We are quite an interesting generation of tech-enabled, informed, restless, urban-dwelling individuals. Probably the last group of people that has gone through the transition from offline to online dating. We remember calling our high school crush on their parents' land line, but have also met and courted through one of the numerous dating apps on our phones. While technology has enabled us to easily connect with others and to pursue our increasing need for self-fulfillment, it has also put us into this never-ending, FOMO-driven craze for "the next big thing”, thus challenging our ability to make long-term commitments .. to basically anything in life.
With the world now quite literally in the palm of our hands, we now have a ton of information available to us. A trend that has fundamentally changed the way how we think and behave. We increasingly analyze the relationships we have with others as well as with ourselves. In fact, questioning the purpose of our lives, understanding our identity, and trying to reach (and maintain) a happy state of mind has become a recurring theme that I see in so many of my friends all over the world.
And as we are striving for continuous betterment, the many opportunities at our hands have only fostered this unsatisfiable desire to realize ourselves. To constantly do more. Why? Because #YOLO! Our bucket lists used to stretch over a lifetime, but nowadays we barely manage to plan beyond the current year. Not limited by geographies anymore, our circle of friends stretches around the world from San Francisco to Sydney. There is hardly a dinner party at which my friends don't talk about their plans to move to just another metropolitan city, like their lives have become passport pages and the days within them are just stamps. A few years ago we still ridiculed Apple for continuously releasing a new product and making us constantly want the latest version, but today we have given in on this and just buy along. If it’s better, we need to have it. And while we are happy with what we do professionally, we always have to keep that LinkedIn profile updated, because someone might somehow come across our profile and offer us something better, right?
Driven by this constant fear of missing out, it’s hard to settle for something and make decisions to last. We are not used to making commitments anymore. And even when we do, our exposure to all these other things let’s us second-guess what we decided on. You don’t like it anymore? You changed your mind? No worries, just return it! Previous generations chose one employer and stuck with that company for their entire life. Trying to make my parents understand why my job at a renowned tech company is really great, but that I feel ready for something new because "it doesn’t feel like it’s my calling”, only provokes looks of incomprehension.
Just yesterday I ran into a former colleague who had left my team two years ago. It felt weird to admit that I was still working for the same department while she had left to pursue her own start-up. It felt weird because in today’s professional world you are expected to constantly move and optimize your career prospects. As we become increasingly aware of the multitude of options around us, the grass tends to look a lot greener on the other side of the fence.
Needless to say, this new behavioral pattern also affects our dating habits. The next person we could meet is literally just a swipe away from us. There are not even physical barriers anymore. I once met this wonderful girl online while I was on a business trip in Colombia. After three days of chatting, there was such a strong connection that I changed my return flight just that we could meet at Bogota airport in between changing flights. We got along so well, that a month later she came and visited me in San Francisco for an entire week (I still think this could serve as the story of a romantic novel).
And so we constantly meet new people, go on numerous dates, but then often find a reason why “something doesn’t feel right” or “it’s not the right time”. And in case we do like each other, we often fall into this undefined space of being “mingles”, mutually single. We kind of date each other, but – GOD forbid – not officially! We hang out and enjoy each other’s company, are intimate, but don’t want to lose our autonomy or give up on all the goals we have set ourselves. We want to invest in the “I", not in a “We" because we are afraid of the opportunity cost. And even if one of the two realizes that their feelings are for real, there is no guarantee that the other person might feel the same. So we force ourselves to move on to not waste any time – because remember? Ain’t got no time for this!
Ironically, we search and search and then don’t even recognize anymore when that what we were looking for in the first place is right in front of our eyes. The same friends of mine who complain that they are single, also complain when a guy or girl gives them too much attention or “tries too hard”. They want the perfect lover, but when that person goes above and beyond to show them how much they care, something just doesn’t feel that right anymore.
So we have come to look for perfection, however not in what sits in front of our eyes, but in everything that does not. And while we always want what we can’t have, we hardly acknowledge that at the core of our restlessness is both our newly acquired fear of missing out and our desire to realize ourselves. How can we possibly know whether what we have is the best we could have? Doesn’t society constantly tell us to not settle for less than the best? Hasn’t great just been downgraded the new good? Let me check my newsfeed quickly… yes, that’s still the case.
Yet while technology has made so many things easier, it has not reduced the complexity we have to deal with in the relationships we hope to form for the long-term. As nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, we seem to have become a generation that is partially incapable of dealing with the complexities of modern-day relationships. We have become impatient, restless, constantly on the move.
But are we really to blame? The technology that is taking over our lives can barely reflect our increasing sophistication as human beings. We all want that one partner that makes us laugh, is well educated, likes puppies, and what have you (just read through some Tinder profiles to get an idea what people look for these days). While these are legitimate desires, they are in no way going to function as the foundation of a happy partnership or as the glue that will keep things together in times of difficulties.
Relationships don’t break because of the good things we bring into the relationship, but because of the natural deficiencies that we all have. It takes a lot of time and experience to build knowledge and muscle on how to deal with these deficiencies. Many of them only surface when we are in multi-year relationships, in which our character strength and commitment ability are stress tested. So it’s not just about finding someone who meets all the things on our wishlist, but someone who can also deal with our problems on the “blacklist". Sadly though, in these casual, no-commitment, mingle-type relationships of our generation, we tend to run away when such problems occur. When I tried to save my last serious relationship, my ex responded "I don't want something broken and then fixed”. Standing up and walking away from the problems in our lives has become easier than to sit and work things out.
As this trend continues, we need to come to our senses and understand how we have robbed ourselves of the ability to make decisions to last. We need to appreciate more the beauty of the things we own and stop chasing the things that we don’t. I once lost someone who meant the world to me, simply because I had the urge to tick off one of those items on my bucket list. Just because "you always wanted to do something”, it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice everything else thinking that there is more out there. Our desire for self-fulfillment and betterment is legitimate, but it shouldn’t keep us from making commitments to the things we have. To the contrary, we should value more the loyalty that people show us. In today’s fast-moving and sometimes ephemeral world, commitment is worth a mint and remains the single most important factor for a relationship to last.
While technology is at the core of how our social interactions and expectations have changed, it deserves a lot of credit as well. I have married friends who met online. I have married friends who were physically apart for large periods of time and only managed to uphold their relationships through technology. We are a truly privileged generation if you ask me. Our parents grew up offline, our children will grow up online. We will be the only one that had the opportunity to experience both. Even more so, we are the generation that shapes the online world of the future. With that comes a lot of responsibility to be considerate and thoughtful of how the technology that we are creating today is changing the ways how we will be interacting with each other tomorrow.