and it’s something that I touched on briefly earlier: the definition of what a relationship is is, slowly but surely, changing.

Divorce rates in America peaked at about 40 percent in 1980, and although this number has been declining ever since, this does mean that many millennials grew up in households where their biological parents were split up. We are the generation of step-parents and single parents, and we are also the generation that grew up with both parents working outside of the house.

Perhaps (at least partly) because of this, it is estimated that the marriage rate might drop to 70 percent in millennials (compared to 91 percent of baby boomers).

Yep, that’s right. We’re killing the wedding industry too. Take that, heteronormative marriage ideals.

But it isn’t just the divorce rate that might make millennials wonder about marriage. As we talk more and more about the role of women in our society, women are encouraged toward pursuing careers and building lives outside of the home. More and more, we’re moving away from this idea that the only thing a woman can be is a wife and mother.

As Time put it, “millennials want jobs and education, not marriage and kids”. In fact, according to them, 55 percent of millennials said that marriage and kids aren’t important.

This goes back to what I was saying before: relationships just aren’t a priority for me right now. I want a satisfying career and education, and as a woman in 2018, I have more freedom than ever to get that. A satisfying relationship can come later, when I’m a little bit more adjusted and sure of myself.

And not only that, relationships are becoming increasingly less weirdly Stepford with time. We are talking more and more about such issues as heteronormativity, and how harmful that can become. Same sex relationships are becoming more and more accepted within society, meaning that today’s youth are more open minded than ever. Only 65 percent of millennials identify as exclusively heterosexual, and already, this is becoming an outdated statistic, as only 48 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 to 20 identify as exclusively heterosexual. According to the survey conducted by the J Walter Thompson Innovation Group, a significant amount of today’s youth identify as bisexual.

I also don’t think that such societal conversations as the role of polyamory or sex positivity should be ignored, as these are changing the way that we, as today’s youth, view relationships.

And I’m really not trying to say that any of this is a negative thing. On the contrary, I think it’s amazing. I think that millennials these days have more freedoms when it comes to relationships than any generation has ever had before, and I’m really curious to see where we’ll take these freedoms as more of us grow older and more mature and more prepared to settle into relationships (or not settle into relationships, whatever makes each individual person happy).

I think that, for too long, relationships have had a solid structure that each and every person is expected to follow, or at least pretend to follow. And I think that this structure works for some people, but not for everyone. And right now, millennials are creating the freedom to build new relationships that work better for each individual person. And is this a trend that will continue? Or are we destined to become the stubborn, old curmudgeons, complaining about the next generation and their inability to form healthy, normal relationships? That, I suppose, only time will tell.

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What I Learned From Being Single

“People who have been single for too long are the hardest to love, because they have become so used to being single, independent, and self-sufficient that it takes something extraordinary to convince them that they need you in their life.”

The above quotation is something that I read recently in a Facebook post, shared by one of my friends. And, I have to admit, when I saw it, it made me pause.

The word here that draws most of my attention is the word ‘hard’, which can, of course, be used in many ways. You might say that something is ‘hard’, and yet the fact that it is difficult also makes it fun or worthwhile – like a hobby, or some sort of intellectual puzzle. Yet, when we say that somebody is ‘hard to love’, this is rarely the way that we mean it. Usually, ‘hard to love’ refers to an individual who is unpleasant, or difficult, or generally unlikeable – the personality equivalent to that old phrase “a face only a mother could love”.

And, more than that, the phrasing of this quotation makes me think that this was what was intended as well. The person who is ‘hard to love’ is a ‘they’, an other, someone who the reader is not meant to relate to. Yet, the person who is trying (and, evidently, failing) to love them is referred to as ‘you’ – the reader. The way that this quotation is phrased, people who have been single too long are a difficult-to-love ‘them’, and those who are trying but ultimately unable to love them are ‘you’, the relatable one, the everyman.

Except, reading this quote, the one that I relate to is the ‘them’.

So, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been single for… a while. In the past few years, I’ve been on dates, I’ve flirted with people, but ultimately, a mixture of not having a particularly stable or consistent home, as well as my own personal issues, have meant that I haven’t really settled down into any sort of serious relationship.

And I won’t lie; at first, it bugged me. Both for admirable reasons and less-admirable reasons. On the one hand, I just wanted someone to be with, but I was also worried about petty, stupid things, like: would I be able to afford a house, a car, and a life if I didn’t have a partner? Would I ever be truly happy if I didn’t have a partner? Would I ever be able to have a relationship at all if I wasn’t gaining dating relationship experience right now?

It came to a point where I started to think that I should just latch onto the next person who came along, just so I could have someone, anyone, even if I didn’t actually like them.

But, fortunately, I just wasn’t in a place to maintain a relationship – physically or emotionally – which made it easier for me to resist this urge. Instead, I just… remained single. And, as time passed, it not only became easier – it changed the way that I saw both myself and any future potential partners.

Because there is something true about the quotation that I gave at the beginning: when you have been single for a long time, you learn how to live independently. You start planning your life around being single, and you learn that you don’t really need someone else in order to live or be happy; there are always other options. There are always other goals to be fulfilled, other ways to make your life worthwhile. When you’ve been single for a while, you began to learn that relationships are nice, but they aren’t a requirement.

And, personally speaking, I think that that’s an important lesson to learn. I have seen many people start relationships for no other reason than that they want to be with someone. I have seen many people stay with people who treated them poorly, only because they were afraid to be single. And I don’t want to pass any judgement on people who have done this; I completely understand the fear of being left alone. And, more than that, every experience, whether it be remaining single or choosing a mediocre relationship, comes with its life lessons. But, that being said, once we have learned that we don’t require a relationship in order to be worthwhile and happy, then we realize that we don’t have to settle for a relationship that isn’t constructive to our lives. We don’t have to stay with people we aren’t interested in or who treat us poorly, because there’s nothing wrong with being single.

