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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The Issue of Compromise

The issue of compromise is an interesting one when it comes to women and relationships.

When I was twelve years old, one of my good (male) friends asked me out. I told him I’d get back to him with my answer, because I felt like this was one of those things that I should discuss with my girl friends first, and they all vehemently told me that I should accept. I told them that I wasn’t interested in him like that, that he was just a friend to me, and they told me that that didn’t matter. He was a boy, and he liked me, and that was all that mattered. When I stood up for myself and said that I was going to say no, they told me I was making a mistake and that I would regret this.

Something similar happened to me later on, when I was sixteen years old, and a boy in my class decided to pursue me. Despite my constant dismissal of his advances, my friends would ramble on over how sad he was, how much I should give him a chance because he was such a nice guy. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t interested.

When I was nineteen years old, a friend broke down all pretence and told me that it didn’t matter if I was attracted to the person I was dated; I just shouldn’t be alone.

But let’s backtrack a little bit more; let’s go to a conversation that I had with a (female) friend when I was seventeen. She was telling me all about a date she had recently been on, and about how he had bought her dinner. “And, you know,” she said, “after they pay for you, you have to give them something in return.” I was horrified to hear this; “even if you aren’t ready for that?” I asked, and she said, “well, yeah. If they pay for you, then they expect it.”

Growing up, I was told, in multiple ways, that women always needed to compromise for a man. Women needed to compromise their comfort so that they could have a man, or refrain from making him angry. Women needed to compromise their careers so that their man could pursue his career. If the man was unhappy with the relationship, then it was the woman who needed to change; she was the nag, the bitch, the ball-buster, the crazy ex, the prude, the slut. If the relationship ended, then it was the woman’s fault, because she didn’t compromise enough.

A woman’s education is rarely seen as more important than her marital status. A woman’s ability to excel at her job is undermined by her ability to bare and raise children. A woman’s intelligence is not valued nearly as high as her ability to attract a man.

This idea of unceasing compromise created in me a great fear of commitment. I didn’t want to give up everything – my happiness, my ambitions, my comfort – all so that I could keep a relationship going. The way I saw it, there was no way that I could have both. People simply expected too much from women. And, quite simply, the idea of having a man, any man, did not matter to me more than I did.

Some might even say, I’m a rigid, non-compromising, prudish bitch. I’m not ashamed of that; I’ll own that title if you want to give it to me.

Because compromise is important, isn’t it? Relationships are built off of compromise; you can’t stay together if you won’t compromise. Right? And I’d fully agree with this if the compromise that I saw was evenly distributed.

But I recently watched an interview with the great Eartha Kitt, where she is asked if she would be willing to compromise if a man were to come into her life. “A man comes into my life and you have to compromise, for what? A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned. Not to compromise for,” she says. When pressed about whether or not she even wants a relationship, or if she is simply in love with herself, Kitt continues on to say, “I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share it with me. I want someone to share me with me.”

When I first saw this interview, I watched it three or four times, over and over. I thought it was incredible, hearing this perspective, because it was so different from what I had heard about relationships in the past. This was not “accept the first man who will take you and hold onto him for dear life, because you need him”. This was not “sacrifice everything – your comfort, your dreams, everything, because it will make him happy”. This was, “love yourself first and foremost, and accept no less than what makes you happy. Because when you do that, you will fully, truly fall in love – and that is a wonderful thing”.

This is what a relationship should be.

We should not strive to create a relationship for the sake of creating a relationship. We should not have to give up everything to uphold a relationship that no longer makes us happy, just because that’s what we are expected to do. The purpose of a relationship should be to make us happy. To form a connection with someone who makes us better, who supports us.

Relationships should build us up; not hold us down. And the latter is what I have too often seen, especially for the women. The wives. The mothers who must sacrifice a career they wanted, an education they worked hard for, because their male counterparts were not expected to compromise as much as they were.

I love myself too much to give up my life and happiness for all that.

So I beg this of you now; love yourself, and do not settle for what doesn’t fulfill you. Do not do something for a loved one that you are not ready for. Do not lie to yourself, or force something, just because you feel pressured to do it. Because, end of day, if someone truly loves you, then what matters to you will matter to them. They will find a way to support you, to make your life better. They will find a way to compromise for you.

