To Love Decently

example of dating/loving in the 21st century

They say growing up is never easy. They say the world is changing and there isn’t much we can do about it. New problems arise for every generation, and it is the job of the following generation to fix them. But what if we’ve reached a point where the problems are more internal than external? What if we as a generation are quickly learning to forget the most basic human functions? What if we are forgetting how to love decently?  

Christopher Hudspeth of Thought Catalog recently posted an article, entitled: 18 Ugly Truths About Modern Dating That You Have To Deal With. In it, he outlines the struggles of dating in a modern world, in a world bursting with technology. Quite morbidly, he laments the death of romance, of the art of real seduction. As a young woman, entering her twenties, these “truths” shocked me so hard I felt like I had been slapped. I went through each of them with a cold, solid knot forming in the center of my stomach: he was right, about everything.

So is this my fate? Is this our fate? Have we become a generation of emotionally distant and crippled hypocrites?

While I stewed in the juices of my own fear, loathing, and quite honestly nausea, the article was posted by a friend of mine onto her Facebook. Soon, others stormed the comments section with opinions, stories, and pieces of advice. What they said, and more specifically, who said it, made the rough knot in my stomach loosen slightly. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, I’d like to discuss the article more in depth. The general gist of his points can be summed up into about three ideas:

1) Dating is nothing more than psychological warfare, designed to see who cracks first.

2) The Hook-Up Culture is now so subversive that you can’t tell a friend from a potential one-night-stand.

3) The advent of technology and social media has completely deteriorated the responsibility of communication, compassion, and basically, allowed a complete exoneration of human decency.

Feeling queasy yet?

Now, when I say “crazy psycho ex”, whether it’s conscious or not, the face of someone will automatically pop into your head. Now, that face might be distorted by little devil horns on their head or the sound of a chainsaw whirring in the background, but still, you know exactly whom I’m talking about. At a certain point in our lives, we— perhaps against our better judgment— will date someone who causes us to consider to forgo dating at all costs and become a celibate hermit in the mountains of Oregon. Whether it’s because he checks your phone at night, or she keeps a collection of your underwear under her bed, or he cheats with your sister, or she tries to steal your dog, you eventually realize this was a very, very bad idea. You’d think— or at least hope— there were signs ahead of time that would have tipped you off about their tendency to role-play Fatal Attractions. Technically, that’s what dating is: a screening process to see if, “hey, he’s kinda quiet, but that definitely doesn’t mean he’s a serial killer, right?”

But according to Hudspeth, the games start there. What does it mean that she isn’t texting back? If I act like a cold-hearted bastard, she’s only going to chase me more, right? Karma is now a four thousand pound metal box with wheels you can use to take out mailboxes, and sometimes, you can even write “CHEATING DOUCHEBAG” on his karma with a nail file. Hudspeth claims that “the person who cares less has all the power,” that showing interest and affection will only get you screwed in the end, because who wants someone to take care of them, to treat them like an equal? Dating as a whole is simply a show about who will cave first and beg for some TLC, therefore putting you on top and making your significant other your whipped little bitch.

I’m here to tell you why that’s wrong. If you like someone, showing affection is second nature. We can’t help but smile or joke or play with people we care about. That’s the cool thing about being human: the little chemicals in our brains start mixing and flowing and eventually, we’re grinning like idiots and our cheeks our warm, whether we like it or not. So this BS about a power struggle, it’s only there if you let it be. Why does it have to be a game of cat and mouse? If you’re scared about being hurt, well, that’s life and it’s going to happen regardless. Furthermore, if that fear turns you into a feeling-less asshole, then you probably shouldn’t be dating in the first place.

And a word to the wise, there’s a difference between playing it cool in an effort to keep a giant smile from roaring across your face every time that special someone comes into the room, and being entirely disinterested simply for the sake of being cool. Don’t date the second one. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Now onto, Hudspeth’s second point: the Hook-Up Culture. As long as there have been horny young adults, there has been the Hook-Up Culture, and, probably, there always will be. Being raised in the South (albeit fairly liberal Austin, Texas), sex has always been the dirty little secret that is pushed quietly under the rug, and when the time comes, babies roll out of that rug and life moves on. Coming to college, I watched my friends, all of whom I highly respect, hook up with guy after guy and have no qualms about it. And I honestly don’t mean this in a disrespectful way. They weren’t dating these people seriously, and no confessions of undying love were exchanged. Now, either I could label my friends as slutty whores, or accept them as strong, self-dependent women in charge of their own sexuality, as I’ve always known them to be. This is something called cognitive dissonance: here’s one thing, but it’s not doing the thing I think it’s going to do, so— what the hell?

Hudspeth would have us believe that the decay of real, long-lasting relationships is due to the total lax in commitment that the Hook-Up Culture brings. Hook-Up Culture allows for all the fun that comes from sex without the pesky requirement of getting to know someone that is generally associated with dating. Why dance with the danger of potentially acquiring another crazy ex?

I disagree. But I don’t want to get preachy, so let me provide an example without wadding up my opinion and shoving it down your throat. Like any good friend, after their nights of debauchery, I ask my friends specific details of their, well, debauchery. Generally, the nights involved a lot of drinking, dancing, scrambling for phones and credit cards, and then disappointing sex. Sure, they say, at the time it was fine. But even through the rolling thunder of a hangover, they realized, “Eh, that was just okay.” When I ask if they’re upset by the merely average hook-up, the most common response a shoulder shrug, followed by, “Hey, I’m not complaining.”

