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While to many, dating might be on the back burner right now because of the virus, it’s a good idea to continue talking about dating as its meaning continues to change as our world changes and to take the opportunity to work on ourselves in the meantime as an investment into our current and future relationships. So what are some things to consider about the world of dating today?
Dating in a digital era
Lately, social media and dating apps have been dominating and rewriting the experience of dating. You have endless options at the tip of your fingers, 24/7, 365 days a year. With so many romantic possibilities, career goals being put before relationships, entire generations being wary of commitment, and marriage becoming more and more distant on the horizon, it’s no wonder many of us are experiencing a sense of dysphoria when it comes to navigating the waters of our romantic relationships.
This is where knowing what you do and don’t want in a relationship becomes crucial. While it can be hard to know exactly what you want (does anyone really know what they want?), knowing what you don’t want can help you narrow down your options in the vast sea of possibilities. We are Gen Z after all, the generation currently being screwed as we enter the job world amidst a chaotic economic downturn driven by a pandemic without a solution in sight. We don’t have time to worry about romantic relationships, let alone marriage, if we don’t know what we want out of them. Having the self-awareness to both understand and communicate what works and what doesn’t work is built into the framework of every healthy relationship regardless of if you’re a millennial, a Gen Z baby, or part of the new generation. This doesn’t mean you have to enter a relationship with everything figured out, you can definitely learn as you go, and it’s probably better to not have it all figured out. However, communication, openness, and understanding remain crucial.
Sex and how to have it
Many would agree that a healthy sex life is crucial for a healthy relationship (and that encompasses not having it, if that’s what partners decide). Lack of passion, communication, and connection often result in a less than optimal sex life, which can cause a once healthy relationship or marriage to become stale. As time progresses, it becomes all too easy to settle into a routine and fall into the trap of comfort. Making the commitment to put in effort even when it’s hard is so important, especially as the dynamic of the relationship shifts.
When people say “Communication is Key,” they mean it
With such a large number of Millennials, Gen Z, and basically the entire new generation being brought up in a largely digital age, putting in the work to understand the value of communication, and how to do it effectively, is more important than ever before. With the onset of a pandemic, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing, additional hurdles have been placed around our ability to communicate.
If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that good communication is the key to making a relationship work. Communication may not seem like a big deal when you first start dating someone, but that all changes abruptly when you leave the ‘honeymoon phase’. During the honeymoon phase, you’re enamored with each other. You have just found this new person, you’re learning all about each other, doing fun and exciting things, and every moment feels special. A few months in, this can start to wear off if your initial compatibility is exposed to have been entirely reliant on superficial aspects of each other. As the layers come off, the fights start to break out. These fights present several opportunities: The opportunity to realize that maybe you are not meant for each other, or the opportunity to make a commitment to work through these challenging times. For a lot of people, the post-honeymoon phase of a relationship is where the work begins and where poor communication can begin to show. A couple’s ability to communicate is a clear indicator of the health of their relationship. Every fight is an opportunity to become closer if you’re able to utilize communication effectively. So many of us enter relationships with horrible communication skills. It’s not really our fault though.
It’s often said that a serious relationship may mimic that of a relationship with our parents or guardians. We develop our ability to communicate from a young age, some even say from birth. It’s almost guaranteed that we will develop some unhealthy communication skills as children, but we are more than capable of changing them. Our communication skills aren’t just important for our romantic relationships, but for how we interact with friends, coworkers, or bosses. Learning how to communicate and understand the reasons behind your communication style is incredibly important for every relationship you encounter.
Being in love during a pandemic
The COVID pandemic is uniquely affecting the issues of dating that today’s digital era presents. Those of us straddling the Millennial/Gen Z cusp are the recent college grads entering the real world amidst a frenzy of lockdowns and social distancing. Not to mention the job market is pretty bleak as well. Not only are we straddling the generational cusp, but also a maturity cusp. We’ve spent the past few years partying, studying, figuring out who we are, and for some of us, falling in love. COVID-19 is welcoming us to the real world. With our jobs, livelihood, and relationships on the line, some of us have moved back home, while others trudge on. Most of us are frantically applying for jobs, receiving rejections every other day, and watching as our unemployment dwindles. No matter our situation, we are all watching the dynamics of the world shift before our eyes. Jobs are moving online and becoming remote, and many relationships are doing the same.