Why Depression is Not Romantic

When I was a teenager, maybe thirteen or fourteen, I read stories of girls with arms like mine. The girls with white lines drawn across their pale skin, carved there by blades and tainted by tears. Girls who caught the attention of the cute, sensitive boy in their class, the boy who saw her scars and knew what they meant. The boy who took her aside and kissed her scars and told her that she was beautiful regardless, that he would hold her close and take care of her, that he would never let her hurt again. The boy who loved her, not because there was more to her than her scars, but because he knew that she was sad and broken, and that he could protect her from the harsh world.

These stories were not the reason why I self-harmed, but they most certainly justified my doing so.

Just like when I was in my second year at university, studying literature because I wanted to be a great writer, and the professor made the statement to my class: “this poem is about depression, which is something that all great writers deal with. I don’t really think it’s possible to be a great writer without being broken.”

Well, that’s good news, I thought; I suppose I need to be broken then. Maybe this is just the price I pay to achieve my dreams.

I think, even at the time, I knew that what I was thinking was wrong.

Even then, I knew that the stories I wrote were not created in the black, ceaseless spirals of depression. They might have been inspired by it, from time to time, but no more than they were inspired by other aspects of my life. And, more importantly, they were written in those moments where I broke the surface, where I took in a gulp of air and thought that everything might be fine again, just before I sunk back below and lost all creative ability again.

Just like I knew that self-harm would not earn me love. No boy ever saw my scars and kissed them to make them better; now that I’m no longer thirteen years old, I don’t really think I’d want one to. All that my scars did was give me something to be ashamed of, something to pull my sleeves over and lie about when people asked me about them.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what did you do to your arm?”

“Oh, I was playing with my cat, and, well, this happened.”

Please. Please, don’t notice that it looks nothing like a cat scratch.

But even still, despite the fact that depression was not my gateway to genius, despite the fact that self-harm brought me more shame than it did love, there was still something so romantic about both ideas. About being the tortured artist, the Sylvia Plath, the Van Gogh. Forget the fact that they both cut their stories off before they were finished; they were beloved and mysterious, deep and thoughtful. And all I had to do to become them was give into what was already inside me, right?

We romanticize mental illness all the time, present it as something mysterious and unknown and darkly beautiful, but it isn’t. The reality of mental illness is laying in bed all day because you just can’t find the motivation to get up. The reality of mental illness is wearing long sleeves in the summer because you don’t want to risk anyone, not even the cute, sensitive boy in your class, to know your secret (because it is, after all, a secret). The reality of mental illness is panic attacks that leave you exhausted, fear that keeps you its prisoner, suicidal thoughts that threaten to cut your story off too soon, if you just give into them.

And the problem with romanticizing all of this is that it then justifies people to give into it.

All of this isn’t to say that no good can ever come from a mental illness; it can. Personally speaking, I believe that coming to terms with my mental illness and fighting it has made me a much stronger person than I would have otherwise been, but that is exactly my point; I needed to fight it. Fighting gave me ability. Fighting gave me more stories to tell than depression ever could have. Fighting made me feel as though I deserved, not only love, but a love that was worthwhile, a love that would see me, not as the broken soul that needs to be fixed, but as a person, as an equal. Fighting is what brought me here, to this place, to this day.

I honestly don’t know who or where I’d be today if I hadn’t fought, but I know it wouldn’t be romantic. It would be pitiful, a tragic tale to tell. And I am not a tragedy.

So if we have to romanticize anything in regards to mental illness, let’s romanticize the fight. Let’s talk about how strong survivors are to reach out and get help for themselves. Let’s praise those who managed to overcome suicidal thoughts, even when it seemed next to impossible. Let’s celebrate the ones who self-harmed at one point, but managed to pull themselves through it and stop altogether. Because when we romanticize mental illness itself, we are helping no one; when we encourage people to seek treatment and get help, we have the opportunity to save lives.

And, personally, I am tired of romances that focus so much on how loveable or genius someone is only because they are depressed.

 

Romantic Love is Not The Most Important Love

We as a society are positively in love with love.

We have love stories. We have rom-coms and romances and Harlequins and YA-novel love triangles. We have countless songs telling us that “all you need is love” and “I was made for loving you, baby“. We maintain Pinterest boards, planning out our dream wedding for that day when we finally find the right person. We have this idea in our society that we are not complete human beings, that we need someone else to complete us, to make us whole. And once we find that other half, then everything will come together and we’ll live happily ever after.

