Seven Overlooked Reasons Partnership Is More Difficult Today

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Seven Overlooked Reasons Partnership Is More Difficult Today

Cheer up: It’s not all about you. A lot is about how culture is changing. Jeremy E. Sherman, Ph.D, Psychology Today   2/20/2019


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You know the usual reasons, people harried by work and glued to their phones, ambivalence about having children, #metoo, dating and porn sites, and the hookup culture. Here are some broader factors – obstacles to romantic partnership but not just, challenges to our ability to commit to anything in current times.

  1.  We’re drowning in options. Life really was simpler before, fewer options for what to attend to, what to do with your life, what to consider important. These days we’re inundated with options. It’s not just that there are more potential partners available through online dating. There are so many more options for everything. We all suffer from 21st century ADD. It’s making it harder to commit and harder to stay committed. You partner with someone like minded but with as many lifestyle options available, you’ve drifted in different directions. It happens to lots of couples. They were once into the same things but with time they weren’t, simply because the lifestyle menu has gotten longer. Probability alone explains why over time you would pick different items from a longer menu.
  2. We’re screening by prickly bias. Inundated as we are with options for what to do with ourselves, we value reasons to say no, now more than ever before. Being opinionated is a way to filter the overwhelm. With so many options praying for our attention, we need ways to bark to keep more at bay. We double down on our preferences. We cultivate ways to say no. We must or else we’d drown in ambivalence. As a result, we’re more likely to experience buzzkill on a date. “He/she’s into that, which I’m totally not into.”
  3. Even the simplest among us are complicated getting more complicated. All of these options and prickly biases don’t resolve our ambivalence. Ambivalences make us complicated, especially when we’re busy trying to sound like we’re not ambivalent when we are. You can hear it in a partner’s talk, the way they say what they need to hear, some firm stance about something about which they’re not all that firm. People were always complicated but with all of the options available to us and all the biases we have to cultivate to prevent overwhelm, it’s harder for any of us to keep from sounding half-heartedly insistent.
  4. More partnerships, more accumulated ambivalence. In the old days, people had a few dates, settled on a partner, married and lived haphazardly ever after. Now, many of us have had multiple long-term partners which can leave us a little shaken. By middle age, many of us experience what could be called post-romantic stress syndrome. We threw all into relationships and we’re thrown out. We don’t trust commitment the way we once did. It’s like porcupine sex. You want the intimacy but you don’t want to get stung again. You hear the ambivalence in the way people insist they want a partner but then don’t act like they really do.
  5. We expect more for less. Meanwhile many aspects of our lives are getting simpler thanks to reliable goods, services and technologies. As consumers, we’re told to “expect more; pay less” which can bleed over into our relationship with people. People make partnership harder than it has to be by insisting that it should be easier than it can be.
  6. Computer reliability is making humans relatively more frustrating. When a computer misbehaves we find a simple fix. Why can’t our fellow humans be like that too? We’re experiencing what could be called robo-envy, a wish that we and other people we’re programmable and reliable, as easy to teach as computers are to reprogram. You hear it in the way people say things like “I told you what I prefer. Why can’t you just deliver it?” Many people abandon hope of finding a partner and just get a dog instead. It makes sense. Dogs are bred for reliable loyalty and devotion. As such they approximate the reliability of computers.
  7. Most of what we used to depend on from relationships is now available by other means. Before microwaves, social security, grocery stores, and insurance, one had little option but to marry. Today, a partnership may be necessary for the two-income purchase of services but otherwise, the necessities can be had by other means. Here’s a song I wrote about how having so much of what marriages were for now available by other means, the justification for pairing is love which generates a lot of pressure to keep love alive that may not have been felt in the past at least to such a degree.

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