Earlier this year The Huffington Post published an article titled, ‘We are the generation that doesn’t want relationships.’ It focused on social media and the style of dating that has developed as a result: Tinder, nudes, and the concept of ‘Netflix and chill’. The author, Krysti Wilkinson, claimed that whilst many of us aspire to have an updated relationship status and some cute Instagram posts, most people don’t want commit, and aren’t willing to put in the work a relationship requires. She talked about hypocrisy, though, and suggested that many people do want relationships, deep down, but that the age we live in is preventing us from having them.
I recognise the trend Wilkinson speaks of, and in some ways agree that our generation’s dating culture discourages the formation of relationships. As someone in a relationship, I struggle to keep up with friends who serial date and sleep around. On nights out, I tend to be dubbed ‘wing-woman’ and ruin ‘Never have I ever’ by having the most boring sex life possible. The ‘how many people has everyone slept with’ culture is something in which I can barely participate, and not being on Tinder and never on the pull makes for pretty dull ‘I was so drunk last night’ anecdotes.
I can see why people don’t want relationships yet, though, not only due to our generation, but also because of our age. It seems natural that people want to explore, and don’t want to commit too soon to one thing before they know if they’ll prefer another. It sometimes makes me anxious when people challenge the extent of my freedom, commenting that it’s better not to be ‘tied down.’ Sometimes I question the compromises I make for my relationship as I am so young. I can understand why, for many people, love isn’t the priority right now.
More people are also, surely, choosing not to be in relationships because we are one of the first generations who have been able to make that choice. There must always have been people who didn’t want relationships, but in other ages that would’ve been unacceptable. For women, particularly, marriage was once the only way to have a sex life, and it was what was aspired to instead of a career.
Today, more women are able to focus on their studies and careers ahead of marriage and homemaking. Some choose not to have children should they not want to and don’t have to worry so much about finding a relationship before our fertility depletes.
Although these reasons explain why many people don’t want relationships, and I don’t agree with Wilkinson that absolutely everyone secretly wants one, I do believe that the age and culture we live in has made things harder for those who do.
There are some reasons for hesitating, even if you want a relationship, that are timeless: the commitment, the sacrifices, the prospect of a messy break-up, and the possibility of being with other, potentially better, partners. Other challenges, however, are unique to our generation.
Craving intimacy in an increasingly public world and a deep connection in an increasingly shallow one is difficult. Social media revolves around shallow and self-centred things: indulging in ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ and the rise of the infamous selfie. This has probably contributed to the image-centred romance our generation seems to promote. On Tinder we can swipe left or right based on someone’s photograph, and ‘relationship goals’ involve black-and-white photos of models rolling around in their Calvin Kleins. I believe this has translated to the conversations we have about potential partners: where friends’ immediate responses are ‘can I see a picture?’ followed by appraisal or awkward silence. Maybe the culture of casual sex has perpetuated this: where physical attraction is probably higher priority than the personality of someone you don’t intend to see again.
The Internet age has also changed the way we communicate. Text messages don’t translate the same meanings as body language, and though some would argue that technology has brought us closer, I would say it is tearing us apart. The kissing emoticon is hardly an adequate substitute, and the constant platforming of our images, thoughts, and actions has made us objects for comparison and competition.
Furthermore, now that we can compare everything about ourselves to other people, we can also compare our relationships. The ‘relationship goals’ trend encourages appearance-obsession, but also contributes to unrealistic ideals. People we know can be just as harmful: couples dominating our timeline with their ever-lasting love and happiness are surely selecting specific information to post. So, when people get into relationships they may be less likely to expect the challenges that, in reality, come with the territory, and may wonder if they’ve found the ‘real thing’ since it doesn’t match up to the illusion that Instagram promotes.
The result of all this is a culture that encourages either not committing to a relationship or aspiring to an unrealistic, image-centred ideal. Though our liberty to choose to be single is positive, I think many people who might want relationships feel conflicted, as our social-media society hasn’t created the right environment for them.