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Sex + Relationships

4 Tips for Surviving Modern Dating Culture

Dating and romance in our world of technology, dating apps, and social media can be overwhelming. More and more people our age are developing mental illnesses, lack stability in their jobs and future, and realizing that barring total revolution against the massive corporations and billionaires that have been screwing us over for years--causing people under thirty even greater trouble in finding new things to look forward to. Because of this, we need to adopt dating strategies to the times. Obviously, the idea of romance and all the scripts we’ve been taught are normal aren’t working anymore. And, quite honestly, just doesn’t make sense to apply archaic expectations of dating in 2019.

But, because human contact is something everyone needs, especially when times are stressful, we do still seek romance, passion, love, affection, understanding, and support from the people around us. Sometimes we only need one or another from that list. For example, I rarely need support from the people around me (but still appreciate it greatly), but I always need touch and affection in my life, and feel empty without it. Some of us are the opposite. But we all need at least one part of that, and we are social creatures. So, how can we navigate this modern dating culture?


Be Picky!

First, we have to be careful with who we share our lives with, when possible. Being hurt by others while seeking romance with them is common, and certainly not the victim’s fault; it can happen to anyone. Hookups can have one-sided feelings, rape culture is a huge, horrible issue, and even friendships can turn sour. (A common story is that of a man only befriending a woman because he wants sex from her, making her feel used and objectified) The point here isn’t to blame you for being hurt in a relationship. And the point also isn’t to say that it’s your responsibility to stay away from “bad people;” the worst offenders in these situations are often those who seem wonderful and perfect at first.

The point is that we should hold our partners to a high standard of behavior, and be less afraid of being alone. It’s better to be alone, and focusing on yourself than be in a toxic relationship. And I’m so tired of saying “the bar is too low” when congratulated for not being a shitty man. It’s mostly a joke, but still. Part of the reason awful men don’t face the consequences they should is because it’s expected behavior, and because worse men get away with the same things. I know men are shitty, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for hating men. But we need to stop saying “boys will be boys,” and start holding men to a higher standard.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that it’s your responsibility to not be hurt, and I’m not saying people who have been hurt are going to be hurt again. I’m saying that you should ideally actually care about and be interested someone before you get in a relationship with them, rather than entering a relationship because you’re excited, surprised, or afraid of being alone. Don’t love, date, or hookup with someone simply because they don’t treat you like garbage. Don’t put up with irritating behavior simply because they aren’t openly abusive. I’ve known many men whose entire effort to romance someone is simply not being a horrible human being. Like, that’s the bare minimum. Where is the effort? The desire to grow and learn and change? The dreams of changing the world? Do you have an actual personality beyond cars, music, weed, skiing/snowboarding, and/or beer?

By “be picky,” I mean find someone you actually connect with and share interests with and want to be with and around, not just someone who wants you, and isn’t the worst person who has wanted you. And, on the other hand, don’t date someone just because they put up with you. I’m so tired of, when asked why they love their partner, hearing men essentially say “she puts up with me and cleans up after me and takes care of me.” First, men need to both take and be given more responsibility in relationships; it should be an equal exchange of caring and effort.  Also, if it is equally exchanged, that’s just normal things partners do for each other. You should love someone because of actual reasons and interests and actions and patterns in your shared behavior and mutual understanding, not because they just happen to be in a relationship with you. And furthermore, you shouldn’t just love them because you think they’re beautiful, there are so many beautiful people in the world and they’re all beautiful in so many different ways, appearance is often an important factor in relationships with others, but it’s not going to change someone’s ability to provide love in its myriad forms.

Learn to be alone!

If you are being picky, for lack of a better term, you’re going to have to deal with being alone. Unfortunately, there’s often not a lot of great choices, if swiping through men on Tinder has given me any indication.

Especially for those of us who suffer from mental illnesses or similar issues, being alone is daunting. It used to be scary for me, I needed something to keep my mind away from spiraling into awful self-hating thoughts. People are quite good for that, but if you are incapable of surviving without something, you’ll very quickly develop an unhealthy relationship with that thing, whether it’s a person, sex, alcohol, affection, mental support, or anything else. Learning to be alone is a long, difficult process. It involves critically processing your thinking errors, avoiding spiraling, self-control, and learning about how you think and process information. I’m still not free of my mental illness and entangled desire to help others, but I’m getting there

To find good, healthy relationships, it really helps to be in a healthy relationship with yourself. A wonderful friend of mine has an article about this here.

It is by no means necessary to love yourself, and it’s possible to grow together with someone, but it’s very unhealthy to constantly expect undying support from your partner or friends.


Know what you want!

This is a complex question, but it does bear asking. Do you want a relationship? Or do you want someone to pose with to look cute and desired on Instagram? Why do you want to hook up? Is it just for validation? Do you need love, or just affection and attention? None of these are easy to answer, and I’m not suggesting any answer is more correct than another. Just ask them, and revisit them when you meet new people. And, when possible, be straightforward about it. If someone I barely knew said “hey I need someone to come over and cuddle me for like an hour," I’d be 100% up for it and I’d appreciate the straightforwardness. It does become difficult, because it’s not uncommon for people to say one thing and mean another (Netflix and chill, anyone?) but I’ve found that there is comfort and reassurance in asking people to be clear and being clear yourself, even if it means confirming verbally (textually?) “Yes, I just want to cuddle and nothing else.”


Don’t forget your friends!

Friends can often provide many types of the love and affection and support you need in your life. We tend to think of these relationships as lesser, because we’re sold this idea of perfect romantic partnerships, but friends and communities can do more for you than any lover has. These relationships are important, and worth keeping and nurturing, even if there’s no sex or romantic affection involved.

That being said, I’d also like to point out that the rules for what a “friend” is are arbitrary. Kiss your friends! Cuddle your friends! You can even have sexual relationships with friends, but do be careful not to neglect the other parts of a friendship just because you’re doing so. Also, be considerate of feelings and clear about your intentions, because the meaning of sex is different for everyone. Communication is important, everyone.

There isn’t a perfect answer to fix the unhealthy and one-sided relationships that are common in this modern society. However, these can ideally help you feel better about relationships and keep focused on what’s important. In the end, communicate with each other, and care for each other, and don’t forget to check up on your friends. We’re all in this world and we need each other, especially now that it seems the world is falling apart around us.

Gifs: 1,2,3

Jacob Westwood is a senior at the University of Utah, who loves animals, the outdoors, and hands-on work.
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