Distance and space
While long-distance relationships are nothing new, and much easier than a hundred years ago, the pandemic-forced separation of many couples is a different situation. To many, their once in-person relationship turned into a computer-aided one from one day to the next. There was no time to plan. No time to discuss. Travel and opportunities to meet are also scarce. While the issue is new, especially on this scale, I don’t want to get you down. The important thing is to know how to adapt. Aside from a daily video call, there are some additional things you can do to maintain the spark of your relationship from a distance. Think about how people used to live. People couldn’t call each other or text all day. They wrote letters, and you know the thing about letters - they are really special. Sitting down with a pen and paper and letting your heart spill onto the page is something we don’t do enough of anymore. The emotions and feelings you can tap into while writing are very different from those you feel drafting a text or even chatting on the phone. Taking the time to write your thoughts and feelings, and having your partner do the same is an amazing way to foster connection and intimacy, as well as strengthen your commitment to one another. Another tried and true method of maintaining connection from a distance is by putting extra effort into making your phone or Zoom calls more romantic. Try dressing up. Put on a nice outfit, shower, spritz some perfume, cologne, or whatever else makes you feel sexy. You’d be surprised at what this can do. If you want to take things in a different direction, try chatting from your respective bedrooms or bathtubs. Light some candles, diffuse some warming essential oils, like sandalwood or cinnamon, and fully commit to being present in that moment with your partner.
On the flip side, some couples are now around each other constantly. The shift to working from home no longer forces couples living together to get daily distance, like a job typically would. Not having space is an easy way of losing yourself to your relationship. Being around your partner all day every day is not how you would typically define a healthy relationship. I’m sure some of us imagined that being in love meant being with your significant other all the time without issue. Reality check, this is not how it is. Space is crucial for most relationships. It doesn’t matter who it is, if you spend all day with someone, every day, it’s going to end badly.
The effects of not taking space are playing out in front of our eyes as divorce rates have already increased since the onset of COVID. One of the problems created from a lack of space, aside from driving each other insane, is that it makes it even more challenging to create special moments. When you’re around each other constantly, you start to take each other for granted. While space should be a priority, putting effort into making moments special should not be overlooked. The great thing about the ideas mentioned above is that they’re not only applicable to distanced relationships, but can be used in any relationship to keep the spark alive. Hand-written letters can be just as special when read sitting next to each other. And a bath with your significant other, candles included, is an amazing way to ignite passion and connection. What these practices really are about is setting aside time for each other and choosing to be present. Relationships are work, distanced or not. These practices are a way to slow down, show your commitment to each other, and remind yourselves why you fell in love to begin with.
The Shadow’s Desires
Putting off self-analysis is easy when you have the entire internet at your fingertips to distract you. However, understanding yourself is a huge part of creating a strong relationship foundation. Not only are you responsible for yourself, but you now have another individual’s emotions to consider just as much as your own. If you haven't done the work of understanding yourself, being intimate and vulnerable with someone else is going to be very hard. Being self-aware is a key factor in understanding all sides of yourself, especially your subconscious, or the part of you that is operating behind the scenes. Think about times when you experience a sudden wave of emotion, and you’re not exactly sure why until you analyze the event further. This is your subconscious, and it plays a huge role in how we operate in our relationships and how we communicate. That’s why becoming self-aware from a young age is so important.
Self-awareness allows us to understand the hidden parts of ourselves, also known as the ‘shadow’. L.A. based psychotherapists Barry Michels and Phil Stutz go into detail about the role the shadow plays in a healthy sex life in a Q&A they did with Goop. They believe that getting in touch with your shadow and inviting this part of yourself into the relationship is absolutely necessary for maintaining passion. In fact, they go as far as to say that when your shadow is hidden, passion is drained from your relationship. The key takeaway here is that you’ve got to understand yourself, and your partner, for your relationship to work, and that comes from each of your capacities for self-awareness. People often say that men mature slower emotionally than women. There are so many possible reasons for this, like an outdated culture that places the burden of maintaining strength largely on men, has only just begun accepting men showing emotions, and that still largely relies on rigid gender norms to guide unwritten social rules. Whatever it is, they all function by stunting or disallowing self-awareness.
And this issue doesn’t just apply to men. Everyone is affected by these ideals. As gender becomes an increasingly more fluid concept, the new generation is given unique freedom with how they define themselves. However, even as they may now be more motivated to understand who they are, there are also more distractions and escapes than ever before. This dichotomy questions how the new generation will pan out. Will a heightened sense of self-awareness be built into the framework of the world in which they grow up in? Or will distractions, brought about by social media and technology, lead them to become more disconnected than their predecessors?
What does the future of dating look like
So what does the future of dating look like in the digital age? This question was much easier to answer back in 2019, when digital dating was only a stepping stone or additional access outside of the confidently assumed in-person interactions of everyday life. At least then, we could somewhat predict what emerging technologies would do to our social lives. But as we have all learned, there is no planning or predicting when it comes to the virus. No one knows how the world will look like when (not if) the virus recedes. There is no question, however, that the social nature of the virus means that most of what will remain affected after the pandemic is over will be human interaction. Despite all this, the most important factor is how we decide to deal with and adapt to those changes. And above all, we shouldn’t forget to take the social-distancing opportunity to work on ourselves in the meantime as an investment into our current and future relationships.