Hudspeth’s logic, as does the logic of most frustrated and single twenty-something-year-olds, falls apart when you consider an alternative. Hook-Up Culture is propagated by people who either don’t want a relationship or who aren’t ready for one, but aren’t willing to give up sex either. Where it gets messy is when those who do want relationship are introduced to the mix. Furthermore, those who don’t want a relationship often times don’t express this carefree lifestyle so openly because yes, in most places, America still wants to Febreeze away the sweaty stench of sex and hide those who do enjoy it.

In my humble opinion, it is not the Hook-Up Culture that is destroying relationships and “true love.” It is the fear that one day we all might wake up one day and realize, “Hey, sex is actually really fun, but it’s agreeably made better by having a real connection with the person you’re sleeping with.” This is the difference between having sex and making love.

However, it needs to be said that honesty is something that isn’t often used by either party. The relationship-seekers don’t announce their goals and end up getting hurt. The anti-relationship seekers don’t announce their lack of goals and lawns are set on fire in the shape of the word “slut.” But honesty in relationships is for another blog post.

Lastly, I’d like to identify the role of social media in relationships. Does it matter that he liked both the picture of you in a bikini and the one of you in your professional attire, preparing for the next job interview? What does it mean that he commented on your selfie? Is it easier just to use the code, “Let’s hang out and watch a movie” in a three second text than it is to just say, “Hey, you have a cute face, I’d like to kiss it repeatedly”? Using the premise of food and Netflix, I will admit I have been lured into some touchy situations: Oh you want to kiss? I actually wanted to watch Star Wars. Oops.

Now do I accuse this guy of being a conniving asshole whose sole purpose was to woo me into a steamy make-out with the promise of Chinese food and a cushy couch? No, I do not. Before Netflix, we had to go out to the movies, out to dinner, for a date. There was a lot less chance of being challenged to a tongue-duel in public than it is in the safety (and controlled darkness) of someone’s room. Horny people are often opportunistic and they’ll take what they can get. Does that make them bad people? No. Does it make in-home-theater devices bad for providing such an opportunity? No.

Hudspeth also references the recent ability to tweet someone a break-up message. He notes that it’s particularly easy to ruin a relationship and not have to deal with “the tears streaming down your face . . . and the pain in your cracking voice and sniffling nose” because everything can be done digitally now. Sounds like a pretty dick-ish thing to do. But, guess what? PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN DICKS. Before tweets, there was texting. Before texting, there was voicemail and I’m pretty sure there are at least five F.R.I.E.N.DS episodes that involved break-up voicemails. And before voicemail, there was the “friend” who became the bearer of bad news. Before that, town criers. Before that, heralds. Before that, rock paintings of two hearts being ripped apart. Until the time we all become emotionless robots, we never want to do the hard thing. It might be the right thing to do, but still, humanity will always attempt to circumvent immediate pain and suffering. Call it a survival skill, but done in the wrong way, it can make you look like a pretty big jerkface.

So this horrible technology that is ruining the “good ol’ ways” of break-ups, it’s just people being people. Rather, jerks being jerks, and you shouldn’t be dating them anyway. Technology isn’t changing the way we establish, or de-establish, connections. It’s simply providing us with an opportunity to see people for who they really are.

I’d like to wrap this up by going back to the Facebook post from my friend, and the comment section it involved. The majority of my peers agreed with Hudspeth. They felt the same constricting spasm of panic that I did. “Is this all that’s left for us in the world?”

And then the Internet did a funny thing: the older generation, the one that is constantly at war with technology and the world itself, chuckled at us.

No, they said. Your world isn’t crashing down, because that was our world.

They grinned at us, because all of us, Hudspeth included, were simply lamenting life.

At twenty years old, it’s safe to say I don’t know what I want. I don’t know who I want. Sure, I know the type, the mannerisms, the cute-butt requirements of someone I would probably be interested in, but at the same time, if he knocked on my door tomorrow, what would I say? I’m nearing the end of my sophomore year of college and I’ve been yanked through the mud to understand both myself and the dating scene. It wouldn’t be right to say that I understand either one wholly and completely. But that being said, I’m at peace.

Hudspeth wants to get angry, morose, to shake his fist at the lay-about people he’s had this misfortune to date and love. I know several people who want to do the same. I’m not saying there aren’t truly crappy people out there— and to be honest, I can be pretty crappy myself— but that’s the cost of living. That’s the cost of being in a world full of absolute beauty: there will also be heart-breaking sadness.

It’s easy to blame the people around you for all the bad shit, but at the same time, ejecting every negative thing from your life is going to end up in a pretty lonely existence.

I’ve had honorable friends and partners who accept when they’ve fucked up. They try to do the honorable thing and leave me alone, leave me to live a better existence without scum like them. I shake my head, no, this isn’t what I want. The answer isn’t, “I understand you’re angry with me. It’s okay if you never want to see me again.” What I really want, what Hudspeth wants, what all the twenty-year-olds in 2014 want, what the twenty-year-olds in 1914 wanted, what humanity cries for when that empty bed becomes unbearable: someone to make us better.

They want both to ask and to answer: “How can I fix this?”

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