Humanity is going to become extinct. Not, as you may suspect, due to environmental catastrophe, nuclear holocaust, or zombie apocalypse. No, our extinction will be the result of a species-wide inability to woo. And shallowness, apparently. Yep, we’re all doomed and it’s those whippersnappers’ fault.
Recently I read the article A Million First Dates, which filled me in on the fact that young people are growing into adulthood relationship-impaired. Basically, thanks to technology, young people don’t have to do much work to find partners (sexual or relationship), and so they don’t know how to communicate well, learn compromise, and generally commit to doing the work that long-term relationships require. Why push through the rough or boring times when there are Plenty of Fish in the online (pun intended) sea?
Additionally, according to The End of Courtship, apparently that same technology, combined with soulless hook-up culture, has left young people clueless about how to go about wooing and dating at all. Which hasn’t left anyone very happy (and has even spurred some backlash!) Apparently eventually you have to pursue something more than casual, meaningless (and often recreational substance-enhanced) sex.
The first article postulates that if people do manage to get themselves into long-term relationships (married or otherwise), those relationships will be better, but divorce will also be more prevalent. Which, when divorce rates have hovered around 50% for some time, makes you wonder just how much more prevalent they can get before it becomes pointless to ever bother with marriage in the first place. Whither art thou, true love?
I guess everyone will bail as soon as the “for better” flags. The access to far more potential partners, the repeated high of the new, and the ability to filter for perceived compatibility, will make relationships better… at least for a while. But when the aforementioned rough periods arrive, people will remember all those options they had, how easy relationships are in the beginning (it is called a honeymoon period, after all), and be less committed to sticking it out because they know that meeting someone else won’t be that hard.
Hell, you don’t even have to leave your current relationship to meet someone new. There are websites specifically geared toward those who want to have affairs, or just don’t-ask-don’t tell no-strings-attached encounters. And even on general dating sites a significant portion of the population is already married (sometimes disclosed, sometimes not).
I imagine by extension that this meet/woo/relationship/break-up cycle will also enter a compressed span of time, since internet physics pretty commonly speeds things up. No more seven-year itch… because nobody’s going to stick around that long.
One angle I found interesting that was not addressed in the article was the mechanism for meeting these potential partners, mainly online dating sites. Because, yes, such sites make it possible to peruse and meet many more people. And they make it (theoretically) easier to meet people with whom we’re better matched (we’ll just ignore the fact that everyone lies…) But, perhaps ironically, the sites are far better at preventing us from meeting more people than we ever knew.
While turning dating into an automat may save a lot of work and stress, it’s going to start resulting in people who are are worse at communication, have no idea what to do or say when faced with someone different from themselves, have no idea what all the facets of attraction can be, and who become generally intolerant to risk or uncertainty in their relationships.
As an ironic side note, this eventuality is actually the exact opposite of what well-designed arranged marriages are meant to accomplish. That is, pairing people who balance and complement each other, and who aren’t just as similar as possible. Similar gets really boring after a while.
Why will online dating sites screw up dating? Filters. You see, when you go onto these sites, you are not perusing everyone there. Like the internet itself, there’s just too damned much choice. First, you pick which gender you’re interested in. Then you pick a suitable geographic radius. Then you get really picky: age, height, body type, income, children, eye colour, hair colour, race, religion, political leanings, hobbies… and ever further down the rabbit hole of typing your type.
The result of this is that the pool of prospective mates ends up being a tiny subset of any site’s overall population. And ultimately, what do those people represent, besides what you think turns your crank? You. They represent the people who will make you the least uncomfortable. After all, if you’re going to have a million first dates, wouldn’t it be easier to have them all with basically the same person? (I suspect a thesis could be written on this idea and shows like The Bachelor…) But as noted, similar begets boring, and boring begets restlessness, and restlessness begets bailing to try someone new. Vicious circle.
These serial daters and relationshipppers may never learn what or whom else they might like. After all, when we select our preferences, at least initially, we’re aiming for an ideal. Over time people might get a bit disillusioned and expand their parameters a bit, but then again, maybe not.
Thing is, there is no ideal. Humans are too messy. If someone seems ideal for a while, they’re probably acting. It’ll slip. Totally hot… and turns out to be a cheating asshole. Amazing to hang out with… except for that massive addiction. Smart, funny… and crushed under mommy issues… You get the idea. Oh, and the ideal, or, rather, lack thereof? Applies to everyone — you, me, all of us. No one gets out of life alive, and no one gets out of childhood, relationships, etc. without some quirks, issues, neuroses, etc. (If there was nothing sub-perfect about us, we wouldn’t bother to lie in profiles, right?)
And out beyond the idea of ideal, there are some amazing adventures to be had, which we’ll never know about. Because that guy is too short, or that girl is too heavy… too old, has kids, big ears, likes sports too much, too nerdy, too right wing… etc. Shallow as it sounds, it takes a brave man to venture into the “curvy” populace of available women, or a brave woman to venture under the six-foot limbo stick for available men. I know, I’m one of those marginal women. If we can’t get past appearance, how would we ever be okay with getting close to someone who seems completely different from us at first?
So… yeah. The extinction of the human race is a-comin’. Because dating, courtship, and relationships have become equivalent to ordering from Amazon. And none of the deliveries comes with instructions or extended warranty. Everyone’s on their own, and becoming increasingly impatient, callow, and a little less brave.
I know plenty of people, myself included, who have done things “for the lore”. Knowing that an experience (like a date) might not be a fairy tale, or even a great idea, but is likely to result in a GREAT story. (Nothing dangerous or sketchy, just… weird.) Or sticking around with someone for a while, even if things aren’t perfect, because there’s something that’s interesting or fulfilling or fun or educational going on. Because, you see, if you’re okay being alone, then you understand when it’s okay to be alone, or okay not to be alone, or okay to stick around with something not-perfect for your own reasons (as long as it’s not actively bad for you).
But if young people (or any of us, really) never learn how to get to know people, to learn about and appreciate them, whether or not they’re destined to be together forever, and become increasingly disillusioned at not finding The One because without realizing it they just keep dating the same not-right person over and over, then yeah, it doesn’t make human extinction seem quite as far-fetched.