FOR SINGLES: It’s Complicated. The Shape of Relationships



Not so long ago there were two groups of people: single people who wanted to find the right mate and married people who may or may not have been working on their relationship. Today, virtually every American, no matter their age is in one of three relationship stages:
1. finding and building a relationship, 2. maintaining a relationship, or 3. destroying one. Look at these stats:
• 50% of first marriages divorce
• Up to 80% of second marriages divorce
• Sexual taboos have all but disappeared
• 40% of American babies are born out of wedlock
• More women than men are in the workforce
• Less than 30% of children have one stay-at-home parent
• Hooking up is replacing dating
• It is estimated that instead of til-death-do-us-part, we’ll have three long-term relationships in our lives
Today there is a shopping mall of relationship choices. Some couples marry. Some live together. Some do neither and still maintain committed relationships. Others live without any kind of commitments yet children pop out of these unions. It is a relationship revolution where rules have yet to be established. It is a place where sexting, hooking up, and expensive white weddings walk side by side. It is a place where divorce has become a rite of passage, where cougar women enjoy their sexual freedoms, divorced men scramble to figure out what went wrong and young adults try to make sense of their parent’s relationship model. The relationship revolution is affecting everyone.

There are no rules anymore in courting and mating. When a high-school girl has a “friend with benefits” and believes oral sex isn’t sex, when a college student brings a Facebook hookup to her grandmother’s birthday, and when more than half of all American babies are born out of wed-lock, clearly, Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore.

No longer til-death-do-us-part, it is estimated that most people have at least three long-term relationships in their lifespan. Thus the shape of the family has changed. Families are married, unmarried, separated, divorced, blended, and gender roles are fluid. The lack of rules means that romance, marriage and family are a whole new ball game.

And single life is no longer a short rite of passage; it’s an important consumer demographic. For the first time in history, the majority of adult Americans are now unmarried. There’s even a magazine devoted to the lifestyles of those who have made a commitment to be single. It includes ads for commitment rings to purchase for oneself.
But has love changed? In some ways it has. Once a home for the heart, relationships have become a mess of mistrust. A holding tank for insecurity. A place where people tally up each side of contributions and ask too often, “What has he done for me lately?” Too often people wonder what their relationship is doing for them, rather than what they themselves have done for their relationship.

So what’s the answer to this complicated landscape. I think the winners of this paradigm shift will be the people who acquire the sharpest emotional intimacy skills. Like emotional intelligence was in the 1990’s, emotional intimacy (i.e. using empathy, compassion, and honesty to navigate conflict) is the hot skill for the survival of our species. Statistically speaking, children of a long-term committed relationship do better on all levels. The winners of the no-rules relationship revolution will be the people who make their own rules and their own game — where the champion is the relationship itself.

One thought on “FOR SINGLES: It’s Complicated. The Shape of Relationships

  1. Like Social Media has affected our communication — nearly everything is now communicated in 140 word (or less) sound bites, relationships, by your analysis, are or have undergone the same truncation.

    We’ve previously explored the role of feminism in this change, increasing freedoms allowed women to exhibit more traditionally male characteristics (hooking up, cougarism, children out of wedlock due to economic freedom)

    The question I believe isn’t what caused these changes, but rather how to develop the skills to have emotionally valuable relationships in light of the new paradigm.

    You’ve explored the shift in gender roles, the role of compassion, the invaluable skills of compassion, but much like the Social Media Tools (Yammer, Twitter, Facebook), descriptions of the tools doesn’t help until they are put into practice. How do you teach someone to use those skills and to develop the talents in a way that they are accepted and valued by the right partner?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *