So this is what 21st century dating looks like. Easy come, easy go. A not-so-merry-go-round. A revolving door.
Swipe left or right. Discard or match. On Tinder, Bumble, Happn, Grindr… In this brave new world, we can order up another human being in the same way we can order food on JustEat.
So we don’t commit anymore. What’s the point? We think intimacy lies in a perfectly-executed string of emoji. We think effort is a “good morning” text message. We say romance is dead, because maybe it is, but maybe we just need to reinvent it. Maybe romance in the 21st century is putting the phone down long enough to look in each other’s eyes at dinner. Maybe romance is deleting Tinder off your phone after an incredible first date with someone. Maybe romance is still there but we just don’t know what it looks like anymore.
We “choose”, but we still want to keep a wandering eye on all the other options. We want the beautiful cut of steak, but we’re still eyeing up the mediocre buffet, because, you know… choice. Our choices are killing us. We think choice means something. We think opportunity is good. We think the more chances we have, the better. But all it really does is make everything watered-down. Never mind actually feeling satisfied, we don’t even understand what satisfaction looks like, sounds like, feels like. We always have one foot in the revolving door, because in that door is more, more, more. We don’t see who’s right in front of our eyes asking to be loved, because no one is asking to be loved. Swipe left, swipe right. We long for something that we still want to believe exists. Yet, we are looking for the next thrill, the next jolt of excitement, the next instant gratification.
We soothe ourselves and distract ourselves but, if we can’t even face the demons inside our own brain, how can we be expected to stick something out, to love someone even when it’s not easy to love them? So we bail. We leave. We see a limitless world in a way that no generation before us has seen. We can open up a new tab, look at pictures of Portugal, pull out a credit card, and book a plane ticket. We may not do this, but we can. That’s the whole point – we know we can, even if we don’t have the resources to do so. There are always other tantalising options. Open up Instagram and see the lives of others, the life we could have. See the places we’re not travelling to. See the lives we’re not living. See the people we’re not dating. Swipe left, swipe right. We bombard ourselves with stimuli, input, input, input, and we wonder why we’re so fucking miserable. We wonder why we’re dissatisfied. We wonder why nothing lasts and everything feels a little hopeless. Because, we have no idea how to see our lives for what they are, instead of what they aren’t.
And, even if we find it. Say we find that person we love who loves us. Commitment. Intimacy. “I love you.” We do it. We find it. Then, quickly, we live it for others. We tell people we’re in a relationship on Facebook. We throw our pictures up on Instagram. We become a “we.” We make it seem shiny and perfect because what we choose to share is the highlight reel. We don’t share the stuff that make relationships difficult and complex and real, the messy human things, the misunderstandings, the fights, the reddened eyes, the tear-stained pillows. We don’t write status updates about how they shine a light on those parts of ourselves we don’t like. We don’t tweet 140 characters of sadness when we’re having the kinds of conversations that can make or break our future together. This is not what we share. Shiny picture. Happy couple. Love is perfect.
Then, we see these other happy, shiny couples and we compare. We are The Emoji Generation. Choice Culture. The Comparison Generation. Measuring up. Good enough. The best. Never before have we had such an incredible cornucopia of markers for what it looks like to live the Best Life Possible. We input, input, input and soon find ourselves in despair. We’ll never be good enough, because what we’re trying to measure up to just does not fucking exist. These lives do not exist. These relationships do not exist. Yet, we can’t believe it. We see it with our own eyes. And, we want it. And, we will make ourselves miserable until we get it.
So, we break up. We break up because we’re not good enough, our lives aren’t good enough, our relationship isn’t good enough. We swipe, swipe, swipe, just a bit more on Tinder. We order someone up to our door just like a pizza. And, the cycle starts again. Emoji. “Good morning” text. Intimacy. Put down the phone. Couple selfie. Shiny, happy couple. Compare. Compare. Compare. The inevitable creeping in of latent, subtle dissatisfaction. The over-analysing. The fighting. The distance. “Something is wrong, but I don’t know what it is.” “This isn’t working.” “I need something more.” Another love lost. Another graveyard of shiny, happy couple selfies.
On to the next. Searching for the elusive “more”. The next match. The next fix. The next gratification. The next quick hit. Living our lives in 140 characters, selfie-stick snaps, frozen filtered images, four minute movies, a “like” here, a new “follower” there. More as an illusion. We worry about “settling” for someone, all the while making ourselves suffer thinking that anything less than the shiny, happy filtered life we’ve been accustomed to is settling. What is settling? We don’t know, but we fucking don’t want it. If it’s not perfect, it’s settling. If it’s not glittery filtered love, settling. If it’s not Instagram-worthy… settling.
We realise that this “more” we want is a lie. We want phone calls. We want to see a face we care about absent of the blue dim of a phone screen. We want slowness. We want simplicity. We want long-term investment. We want a life that does not need the validation of likes, favourites, comments, followers. We may not know yet that we want this, but we do. We want connection, true connection. We want a love that builds, that moves past the inevitable imperfections, a love that overcomes, not a love that gets discarded at the first hurdle, for the next hit. We want to come home to people. We want to lay down our heads at the end of our lives and know we lived well, we lived the fuck out of our lives. This is what we want even if we don’t know it yet.
But we’ll never find it through a revolving door.