And, really, what’s wrong with our own company? We should be able to love ourselves, to respect ourselves, to treat ourselves, whatever that might mean, because we are beautiful and we are important. We deserve relationships that are going to make us happy, that are going to support us and build us up. Not relationships that hold us down, or that we only choose because we think we have no other choice.

End of day, people who have been single for a long time are not difficult to love. People who have been single for a long time have simply learned that they deserve a certain kind of love – a constructive kind of love. We won’t settle for any old kind of love; we won’t settle for something mediocre, something destructive, something unnecessary. We won’t settle, because we know we have options – whether that be the option of another lover, someone who will deliver more to the relationship, or, quite simply, the option of our own company.

No love is perfect, of course, but love is intended to better our lives. Love is meant to build us up, to help us grow, to make us see new things and new experiences. And if it doesn’t do that, then we just don’t need it. We already have the love of our friends, the love of our passions, and, more importantly, the love of ourselves.

Why We Need to Let the Ones We Love Make Mistakes

When it comes to relationship advice, pretty much anywhere you look, the word ‘trust’ will come up. In fact, in our society, trust has come to be up there with love and loyalty as far as traits that make a successful relationship.

But what, exactly, does it mean?

Trust that our loved ones won’t cheat on us? That’s certainly important; you can’t build a healthy relationship while simultaneously getting offended every time that they talk to someone of the gender or genders they’re interested in.

Trust that our loved ones won’t hurt us? Well, we have to trust that they won’t hurt us intentionally or excessively, but a little bit of pain is just part of the territory every now and again.

But what about trusting them not to do something stupid? Trusting them not to put their foot in their mouth? Trusting them not to make mistakes or royally fuck things up in their own lives? Is that sort of trust important?

Because sometimes, it can be really, really hard; I get it. We are talking about someone you care about, and when they start to do something that you not only disagree with, but that you can see potential ramifications for in the near or distant future, you might want to get involved.

You might want to steer them away from saying that thing that might fuck things up.

You might want to tell them not to do something that poses a potential risk, just because you don’t want to see them get hurt.

You might worry about them, and worry about them a lot, because they matter to you, and their happiness and wellbeing matters to you. And we all know that everyone makes mistakes every once in a while, and you might start to think that, if you can help them just avoid those mistakes beforehand, tell them what to do and how to act now before anyone gets hurt, then you’re just looking out for them. You’re just being a good partner to them.

But let’s go back to that idea of trust now, because I’m going to suggest something here: you need to trust them to be able to handle their own lives.

And I’m not saying that relationships aren’t a partnership and that you shouldn’t work together; you should. But when it comes to your partner’s life, work, hobbies, and friendships, that is their business. They might talk to you about it. You might be able to give them insight and input about what they can do about it. But end of day, that is their life, and they should be free to live it. And you need to trust that they have the judgement and intelligence to live it well.

And I know what you might be thinking now: but what if they don’t? What if they fuck up? What if they say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and they lose a friend, or they embarrass themselves, or they get themselves punched? What if they lose their job? What if they make the wrong decision and regret it later? Isn’t it better for me to guide them and make sure that they can avoid all of that?

Well, in my opinion, no, and for a few reasons.

First of all, maybe your partner will make mistakes. It’s totally possible; we all do, after all. We all say stupid things from time to time and make the wrong decision. We all lose friends or jobs or pride. It happens. And that’s the point; it happens to all of us. It’s a human experience, and it happens for a reason. We make mistakes so that we can learn from them. We say stupid things so that we can realize that they’re stupid and not say them again. We make the wrong decision so that we can realize that it’s the wrong decision and fix it later. It isn’t always as simple as that, no; sometimes it takes time, and sometimes that time is spent in regret or depression or anxiety, and it can be very hard for us to see our loved ones experience that, but sometimes they just have to. That’s just part of life, and you can’t keep them from living life. Chances are, you wouldn’t even want to.

Secondly, you might think that you are helping them avoid mistakes, but you can never really know for sure. Though your heart might be in the right place when you lead them toward making a certain decision, they might later decide that that was the wrong decision, and that the alternative would have been preferable. And maybe they would have chosen the alternative if they had just gone with their gut rather than allow themselves to be influenced by outside parties. It’s hard to say; not one of us living has all the answers. If we did, we wouldn’t run into these conundrums in the first place.

When it comes to relationships, we need to trust our partners to be able to use their own judgement and their own intelligence. We need to have faith that, when faced with difficult choices, they will make the one that feels right to them, and hopefully that choice is the right one. And if it isn’t, if it’s the choice that leads to pain and heartbreak, then we need to try to be there for them to the best of our ability. But end of day, we should not try to tell our partners what to do and how to act, because that isn’t actually doing them any favours. When we do this, it doesn’t actually help them to grow as people, but leaves them stagnant, relying on you to tell them right from wrong, which is not a healthy way to lead a life. And when we do this, we are communicating to them that we do not trust them to lead their own lives. We place ourselves in the role of parent and them in the role of misbehaving child, even if that is not what we intended. And though our hearts are in the right place, it is not fair to our partners.

So though it might be difficult to trust that the universe will be fair to the ones that mean the most to us, we need to at least trust our loved ones to have the ability to navigate their way through it. Have faith in their abilities, because they are much more capable than you might even realize.