Our obsession with love is an oddly limited sort of obsession. We do not care all that much for a very sort of love felt toward all man-kind; some find that admirable, sure, but if the amount of violent video games and movies where the heroes preach shooting first and asking questions later is any indication, then this sort of love is too often forgotten about. We do not show the same level of obsession toward platonic love between friends or siblings or family members; we like it sometimes, sure, but it isn’t quite represented as the same.

No, our specific breed of obsession is toward romantic love.

And this can be somewhat alienating to people who have no interest in romantic or sexual love, people who identify as asexual or aromantic. But even if you do not identify with either terms, this obsession can be somewhat harmful.

This obsession might make you feel like you need to be in a relationship, no matter who it’s with. Because you find your value by attaching yourself to another person, any person, and it’s better to settle than be alone.

Except it isn’t.

This obsession might lead you toward feelings of depression and loneliness when you’re single, feelings of being not good enough, of being unloveable, just because you aren’t currently involved with someone.

But that isn’t true.

This obsession might force you to make sacrifices that you wouldn’t otherwise make, because you’ve been told by everyone and everything – by your friends, your family, your movies, your magazines, your songs, your self-help book – that love is the most important thing in this world, and nothing else can possibly compare.

But there are more important things.

Like, say, your happiness.

I won’t deny that romantic love can be very fulfilling, as well as a great source of happiness. But, despite our society’s obsession with it, it isn’t really the most important type of love out there.

After all, self-love is more important.

It is more important for you to find completeness within yourself than within another person. It is more important for you to value yourself than your relationship.

Because, end of day, people leave. Circumstances change. The world turns, and things don’t always turn out for the best, but ideally speaking, you should always be able to depend on yourself.

Self-love is what will make you realize that you deserve better than to settle for a relationship that doesn’t make you happy.

Self-love is what will make you realize that your comfort matters, that your dreams and desires and wishes, they matter just as much as anyone else’s.

Self-love is what will make you realize that, even if you aren’t in a relationship right now, that doesn’t mean that you are unloveable.

So maybe all we need is love, but it isn’t always romantic love. Sometimes, the only sort of love we really need is to look at the mirror and to realize that the person looking back at us is strong, capable, resilient, and worthwhile. That that person is loveable, even if, right now, that love doesn’t come in the form of a lover.

Valentine’s Day – The Holiday of Love

Every Valentine’s Day, you always hear the same complaints about the holiday brought up – to such a point that I’m almost surprised that I’m still bombarded with little hearts and cupids every year, considering so many people are opposed to it.

And it makes sense. Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be the only day of the year that you show your partner that you care for them. And more than that, you shouldn’t have a day of the year that reminds you, “oh yeah, I’ve kinda been neglecting this person lately. Guess I should get them some chocolate or something.” You should be making romantic gestures like that all throughout the year, not at some predetermined date agreed upon by society at large.

And what about single people? People who can’t seem to make a relationship work for whatever reason? People who just aren’t ready for or don’t want a relationship? Aromantic people who want nothing to do with the whole ordeal? People who have other things on their mind? The world doesn’t revolve around romantic love after all – there is more to life than that. And yet every year, there’s this predetermined date that society has gotten together and agreed should make these people feel bad for being single. We should bombard these people with images of happy couples everywhere, indirectly implying that single people just can’t be as happy or fulfilled. I have to admit, I fall for it a little bit, even if I’m perfectly happy being single. It doesn’t seem to matter – the constant, inescapable message that I can’t be fully happy until I’m in a relationship kind of makes me wonder if they have a point.

But maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t really about all of that – the flowers, the commercialism, the shame. Maybe Valentine’s Day is really just as simple as a celebration of love. Romantic love, sure, but that isn’t the most important kind of love there is.

There’s the love that we have for our family and friends.

There’s the love that we have for ourselves, and our own validity and purpose in what we are.

There’s the love that we have for our fellow humans – that love that makes us want to keep total strangers protected from the horrors that life has to offer.

Love comes in all shapes and sizes – it’s not just one thing. When we reach a helping hand out to someone in need, that act is done in love. When we tell ourselves that we’re just fine the way we are, that we don’t need someone else to complete us, that act is done in love. When we accept that maybe our loved one can’t afford all the flowers and the chocolates this year but you’re okay with that because at least you have each other, that act is done in love.

The problem is not Valentine’s Day itself. The problem is that we’ve limited our definition of what love can be, and we’ve prepared preset ways to enforce how you show love. But today shouldn’t be about how society tells you to love. It should be about your own love, and how you can use that love to make the world a better, less fearful place.