How do you catch all the fish in the sea? How modern dating norms have changed relationships

It’s a beautiful, sunny day, and I decide to spend the morning taking my mini-Bernedoodle, Pepito, to the local farmer’s market for a walk. As I’m stopping to grab a frozen lemonade from a vendor, I accidentally drop Pepito’s leash and he takes off. I run after him, and when I finally catch up to him, I see him lying in the grass as a tall, dark, and handsome man around my age is petting him. He and I lock eyes, he introduces himself, and we just know. 

Sounds romantic, right? Growing up on Disney movies, chick flicks, and weekly viewings of “Titanic,” – this is the type of meet-cute that I always imagined I’d have someday. In this scenario, the mystery man and I would probably be engaged within a year, married a year after that, and then live happily ever after. 

Except that scenario didn’t happen. I could blame it on the fact that I don’t actually have a dog (yet), but the reality is that- modern dating, quite simply, kind of sucks. Nowadays, dating norms have been changed and adapted so much from what many of us grew up seeing, we’re completely lost when it comes to knowing how to not only meet a decent potential partner, but how to actually date one another. 

My own parents met in 1986 when they were 19 and 22. They got engaged after three months, married just over a year later, and are coming up on 32 years together. This was the norm 30 years ago. Today, however, young men and women continue to have a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge and live in the land of “It’s complicated” as they struggle to find someone, date them, and navigate the new norms and habits of single people all over the country.

While “technology-assisted” dating has actually been around since 1959, when Jim Harvey and Phil Fialer used an IBM 650 to match up couples, in the past 10 or so years dating apps have become more prevalent than ever. From the use of IBM machines in the 1950s and 60s, to the launch of in 1995, to the modern era of online dating that began with the first iPhone being released in 2007, online dating has taken on many forms over the years. Today, the most common form of online dating is dating apps, which require nothing more than a smart phone, some good photos, and a witty biography. 

Swiping left or right to send a message that you are or are not interested in “matching” with someone is a daily occurrence for most single people in America, with these online services and apps making it easier for men and women to find someone from the comfort of their couch. In fact, a recent study states that at least 40 million Americans have used online dating, and 39 per cent of couples meet online

Meeting your significant other on a dating app used to be something that people were hesitant to admit, but nowadays, it’s much more accepted. As Bill Terraine, founder of the dating coach company The Final Wing, says, dating apps are all about “perspective,” not just how the individual sees their use, but “what they want to get out of it.” When people set the proper expectations and see dating apps for the good that can come out of them, they’re more likely to have success. 

Unfortunately, just because you’ve matched with someone and had a good conversation with them for a few days doesn’t mean it’s going to lead to your own fairy tale ending. For example, take Amy, 24, who has enough interesting date stories to write a book. After meeting up with a date who she immediately realized had clearly used old photos on his dating profile to make him appear five years younger and at considerably lower weight  (a phenomenon commonly referred to as cat-fishing), she decided to still give him a chance. However, she says by the time they arrived at the restaurant, “I already knew it wasn’t going to work out” and the rest of the date didn’t do much to change her mind. Just a tip — being rude to the waiter at Legal Sea Foods isn’t going to impress your date. 

For individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community, it can be even more difficult for many reasons, such as that “within the LGBT community, there are stigmas that can make dating difficult,” writes Crystal Stout of Bucks County Community College’s The Centurion. Another issue that these individuals might face is meeting up with someone who is not out. Noah Berumen, a 26 year-old gay man, has experienced this firsthand. When meeting up with a friend-with-benefits he had met on Grindr (an app specifically used for men seeking men, Noah discovered that this man was not openly gay, which didn’t prove to be an issue until his roommate returned to their dorm. This surprise put his partner in a panic, causing Noah to have to hide under the bed before ultimately jumping off a second-floor balcony while the roommate was in the kitchen in order to not get caught.

While Noah’s story is one of the more light-hearted outcomes of dating someone who is not out, the reality is that for more serious relationships, this kind of relationship can lead to significant issues down the road, between them and their families, as well as “impact each individual’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth,” according to a Kristina Maruisc article written in Women’s Health. 

Finding places to meet someone might seem like an impossible feat, but it is possible. However, that’s only half the battle. Once you’ve met someone whom you hit it off with, you’re faced with a whole other list of obstacles that you have to overcome if you want the relationship to go anywhere. 

