The Death of Effort in Modern Dating

Traditional romantic practice is dead. Its birthday is unknown – It may have begun with the first homo sapiens, grunting and gesturing their way through sexual selection in an attempt to find the least hairy mate; or perhaps with apes, competing to find the most bugs in their crush’s scalp (how attractive can someone with bugs in their hair really be?), but either way its tragic death has spawned a finger-pointing murder mystery where everyone’s a suspect. Recently an article by John Picciuto entitled Why Chivalry Is Dead, From a Man’s Perspective made the web rounds and has ignited the discussion, where Picciuto blames women for its death and calls upon them to solve the crisis they’ve apparently created as if they’ve just let their gender go like a lazy spouse after marriage. “The real problem here is that women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum.” He may explicitly admit his bias right there in the title, but his admission can’t excuse a gross simplification of a complex issue.

Let’s begin with women, the supposed sole reason for why it’s become more normal for a relationship to spawn from an intoxicated physical encounter than a friendship and why 50% of marriages end in divorce. Women are still seen as holding the cards in the dating scene, sitting back and letting men compete against each other for their selective approval. If this were true, and selection were still entirely in their hands, then it would follow that they had collectively lowered the bar for romantic approval and could just as easily raise it back up. How simple! All we have to do is send a mass email to the female listserv, and the prototypical dinner and a movie can become the glorious norm once again! Obviously this notion of unilateral female control is an illusion, however, women certainly share the burden of responsibility. A four character text message has become a sufficient expression of interest; the rare man courageous enough to ask a woman on a date in a presumably genuine attempt to get to know her is blacklisted as a creep or a weirdo; and many women continually compete against each other to create the path of least resistance for their lazy male counterparts.

Piciutto and others take for granted in this discussion that women must want to have formal dating rituals and experience a drawn out romance before they get involved with a partner, because our society is uncomfortable with the idea that some women might actually revel in the death of ‘chivalry’ and prefer more direct relationships and less commitment. As a result, women find themselves haunted by a dichotomous social labeling system as either a slut or a tease and are encouraged to spend their romantic lives mentally and physically pinballing between two extremes where everyone loses and there’s no right answer.

Guys, we aren’t helping the situation either. Men and women have worked together to lower the bar for effort – men have an oft-forgotten power of refusal as well an ability to influence the individual and collective relationship culture. If we wanted chivalry back, we could avoid relationships with women who aren’t interested in it, trading ease of access for deeper satisfaction and reversing the female competition culture. The new fight would become one for the path of most resistance, where the most desirable women were the ones whose first romantic move was an offer to get lunch, not a 3 AM text message of “Where are you?” Unfortunately there’s a pervasive misconception in male culture that we have inherently less self-control than women and so are unable to make these decisions for delayed gratification and are thus powerless to bring chivalry back. These issues are compounded when most men are brainwashed to think that it’s feminine to actually prefer effortful romance and deeper relationships over the ubiquitous low-hanging fruit. Acceptance is the first step – how can men bring back chivalry if they’re afraid to admit they miss it, if they don’t even know they want it back?

The technology of the information age and the maturation of the first antisocial generations has only accelerated the casual romantic trend. Picciuto said it well – “I think, in an ever-changing landscape of communication between 140 character tweets, LOLs and ROTFLs, we’ve lost our ability to communicate, altogether.” Dating is hard. It’s always been hard. It means thinking of something creative and personalized to do together, spending money, and – not to forget the purpose of the whole practice – hours of face-to-face conversation, a thought that terrifies your average TwitterKid whose idea of getting acquainted means spending a few hours painstakingly combing through her love interest’s Facebook profile without a word spoken between them. Increasingly popular online dating websites like OKCupid and EHarmony prey on the fear of interaction and a fatigued single population by removing the most difficult element of the communicative process, matching potential partners based on an exhaustive personality inventory so that finding your eventual divorcee is easier than ever.

Why should you care? Why do we want chivalry back anyway? Perhaps the death of chivalry is a form of social progression, a welcome abandonment of archaic social rituals that only serve to waste time and money and put women on pedestals in a supposedly egalitarian society. Draw your own conclusions about the relationship between today’s dating culture and the state and depth of the modern relationship – all I ask is that you take action. If you celebrate the status quo and are satisfied in your relationships, by all means stay the course. But if you possess a creeping fear that we’re doing something wrong, don’t stand on the sidelines. Ask for coffee dates and walks in the park, for music festivals and ice cream, and perhaps one day you’ll find someone who loves black raspberry as much as you do.

Strength in Antagonism

There are 7,186,963,500 people in the world as I begin writing this post, and there will be 7,187,392,118 when it’s finished. Even if you fought tooth and nail against the omnipotent forces of probability, normalcy, and mediocrity to exist as a perfect storm of empathy, amiability, and altruism there are still people in this world you won’t naturally get along with. It’s essential that we accept this premise of expectation so that when our experience presents us with inharmonious personalities we question not the conflict itself, but instead wonder how an early foundation for antagonism can transform into an opportunity for learning and friendship.

Our discontent with others reveals information about our inner nature, and herein lies the lesson too often overlooked. The negativity of antagonistic interactions obstructs their instruction, a dark cloud inhibiting illumination. Upon examination of what we see as others’ flaws or annoyances a reflection of the self is discovered, and this is why certain people have such a penetrating ability to gnaw at our souls, to indirectly reveal our insecurities.

