I’m in a 5-year relationship that started with Tinder — the modern relationship par excellence — and it’s been a ride of ups and downs.
There’s a theory that says we experience two to three deep romantic relationships on average in our lives, and some of us live all or some of these multiple relationships with the same person, shedding off old patterns to dive into newness at turning points in the time spent with that person.
A few weeks ago, I realized my partner and I reached the end of something and I freaked. I googled “when do I know he’s the one?”, “when do we know it’s over?” and other questions I’m sure many of you have asked yourselves at some point or another. Frankly, nothing in the tabloids reassured me, until I landed (thanks to my bestest friend) on @estherperel’s #matingincaptivity book about modern love, and her conference videos found online!
So now it’s about having the open-ended conversation that starts here:
Don’t trust older generations, times have changed!
In all the uncertainty you’re feeling right now, you’re tempted to turn to older generations, married for 20+ years — ’cause they must have the answers! NO! Accept that what you’re going through is complex, and that times have changed.
“You’re too young to feel that way about each other already…”, “Your relationship is too young to be falling apart already…” Does this sound familiar to you? The typical reactions of older generations judging upon our modern relationships! What is more destabilizing and worrying than a “grown-up adult” telling you you’re not meant to be going through this now, “you’re meant to be certain, I sure was!” or “things should be simple, don’t think too much”. Well, let me reassure you, this is EXACTLY what you’re meant to go through now, whether it’s a couple months into your relationship or years.
The thing that the older generations don’t really get (although they do live through hell at each other’s midlife crisis — hint?) is that our relationships are harder now. Yes, we are living in an era of constant change and we’re having to adapt faster and better. We experience on-going “midlife” crises.
Let me paint a picture: the modern love landscape.
In the past, you lived in a village and you venerated a Divine figure (God or other). You were surrounded by people all the time, and they each had a different part to play in your basic human need for a sense of belonging. Some met your need for intellectual growth, some met your need for adventure, some met your need for affection and care, etc. A whole village made up a community that meant you never felt alone, and for everything the village couldn’t bring you, you turned to God.
When you were to partner with a husband or a wife, you married with an economic mindset. You brought your land, wealth and cattle to the relationship’s intimacy and all you cared for is your ability to provide for the children. Plus, you had sex to reproduce, no matter how bad it was. When you were married, you knew it was “until death do us part”, and your role in the relationship was clearly defined (women clean, cook and raise the kids, and men work the land), there was no negotiation. In all this, you found the perfect balance between the unknown: excitement, adventure, awe and admiration (surprise), and the known: security, stability and predictability.
All in all, you had a strong sense of belonging and little freedom but you were happy because you had no choice.
Now, you live in the city and you don’t believe in the Divine. You are surrounded by objects that connect you to social media platforms where you create an identity, a narrative of yourself and of your relationship with others. In reality, you’re isolated and your need to belong is stronger than ever.
When (and if) you find a partner, you want that person to bring you what a whole village and the Divine used to. You expect him or her to meet your needs on all levels, the known and the unknown. Sex is not only to reproduce, but for pleasure (basically, to be had on a “want” basis — and “can we want what we have?” — bye bye sex). Plus, sex in itself has become a piece of our identity too (who do I want to be in sex? What do I want out of it?) In intimacy, rather than bringing your wealth, you and your partner are expected to bring your inner worlds (which you better know damn well — who am I? Who do I want to be?). When (and if) you marry, it is “until love do us part”. Your role is to be designed and decided, and negotiated. You have so many options to opt out, and few guidelines on how to deal with all this.
Now you realize that in modern love, we have a lot of freedom but a very poor sense of belonging. We have so many questions to ask ourselves and our partners, and so much is at stake. This is why relationships are harder now.
NEXT: I’ll be diving in the way we learn how to love growing up and how it affects the narrative we build, the needs and expectations we have, and a few tips on how to verbalize all this to continue having this open-ended conversation.
Remember that “to love” is a verb, it requires action and effort. Love also is intentionally taking responsibility for the relationship, and to decide to move forward, and to choose the person you’re with again and again.