First of all, if you do go out on a date (one that was most likely initiated via text instead of phone call) many people, like Noah, agree that sex on the first date is not only acceptable, but “almost expected” — regardless of sexual preference or circumstance.  While there is nothing wrong with someone expressing their sexual liberty, this can lead to early confusion and set the stage for a “friends-with-benefits” situation that often leads to one- or both- parties being hurt by the lack of clear definition in their relationship. Or, because it’s now less taboo to do so, a man or woman might take their date’s decision to wait a few more dates before being intimate as a sign of not being interested, when in reality it’s just a personal choice. For individuals who are looking for a serious relationship, the hookup culture that has been widely adopted by many of their peers can sometimes hinder their ability to find someone in it for more than just one night. 

Furthermore, one of the most common dating norms that single people face today is the concept of being “ghosted,” by the other, when they seemingly drop off the face of the earth into a dark abyss with the inability to text back or accept your Facebook friend request. This typically happens after just a few days of texting, or if you met in person, after a couple of dates, and involves one person suddenly deciding that instead of being an adult and expressing their reasons for being uninterested in pursuing the relationship further, they just disappear. 

Andrea Amour of UpDate Coaching says that when ghosting occurs via dating app, it is largely “behavior based, [because] you have to engage.” While it isn’t an excuse to ghost, if you’re unable to keep the conversation going or ask your match about themselves, they’ll likely lose interest and decide to keep on swiping.

And the list goes on. From having the “what are we?” talk, to when to meet the parents, to whether or not you should move in together, at each crossroads there’s another set of ever-changing norms and rules that an individual has to navigate in order to stay on the right course. It can be stressful, anxiety-inducing, and maybe even make you start to seriously consider adopting a cat lady lifestyle at by the time you reach your late 20s. 

There is no doubt that not only have dating norms changed over the years, but that general attitudes towards marriage and the usual timelines have seriously adapted, too. For example, in 1986, the same year my parents met, the General Social Survey created a report detailing that 41.3 per cent of Americans ages 18-34 were single. That number dropped to 33.1 per cent in 2004. Today, over half (51.2 per cent) of Americans within that same age range are single

There are several things that could be causing this increase — and not just the ever-growing number of available dating apps and websites. For instance, some cite reasons such as “the rise of divorce, birth control, [and] the decline of tradition.” The economy has changed. In 1980, 12.1 million people were enrolled in public and private colleges — in 2016, that number rose to 19.84 million. Similarly, more women are choosing to postpone the wedding bells and babies, instead focusing on their careers for longer than was traditional in years past. 

It’s easy to blame the consistent rise of feminism for the increasing number of “single and ready to minglennials,” but there’s more to the story. “I think it’s one piece of the puzzle,” says Natalia Gonzalez, 26. “If you respect yourself or have strong opinions, some men tend to give up easily and just blame it on the fact that women are just feminists, or whatever excuse they find to not realize that it’s not always about feminism, but it can also be about self respect.” Just because a woman respects herself and her choices doesn’t mean that she rejects all traditional dating norms.

Madeleine Fugère, a psychology professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, says that waiting to get married is a modern dating norm itself, as now “you can decide” when to get married, versus in the past when people, especially women, were expected to be married by a certain age. “You don’t really have to get married anymore,” Fugère states, explaining two possible mindsets being that, “we now know that if you get married young you have a higher risk of divorce” or that, because of the economy, “younger people might be putting off marriage until they’re more financially stable.”

There’s also what psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the “Paradox of Choice,” a concept that is backed up by author and CEO Jenna Birch, who states that “‘People have access to more options than ever, so much so that a single option feels disposable.’” Bill Terriane echoes this view, saying that the sudden availability of too many options will often lead someone to make any option. Having too many options can cause people to feel that in order to alleviate the anxiety and fear they have about making a choice, they’ll make the wrong one. While that’s usually how I feel when an ice cream shop has too many flavors, it can also apply to meeting a potential life partner.

While all of this information can make you want to leave your fate to the results of a BuzzFeed quiz, it shouldn’t deter anyone from trying to find “the one.” Maybe it’ll happen on Bumble, in a bar, or while walking around a farmer’s market with your imaginary dog, but the important thing to remember is to be true to yourself and set clear expectations for what you want and when you want it — and don’t settle for anything else.