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Culture shock #1: the toxins of American dating

Mar. 14, 2018
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What would you say if I told you the rest of the world thinks Americans are crazy when it comes to dating? And how pissed would you be if I, being American myself, have begun to understand why they might be onto something? Before you disappear, think about how often you’ve heard or said these dating phrases: playing the field, friends with benefits A.K.A. “fuck buddies,” putting a label on it, becoming exclusive, F.B.O., and any other Americanism that overcomplicates dating. These concepts are so heavily instilled in our culture that we perceive them as “the norm,” but what about beyond the good ol’ U.S.A.? If you think our dating culture transcends borders like I did, surprise, no! (Not always, at least.) Dating isn’t the same all over the globe, and these concepts can be a minefield for a foreigner to walk through.

So what is the root of this insanity we’ve all been exposed to our whole adult lives without acknowledging its detriment? My answer boils down to commitment issues, paranoia, and over-communication (mostly fed by our #1 addiction, social media). Millennials these days often meet over apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. The list goes on—and that’s not even counting non-dating apps like Instagram and Snapchat. This is where commitment issues come in.

I’ll be the first to say it: dating apps are addicting! You’re single, perhaps recovering from a failed relationship, and you’re in need of some attention. You want to have your ego fluffed without actually having to leave your bed and seek that attention in the real world. And when that same real world has got you down (work, family, bills, etc.) there’s no better time to escape to the magical land of dating apps and see how many swipes or “super likes” you’ve received. And when you decide to chat someone up or go out, how many other people are you (and they, presumably) communicating with simultaneously?

The problem with indulging ourselves in infinite online choice has, in turn, forced us to invent phases like “we’re just talking,” “we’re just hanging out/hooking up,” or even the biggest lie, “we can be sex friends and not get attached.” Maybe our parents would have already been calling that “going steady,” but not us, and not most foreigners. How long does it take you to see someone before you start to feel a twinge of guilt from engaging in other sexually-charged relationships (backburners, exes, spicy colleagues, etc.?) What does it take for you and that person to take it to the next level, and go from “hanging out” to “becoming exclusive”? Who likes having to tell a reliable backburner that you’re “kind of seeing someone now”? After all, is your partner really cutting ties? Don’t pretend you’ve never checked up on someone’s profile to scan for recent activity. Paranoia is a bitch, but as Pat Benatar taught us, “Love is a battlefield.”

Sadly, in addition to being plagued by commitment and trust issues, we have yet another flaw: over-communicating every step of the relationship process like we’re sports reporters! When we’re really starting to like the person we’ve been seeing, most of us feel the need to ask if they want to date exclusively. At this point, we already have a second toothbrush and maybe even a key to the other person’s house. But we’re so paranoid that we’re the only one “catching feels” that we have to have this little pep talk to put the worries to rest—but “label” the relationship? Good heavens, no! It’s still way too soon for that heavy shit. We’re just going to float around in Middle-earth with Frodo and Sam for as long as possible.

Then, after ages of denying your relationship status, there comes a high-pressure time like Christmas or Valentine’s Day when you take another look and decide to dramatically, verbally confirm that what has been happening is indeed happening and worthy of being called “official relationship.”

Who needs all these overly complicated steps in a relationship? Shouldn’t it be simpler than this?