Relationships in the Age of Dating

By Debasmita Sinha

dating

“When my dad heard I was dating he thought we were talking about the wedding date.” says 30-year old Neha. When she clarified that it had nothing to do with marriage, and that she was meeting someone to see if they clicked, he summed it up saying “Oh! It’s an experimental thing”.  If you have had a conversation along the same lines this article is for you and maybe your parents too!

Recent studies show that marriage has moved to the second spot as a life goal for the Indian youth and the first spot is taken by career. That translates to the average age of getting married being pushed higher. It means we have people in their twenties and early thirties who are successfully employed, possibly living away from home, who would like to have romance and love in their lives but are not ready to settle down into wedlock yet. Dating comes as a perfect solution to this population. Broadly speaking, dating can be classified, according to seriousness and intent, into four types.

  1. Casual dating, where the objective is to ‘hang out’ and have fun.
  2. Dating to get to know each other and explore to check the possibility of a relationship.
  3. Dating seriously with the objective to decide if they should commit to marriage
  4. Dating when people are already in a committed relationship with growth, exclusive time and enjoyment being the goals.

One can start with any of the above broad types, stick to the type that suits their needs at the time or progress to the more serious types should they choose to. It all depends on the comfort and the needs of the couple; whether one moves to the more serious types or not, how soon if they do, and in what order,

The process however is more sophisticated than it sounds and in the Indian cultural setting, it has run into many challenges.  Passionate love is known to have existed in most cultures, however the expression of that love and the process of finding that love has varied greatly across cultures.  History says that love and relationships were largely governed by religious doctrines.

In western cultures the influence of religion over love and relationships began to shift since the 1300s, catalyzed by the Renaissance period that followed. Romantic love as a concept, with focus on the intense emotion, courtships, rejection, heart-ache, and so on, began to evolve around that time.  Dating as a practice started in the west around early 1900s.  With the availability of the internet based applications in the 21st century, dating is where it stands today which means for the West it took five to six hundred years for the practice of finding a romantic partner to evolve and reach its present state. Peoples’ attitudes, beliefs, social acceptability, and coping mechanisms around these practices also found adequate time to change along with the practices themselves. Therefore the transition seemed smoother.

“Expression of love and the process of finding that love has varied greatly across cultures.”

Here in India however, this transition from religion-guided, collectivistic approach to finding a romantic partner to the present day dating culture happened within a span of 40 years, by a generous estimate. Our own belief systems, attitude towards relationships, and romantic partners, societal perception, ways of handling the pitfalls of newer practices are all lagging behind, huffing and puffing trying to catch up. As a result the older generations like that of Neha’s father are unaware of the prevalent practices, let alone the technology, and are somewhat skeptical. Some even tend to be judgmental as these very practices were strongly frowned upon even a couple of decades ago.

As for the people who have embraced present day dating practices, many have retained attitudes and values that are conflicting with the practices. Some may not be clear about what kind of relationship they want to be in. Yet some might be hesitant to voice their expectation for fear of being judged or chastised. Some on the other hand might behave inappropriately and disregard another’s boundaries.

Consider the story of 23 year old Anita, who decided to date casually as she wanted to focus on her career. The first guy she met through a popular dating app also wanted to keep it casual. They chatted for some days and went on a few dates which were wonderful. Anita’s definition of casual dating was meeting, talking, and enjoying each other’s company while her partner expected physical intimacy. A few awkward advances later they finally talked and realized the problem and the guy stopped seeing her. This experience left Anita feeling rejected and pining as she had begun to see the possibility of a relationship.

“Like in all relationships, in dating as well, communicating honestly and clearly your expectations, limits, likes , dislikes, and feelings  help you understand each other and decide whether to proceed or withdraw.”

To start with, Anita and her date defined ‘casual’ differently.  They did not talk about what they truly expected initially, possibly for fear of being rejected right away. Lastly it is possible that even though Anita thought she wanted a casual relationship, she might have been open for, if not indirectly seeking, a more committed relationship. They ended up investing time and effort and unfortunately neither found what they were looking for. Additionally Anita was left with unpleasant feelings.

While walking down this foggy yet promising path of dating here are a few things that might help.

Firstly introspect about what you truly think about the different aspects of dating. Understand your own attitudes towards relationships, intimacy, love, online dating and so on. Gain clarity into the kind of relationship you are expecting at the moment though as Maya Angelou put it: “Love is like a virus. Can happen to anybody at any time”. Knowing what you actively expect saves time and optimizes your chances of finding it.

“Develop assertiveness to set and defend your boundaries and coping mechanisms to deal with rejection and heartbreak as they are an inevitable part of this process.” 

Knowing however is not enough. Like in all relationships, in dating as well, communicating honestly and clearly your expectations, limits, likes , dislikes, and feelings  help you understand each other and decide whether to proceed or withdraw. One might argue that things as ethereal as feelings cannot be captured with words, but in this age of texting, words are all we have and we need to use them judiciously. Also taking the initiative to politely ask difficult but honest questions and being receptive and respectful to honest answers, desired or otherwise, enables and encourages healthy communication.

Develop assertiveness to set and defend your boundaries and coping mechanisms to deal with rejection and heartbreak as they are an inevitable part of this process. As the pool of people one can approach has grown, the quality of people you meet has declined and the chances of rejection have increased. Also the possibility of un-reciprocated feelings and resultant heart-ache increase. Not only do people with pre-existing poor self-esteem find it difficult to cope with repeated rejection it affects people with otherwise healthy self-esteem as well. It therefore becomes important to insulate partially towards these emotions by being prepared and not taking the rejection personally. Having friends who are supportive helps.

While heartwarming success stories that start with Tinder and end at the altar are heard often enough, it is useful to understand what challenges might crop up in the process of online dating and how to avoid them. In conclusion healthy dating is hinged on communication, mutual agreement, mutual respect of choices and boundaries and insight into your own attitudes, needs, goals and so on.

 

References:

  1. Karandashev, V. (2015). A Cultural Perspective on Romantic Love. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 5(4).  https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1135
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5362258/
  3. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/journals/pspi/online-dating.html 
  4. http://jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu/reflections/FinalArticles/DatingMatingandRelating.D.html