Dating rules have evolved from the classic yet reasonable, parental curfew to a confusing matrix of societal, yet completely unnatural, norms consisting of power plays, guessing games and affectionless strategy. Modern dating is an unnavigable minefield of thin lines, unclear motives, ambiguous signals and subtle hints that you have to painstakingly interpret, analyze or assume their meaning in order to strategically return fire in an equally combative ploy.
Reading minds and interpreting faint signals are superpowers that dating millennials must be equipped with in order to successfully maneuver our poor excuse for courtship.
We can’t do anything too soon for fear of giving up too much too fast but God forbid you to do it too late, because of the horror and humiliation of still calling when your phone contact has already been demoted from “Babe :-* <3” to “Don’t Answer -_-.”
Our dating games constantly keep our stomachs in a flux of knots to butterflies, bated breath to sighs of relief, largely due to the anxiety of assumptions until we are afforded an explanatory resolution. Unanswered text messages transition from “I’m never talking to him again” to a kiss emoji because “he just didn’t have a signal,” and social media stalking transition from “who’s that girl commenting on his pic” to “oh, it’s just his cousin.”
Romance versus indifference
The ball in the court of the person who is the least emotionally available. Because (s)he who cares first is at risk of being condemned for being cheesy, old school, whipped or even creepy.
Unavailability, especially of the emotional variety, is the new name of the game, regardless of how we may or may not actually feel. We subscribe to an oxymoron of expressing interest by appearing uninterested.
And the obvious result of all of this, should both parties continue with this mask of indifference, is the inevitable boredom followed by the expiration date produced by such deliberate superficial interaction.
These new tactics are taking precedence over romance because neither party wants to be emotionally vulnerable, potentially to be emotionally destroyed at the hands of a rendezvous tainted by games. Thus both engage in a winless and loveless race towards nothing. And simply in order to meet the inevitable end emotionally unscathed, but ultimately no better for it.
And all of this work to simply be classified as that girl/guy I’m talking to.
Gone is the transparent exclusivity simply because you like me and I like you. And with it the clear, straightforward dating sentiments. Back on the playground we used to chant a simple formula that equaled 2gether 4ever: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby carriage. Yet that wise simplicity of our youth has been overcomplicated by the oversimplification produced by technology.
Commitment versus technology
The apathy towards exclusivity is likely an extension of modern society’s proclivity towards the ubiquity of options, the demand for constant entertainment and the entitlement to instant gratification. If it’s inconvenient, dull or is loading too slowly, we have already switched to the next tab.
We have been conditioned to this microwave ecosystem, which has thus derived from us a shortened attention span, which results in inevitable boredom, which then presents our generation with its worst nightmare: FOMO.
So we end up with fast-food dating. We’d rather quickly nuke a TV dinner to satisfy our hunger than learn how to prepare and savor a well-balanced meal that will fill you up, satisfy your appetite and keep you healthy.
Whether it’s a pair of shoes, an invitation to happy hour or a significant other, we hate being tied down to one option before thoroughly compiling and analyzing all possible options. We are a multitasking generation, with our internet perpetually opened to 8 tabs with our phone simultaneously switching between another 5 apps because we don’t want to miss a thing. We don’t commit to much, and when we do, we want the receipt for it just in case. Unfortunately, we employ these habits on everything from weekend plans to human beings.
The unfortunate reality is that dating is now digitized. Modern love stories now play out via text messages rather than written love letters, superficial games rather than playful pursuits, a “like” rather than a thoughtful compliment, and an emoji can take the place of a bouquet of flowers.
We are in an era that has successfully and pridefully drained the depth of human intimacy in favor of technological contact. We interact with our interests through right swipes, timed text messages, enigmatic subtweets, and delayed responses. Millennial courtship has marred previously direct and clear romantic interaction—charm and romance are nearly mythical legends, elusive ideas many of us have only heard of, never experienced.
Commitment is now a word that is taboo, degrading relationships to “just talking” or “hanging out” which opens the door to not-cheating-because-we-were-never-really-dating. There is no effort or accountability in the Netflix & Chill culture and what we are doing can hardly be classified as dating anymore—we are all just chillin’.
In order to reclaim romance in a charmless era, be the person you want to date. You may be putting yourself outside of the comfort zone of indifference that so many of your peers are clinging to, but you may also find an intimate warmth that our generation risks missing out on completely.
Don’t waste your time or someone else’s just for the sake of having company. Being genuine requires a degree of personal exposure and a confidence in your feelings. And if you do like someone, put in the effort. If you don’t, express that and allow both you and them to move on.
Once you have graduated from the casual dating phase, swallow your fear and don’t be so afraid of feelings. They might sound icky or dangerous or corny, but dating is all about exploring and developing your feelings for someone. And how can you do that if you don’t allow them to access that part of you? If you feel like calling, call. If you feel like seeing them, see them. If you have a feeling, don’t be afraid to feel it. This means to forego society’s stupid rules and regulations and just proceed by instinct.
I know, I know. This is the most cliche advice that spans a multitude of situations but it is so relevant to dating that I have to include it. Being yourself if obviously useful when you are at the stage of getting to know each other. It is futile to invest time with someone simply to put on an act that keeps your reality backstage. This does not mean you have to place your character flaws, habits and embarrassments on the table of a first date, but make sure you have set the stage for your story to gradually be told without a sudden plot twist by Act II.
Lauren is based in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to writing here on Pursuit of Daydreams, Lauren’s daydreams consist of all forms of design: Graphic, Fashion, Web, Interior, Art. On any given day, she can be found preoccupied with at least one of the above. She is happiest with a bowl of ice cream in hand.
Also published on Medium.