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Culture shock #2: the millennial dating timeline

Apr. 3, 2018
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Recently, it was made apparent to me just how wacky modern American dating really is. The road to this revelation was neither pleasant nor sudden, but rather a slow and painful realization full of denial (for repeatedly rejecting my now boyfriend’s opinion that I overzealously analyze our relationship, like a “typical American”) and bubble-bursting (for now seeing how my mind has been molded by the psycho dating standards we have in the states today). This is how I found out how twisted the millennial dating timeline is.

Step one of the timeline: The meet-cute. Despite investing my patience (and eyesight) into combing Tinder for a potential partner in crime, I met my French-Chinese dreamboat totally by chance at a bar. Perhaps it wasn’t the most unique “meet-cute,” but I did send him over a drink at least! After he came to say “merci,” I discovered he was a shy but striking man full of intellect and wit—which translated adorably through a thick accent and was definitely swoon-worthy. Our plans progressed to tea and hookah, then pizza and beer, soon to be followed by a 72-hour date complete with a secret tour of his embassy, a soccer game with turkeys, and several living-room dance parties. It really hit me then that we were becoming “an item,” although I didn’t know if he felt the same.

Here’s where the distorted American dating mindset comes into play. Our young, fast-paced society teaches us that we should exercise our right to simultaneously peruse all options instead of fully investing in one at a time. That means most of us chat with other romantic interests or even hook up with multiple at the same time, waiting for the most successful match to rise above the others in a chaotic juggling act.

I grew up thinking there was nothing wrong with seeing various people before you and your partner had the “let’s be exclusive” talk, and that it was actually understood that you were free to do what you wanted until that moment. I remember it always being a cute, almost sappy moment when you would announce “I only want to see you,” which was really another way of saying “if you’re dating other people, now would be a good time to stop, because I have.” When I had this talk with my Frenchman, he was quite taken aback that I had still been seeing other people during the early stages of our romance. He took it hard, as if I had been cheating on him from the get-go. “In Europe we would never do something like this,” he said. “When you start seeing someone, the two of you should just know you’re together without any conversation about it.”

His puzzling reaction to my so-called “happy news” shocked me because I had assumed he grew up with the same dating culture as me, and was also “playing the field” at the beginning. We hadn’t discussed any expectations at that time, and after all, what else should you expect from two young twenty-somethings who met in a bar? But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once I explained the norm I was used to, the jokes began about how this perspective was “so American.” I did my best to justify our tactics because I was too proud to admit fault, although I knew inside I was overcomplicating something that should be pure and simple.

It began to be increasingly difficult to defend myself as time went on, especially when I asked him if we could “D.T.R.” or “define the relationship.” I remember him laughing for about five minutes, howling almost, with intermittent bursts of French exclamations. “I’ve never heard anything more ridiculous in my life!” he laughed. “We have a set of each other’s keys, we spend most nights together, I even keep clean underwear at your house!”

Why had I brought up this craziness again, I thought. I should have known he wouldn’t play into my fairytale fantasy and ask me to be “his girlfriend” with a cheesy bouquet of flowers like we were on The Bachelor. And it wasn’t because he didn’t care for me, but because I should have known that he already did—immensely, without the artificial sugar-coating I used to think was stronger. I should have noticed the small things he would do for me, like cook me dinner and wash my dishes when I worked late, surprise me with my favorite pastries, or bring me face lotion when he saw I was running low. That’s where the real relationship status was. 

In his opinion, the start of the relationship didn’t need any real verbal discussion—no official day for becoming exclusive or officially being together, not even a specific day for an anniversary. The more I think about it, the more insane it sounds to have these events in a relationship timeline, which are quite superficial and manipulative to begin with. I know that old habits die hard, and my instincts will try to cling to me, but I’m glad that I’ve been able to take a step back and see what we have as something unique that doesn’t have to be over-romanticized. He’s my partner and we trust each other. If he doesn’t like to shout our relationship status from the rooftops to prove his affection for me, I think I’m going to be just fine with that.