Dear my generation:
What gives? Where did all the love go? Are we too pragmatic, too jaded? Or are we more aware of the real workings of the world? How can we possibly reconcile the romantic tales still embodied in our media but absent from our lives? Are we broken, is our culture broken, or neither?
I know I am hardly representative of everybody, but I wanted to try a little thought experiment: I tried to think of the relationship status of only people I know well (good friends, highschool classmates, etc. – not people I met at parties or mere acquaintances). There are a number of things wrong with this technique if it were purely scientific in nature, but I still think the numbers are relevant (as I will address below).
The one takeaway from this thought experiment for me was this: the graph is reversed. My intuition is that we should funnel from left to right (hopefully stopping short of the far-right) throughout the course of our lives. While this process might take more or less time, the general trend should still be in that direction.
It gets worse: many of the engaged and married people have known each other since high school or early college. In this particular sample-set of data from a range of people in their 20s and early 30s, it seems that very few people are entering into new long term relationships.
The Bias (and a counter-point)
Of course, we can easily identify my bias: I am currently single myself, and am not likely to begin any new associations with non-single people soon, as they are settling into their lives. Many of them are moving away from the city, leaving the single behind to live in a bubble of a world that may not actually be indicative of reality.
Still, one would expect a certain familiarity with the event of people breaking away from the city life and entering into life as a couple. Yet, there seems to be very little of this within my groups of friends, regardless of geographic location. It has become a rarity to see a new relationship forming since we went through college.
The Troublesome Part
That, on its own, may be insignificant – after all, it is just my experience. What worries me, though, is the language employed by all of my single friends. On one hand, they seem to be uniformly aware of the situation. That is, they have (mostly) all been in a long term relationship at one time or another and now are unwilling to jump headfirst into one for one reason or another.
At the same time that we (I include myself in this group) pretend not to care, we acknowledge to each other with subtle cues that we do care deeply about this situation. Relationships often remain the primary drivers of conversation. That we still talk about it so much seems to suggest a certain longing, an unwillingness to completely give up on the romanticized version of life we were all spoon-fed through childhood from a million different cultural sources. That we see the constant conflict between the reality of the world as we experience it must leave us somewhat stupefied and hurt.
Is it All Bad?
Maybe we’re not jaded, but more realistic. When we look at divorce rate, maybe we as a generation are concluding that buying into the dream of a happy marriage is not a quick and easy way to find happiness in our lives. If that is true, then we must find our satisfaction elsewhere.
As always, people turn to a number of different things to fill this void, from work to travel to partying. There is nothing new in the human condition, here. What I do see, though, is a rising amount of what I would call “learned rejection.” In essence, we shy away from any form of extreme.
Just as we have turned away from the notion that love will solve all problems, so have we from any other particular single cure. We learned from the hippies and philosophers alike before us that happiness must come from within, and we seem to be crafting that life rather than pursuing extremes. My friends are all dynamic and skilled people, jumping effortlessly between sports and music and creativity while maintaining interesting jobs leading down a fulfilling road for their lives.
Personally, I found it pleasantly amusing when people asked if I was “looking for myself” when traveling. In my mind, I was simply living a whole and complete life, doing things than I knew I wanted to do. There was no greater metaphysical purpose to it… for better or for worse.
Still, is living a million partially-fulfilled dreams as good as one completely realized one?
I don’t know. What do you think?