Overachievers have always bothered me. When I was young I would incessantly tease them about how hard they tried and their efforts to constantly exceed expectations. I distinctly recall making fun of a voracious reader in my fifth grade class, cruelly laughing with my friends and deliberately ignoring her every time she brought a book review to class, passionately and graciously sharing its pages with an audience that couldn’t care less. With age and maturity this distaste became more subtle – in my first year at college I watched the overachievers quickly separate themselves from their mediocre peers, joining every club and leading every group they could find. It was obnoxious, I thought, they’re constantly and needlessly shoving their enterprises in your face. Two years later, it was time for a change. Studying abroad in New Zealand, I was surrounded by overachievers and leaders, people who already had been and probably would be more successful than I. But these people were my friends, I didn’t hate them, just this one behavior. If I was going to really connect with these people and enjoy my time, I had to learn to accept them fully – but to do that meant exploring the reason for my distaste.

My mistake lied in possession – I attributed the issue to them, they were the ones who displayed this tendency when in reality it had always been mine. Their success was my weakness, and being in their presence was painful because it made this obvious, unavoidable. Seeing people who had habitually capitalized on opportunities in their lives forced me to see that I was wasting my potential, that I had always done ‘just enough’ because it was easy and got me through until overachievers made ‘just enough’ not enough. They took my personal standard and lifted it up to theirs. The absolutely essential realization I needed to make was that this wasn’t bad, it was helpful. They were telling me to step up to the plate and when I finally did my friends were no longer a threat to ego, instead they became a powerful force for betterment and the catalyst I needed to fulfill a long-ignored potential. This transformation in perception from issue to solution can be deliberate – not only can we let our nemeses lose their rough edges, but we can allow them to help us become better people. Calculate the sum of these trait-induced improvements over a year, over a decade, over a lifetime and you’re looking at the difference between a middle manager and the C.E.O., between homelessness and your dream home, between begging for change and changing the world.

Actively seek out the people who really bother you and subject yourself to their personality. Allow them to gnaw at your soul and analyze the wound they leave. Once you find it , reverse engineer it in your favor and flip your perception to see it in a positive light. Try to notice how your local queen of gossip is an excellent listener, paying close attention to every letter that leaves your lips. Let the guy who’s always late to the meeting teach you how to relax, how to let go of your punctual anxiety. Appreciate the story-topper and their incessant replacement of your experience with their own; their wealth of experience may be entertaining and even impressive once you temporarily dispatch your own need for expression. Learn that every person on this earth, and especially those guys in the International Space Station, have something special to bring to the table.

Single-Tasking

I’m going to take a big risk here and guess you’re probably doing something else while you read this post. You’re listening to the new Head and the Heart album Let’s Be Still, you’re talking with your roommate, you’re tabbing back and forth between here, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Google Scholar, and a word document containing only a title that you sunk two hours into creating (congrats). When you ride to work or walk to class, you block out the world with the help of your friends Samsung, Apple, and Bose; while you inhale your breakfast and chug down your misguided choice of Caffeine Delivery Systems (Dunkin Donuts, seriously?) you manage to catch five minutes of Arrested Development. The time you spend at Pinkberry is split between taking snapchat selfies with your accompanying friend and live-tweeting about the best #froyo you’ve ever had. What’s the problem with all of this, you ask?

Did you intend on spending two hours working on the perfect title for your research paper? What did your roommate just say? Do you know what the walk to class or the drive to work really looks like? What it sounds like? How’s that new album, do you remember what your favorite song was? What did breakfast taste like? How about the coffee? Did you catch that shark-jumping reference to Happy Days in Arrested Development? Is that really the best frozen yogurt you’ve ever had? How would you even know?

Until we learn to do just one thing at a time, we never will. We’ll continue to coast through our days with a screen to our face and noise in our ears, floating at the top of the river of Experience because we’re afraid of the bottom, of boredom, or loneliness, or interaction. Leave the surface.  Dive to the bottom and feel the current slow, slow enough to watch each particle of sand pass happily by. Uncover a long-lost world where the beauty lives in the details and reveals herself only to those who take the time to truly search.

Clean up and simplify your life. Spend your walks listening to the crunch of leaves beneath your feet and the mosaic symphony of the environment. Listen to a new album while doing nothing else, appreciate how the artist spins a narrative through the music and allow yourself to feel the peaks and valleys of the tempo and intensity. Work singularly and let go of the lie you tell others and yourself that you’re good at multitasking, or that listening to music while you work inspires you, or whatever convenient falsehood you’ve spun to ignore the troublesome truth that your attention span caps out at seven seconds. Drink your coffee not as a means to an end or as a pharmacological intervention designed to double that span to 14, but as an experience in itself. Take in the aroma, the flavor, the gradual crescendo of your heartbeat accelerating as the caffeine molecules enter your brain. Replace that time spent on social media with time spent on social living and deeply engage in emotive conversation with your frozen yogurt friend; stop seeking validation online and instead you’ll receive it in person.

Multitasking isn’t choosing quantity over quality, it’s choosing neither. Start single-tasking your way through life and see your relationships, your work, and your media in a deeper new light. Perhaps you’ll realize you need to ditch the Dunkin for a cup of home-brewed.