Not ‘swiping right’: Thoughts on modern dating culture

So, ‘Tinder’ is trending, according to The Telegraph (in case you didn’t already know).

An older friend of mine sent me this article and wondered what I, as a 20-something, made of it. To be honest, I’ve always chickened out of really tackling the issue of relationships on my blog. But in light of the recent Ashley Madison scandal, I sense there is some timeliness in the theme. I do feel honoured, too, to have been asked for my thoughts on the subject… and so here they are. I’m guessing any kind of relationship-centric topic is going to be of some relevance, so whatever your age or status, I hope you’ll find this of interest. Please read the Telegraph article before continuing or this won’t make much sense!

Before I go any further I have to acknowledge that the picture painted by the item in The Telegraph is not entirely representative. I’m not simply pointing out that as a Christian, the idea of casual dating seems alien to me. Several of my friends who do not profess to have a practising Christian faith are in long term, committed relationships. Nonetheless, the casual view surrounding dating was clearly prevalent when I was at university, so I do think it’s becoming the norm for many people.

The article in The Telegraph highlights many possible causes for the growing serial monogamist (or even serial polygamist) attitude toward dating (and you’ll know that because you read it, right? ;)). Amongst those: fear of commitment, fear of missing out, fear of living up to social expectations, fear of marriage failing. Notice how all of those stem from fear. Make of that what you will.

What the article also implied is that a generally selfish and self-focused attitude towards relationships is another major factor in the way dating rules have evolved. This quote, for instance: “I love being single and don’t believe in long-term monogamy. If anything, I think it is a ludicrous concept in a society that is faced with unlimited choice.”

Keeping one’s options open is clearly a product of the times, but I’d suggest selfishness has fuelled this mentality. Whilst I do believe in discernment when it comes to relationships, viewing a potential partner like a shiny new car that you get to test drive for as long as you want before you fully opt in is kind of tragic to me. And by that, I don’t mean jumping into things without consideration. But human beings are fragile. Valuable. It seems to me that even casual dating demands some amount of trusting the other person with your vulnerabilities. And I imagine favouring this non-commital approach over allowing a deeper connection to form is actually making people lonelier than ever.

I do think the article contains kernels of truth. It discusses people’s unwillingness to settle down until they find the right person, which is rational, I guess. But there’s a difference between compatibility and perfection, the latter of which will never be found. It isn’t fair to play with other people’s emotions in the process of searching for that perfection. This article (as well as my own personal observations) suggests to me that many people view relationships as geared entirely toward personal satisfaction, rather than something that involves sacrifice, perseverance and active demonstration of love. ‘Love, love is a verb, love is a doing word…’ Love is a choice that you have to make again and again, not something that can be relied upon purely as an emotion.

Does this at least partly come back to fear? Have people adopted a selfish outlook because general expectations have lowered over time? So selfishness in this case is more to do with self-preservation, and is adopted as a defense mechanism? Like, ‘I take what I can get and leave before things get messy’? (I’m asking a lot of rhetorical questions, I know). The Telegraph’s article suggested that it isn’t so much that people don’t want to be in a relationship, but rather that they “just don’t know how” to be. Maybe people my age don’t know how to do lots of adult things. My generation don’t seem to be as ‘adult’ overall as my parents’ generation. I remember coming across people at university who sort of acted like giant babies.

I don’t know how plausible these theories are. I feel like this is the kind of thing I could elaborate on for a long time because there is a lot to pick apart, but I would be interested to hear what you think.

The friend who sent me the article wondered if this would explain why Christians my age can find relationships so baffling. I can’t speak for everyone, but it seems that with a lack of models to go on and the impact of cultural influence, figuring out how to do relationships is becoming increasingly difficult. And even if you have a clear idea of how you want to live out your faith in that part of your life, it’s going to look pretty strange to a lot of people, and that might cause some self doubt and second guessing.

I’m definitely not an authority on this subject, and I’m not going to offer advice on how to be in a relationship, not least because no single model is going to work for everybody. However, to me, it’s clear that God designed us for more – and for better – than what we see exemplified around us. I do think it’s important to remind ourselves of that, and not to buy into what our culture tells us is good.

Whether you’re married, in a relationship or single, I think there’s beauty in ‘not conforming to the pattern of this world’ (Romans 12:2). In offering an alternative through the way you life your life. An alternative that doesn’t have to be boring; an alternative that isn’t birthed from fear.

One thing is clear: I’ll never swipe right (or left).

Hopefully this gave you some food for thought, despite not being very conclusive. As always your opinion or general feedback is always welcome!

Enjoy the rest of your week.

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