It’s the age of the six-second attention span, and grass is always greener attitude. It’s the era where you have a 50% chance of a divorce after marriage, and cheating is so normalised and rife, that most of us millennials and centennials inherently develop some kind of insecurity complex.
Question is, is it possible in the 21st Century to have a relationship with genuine longevity? That will last till death do we part?
Were long-term relationships simpler in decades gone by? Are we seeing the death of the life-long relationship?
When my parents and grandparents were married, relationships seemed like a much simpler deal. My amazing parents have been together for over 30 years, and both sets of my grandparents over 60 years, and they’re all going strong.
It seems anything resembling the idea of ‘long-term’ in 2017, doesn’t even come close to what it did with one or two generations prior to millennials.
Nowadays, it feels like it’s so easy to give up, to think there’s something better out there, that we can hide behind a screen with a false sense of security and just… try again.
The concept of relationships being disposable is prevalent in a society driven by celebrity culture: on TV, gossip channels and magazines. Which couple have split? What’s the latest gossip on TV? That couple who just got together, now ended in a shock break-up!
All of which is becoming ingrained in our views of relationships in real life.
In the UK last year there were just 247,372 marriages between opposite sex couples (the lowest rate since 1897, when the population was about half the current number). At the same time, the age at which we get married has been steadily rising. Your average first-time newlyweds will now be 34 (him) and 32 (her).
Comparatively, there were 106,959 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2016, an increase of 5.8% compared with 2015. The divorce rate was highest among men aged 45 to 49 and women in their thirties (ages 30 to 39)*
What does this tell us? That we still believe in commitment, or that increasingly we don’t?
What are the 21st Century factors which are contributing to the decline of the life-long relationship?
#1 Social media is ruining our relationships
There are so many sub-sections of social media which ruin our relationships. We stalk, we focus on other people’s lives and ultimately end up ignoring our partners, etc. Studies have shown that more frequent social media use and monitoring of one’s partner can lead to misunderstandings and feelings of jealousy. It is also becoming more common in divorce proceedings to use evidence of illicit social media activity to support the case.
More arguments are caused by things which we find on social media. Stalking exes, unusual activity, snooping on who our partner’s have ‘liked’ the photos of.
Ignoring Our Partners
Go to your local restaurant and take a look around. The amount of couples who are on their phones over dinner, is crazy. It could be that they’re hearing of an emergency at home, or BBC has just alerted them of some breaking news. But most likely, they’re just ignoring each other.
Sitting on the sofa, in bed, walking down the road – we’re glued to our phones rather than enjoying the moment, and giving the high-value quality time to our partners.
We are all addicted to our phones and it’s having a real impact on our relationships.
#2 We’re easily bored and crave attention
It’s a world where information is readily available at our fingertips, food can be ordered and delivered within 20 minutes, you can binge-watch 10 episodes all in one go rather than wait each week, and you can pay extra on apps so we can skip the adverts – we’re impatient and easily bored.
It’s never been easier to get what you want, easily and without hard work. So when it comes to putting in real effort into a relationship – why bother, right? We want a relationship to be perfect now, without any real work, time invested or effort required.
We have also become a generation which massively craves attention. Our brains have been re-wired to release dopamine (the chemical associated with reward and motivation) when we see a little red/blue (1) notification. With likes, comments, general engagement within seconds on social media, we crave validation. Ford’s 2014 consumer survey reported that 62% of adults felt better about themselves after getting positive reactions to what they shared on social media. That’s huge.
We require more attention from our partners, when realistically they may not be able to constantly provide it, so we seek it through other means, posting a new profile pic, tweeting or snapchatting friends.
#3 The grass is always greener
How easy it is to compare our relationships to others? In a world of #RelationshipGoals and couple’s highlights everywhere for people to see, we think our relationships aren’t that great – when actually they probably are.
We all know that social media is fake, and yet we all choose to forget it. As I say in Adult Loneliness and Friendship, and The Quarter-Life Crisis, we see people’s highlight reels, we don’t see the arguments, the moments of weakness. Social media only gives you a tiny glimpse into what people want you to see.
If you’re in a relationship, it can be easy to see the plethora of singles online and think you can do better. Swiping right on Tinder based on appearance can not only be an ego booster when you get a lot of matches, but it can also give people a false sense that there are so many other people out there.
This kind of compatibility is based on looks and superficiality, and your dream partner is just that, a dream.
#4 It’s more tempting (and easier) to cheat
Psychologists maintain that the dizzying feeling of intense romantic love lasts only about 18 months to — at best — three years.
A couple tough days in a relationship can lead to curiosity, which leads to wandering, which leads to actually matching with someone and maybe even meeting up with them.
Dating apps, and talking to new people mean it’s so easy to stray from a relationship when things get tough, instead of communicating and working through whatever the problem is. It’s also easier for users to reconnect with others, including past lovers, which could lead to emotional and physical cheating.
But despite how cynical we are about love, it is something that most of us look for, and it is possible to have a life-long relationship in the 21st Century.
You just have to remember it takes hard work, dedication and a lot of patience. Relationships aren’t always going to be easy, because life is hard. Stress, pressure, hardship, money and just keeping up day to day, can all be factors in ruining the allusion of a fairy tale ending.
True love that lasts is a result of years of learning about one another in a relationship. It’s learning your partner’s love language, and how they feel loved most. It’s being there for one another through the most difficult of times – and still knowing that it’s a partnership. It’s being selfless, it’s compromising, it’s about understanding each other on a deeper level.
A 2011 study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience looked the brain regions activated in individuals in long-term romantic partnerships (who had been married an average of 21 years), and compared them with individuals who had recently fallen in love. The results revealed similar brain activity in both groups. The findings suggest that couples can not only love each for long periods of time, they can stay in love with each other.
Maintaining a sense of “love blindness”
When we first fall in love with someone, we tend to worship the ground they walk on and see them as the most attractive, smartest and accomplished person in the room. And while we might eventually take our partner off of this pedestal after months and years of being together, maintaining a sense of “love blindness” is actually critical to long-lasting passionate love.
Partners who maintain positive illusions about their partner: seeing them as good-looking, intelligent, funny and caring, or generally as a “catch”, remained happy with each other on nearly all measures over time.
So, love can still last long-term in the 21st Century, you’ve just got to want it, believe in it, and not get caught up in the disposable culture of our digitalcentric society.