I thought the title of this post was rather clever, but upon googling it I found that The Bold Italic has already used it, so I thought I’d at least give them a shout-out. The tech panel event they hosted called “Love? There’s an App for That” has already passed, but if you’re located in the SF Bay Area check the other upcoming events The Bold Italic will be hosting.
Alright let’s get down to business! I’ve been studying the many facets in which millennials demonstrate pragmatism and practicality, and I thought it would be interesting to examine how this trait influences their ideas of relationships. I know– love and practicality? They don’t seem to go together. And if you read on, that may be something millennials need to do some soul-searching about.
This week Time Magazine released an article called Millennials in Love: Why They’re Not So Different From Their Parents After All which mentions apps like Grindr and Tinder which make the dating and mating process as easy as streaming into Netflix. The article also mentions some thoughts from one of my favorite bloggers Jamie Gordon of The Narcissistic Anthropologist (!) who says “Curation has been a lifestyle trend for a while now… There are services and apps that help you access and consume products. Tools like Tinder are just about accessing and consuming humans.” It’s an interesting concept, and with technology continuing to advance at lightening speed, the development of “apps” will only increase. No wonder millennials are so practical. With so many tools at our disposal it’s hard not to be.
The author of the article, Jeffrey Kluger, goes on to acknowledge that the sexual, and romantic landscape has seen changes throughout history. But, as clinical psychologist Elizabeth Churchill says “Technology is changing rapidly but human beings are not.”
The “Should’s” and “How To’s” of L-O-V-E
So what is the millennial mindset when it comes to love? While there were consequences to the post-1960s “free love” movement (like STDs) decades later milennials may have an altogether different motivation than “freeing” love: rather, they want to streamline it.
First, to be fair to millennials, we were raised on love stories like The Little Mermaid, where Princess Ariel falls madly in love (and risks her life for) a guy she has never had a conversation with. If you think about it all she does is sing a song to him while he’s barely conscious lying flat on his back on the beach. Do we really want to teach little girls this is normal? Recently Disney shook up the overplayed love story that they helped create in the movie Frozen. Princess Anna, upon getting engaged to a guy she met probably 3 hours prior, gets a sober response from her sister Princess Elsa– “you can’t marry someone you just met.” True. And I agree that sappy ideals about love without common sense can spell out disaster in the end.
But there is another side to the story. With endless options in “how to” meet someone, millennials may be a bit unmoored by the current landscape of love. I’ve observed that many millennials have a lot of “should’s” in eventually achieving love in their lives. There seems to be a collective belief that there is a perfect circumstance to meet that special someone. Or if not “special” (as Prince Charming is slowly drifting into the land of myth) someone who fits all of the items on a predetermined checklist. There is a preferred age to marry, and perhaps a preferable income bracket, a list of accomplishments of the would-be significant other, and “correct” combined income.
Don’t get me wrong I think anyone who is serious about finding love someday should be wise, and learn as much as possible about the “how to’s” of relationships. While the romanticized “Little Mermaid” model isn’t the answer, either is having a very long list of ducks to get in a row. It doesn’t matter how long the rows of ducks are– in the end it may not create a love-match.
Love is Not a Guarantee (or an App)
I also find myself skeptical about the so-called wisdom of millennials concerning relationships and love, as I know way too much about them.
1. Risk aversion. Millennials have repeatedly shown that they are not big risk-takers. The cause of this tendency is rather obvious. They witnessed the economy melt down, and an unstable job market. Whatever, take your pick. Generational expert Neil Howe says “They have this risk aversion that we’ve seen with millennials since they were teenagers…It’s declining alcohol use, declining drug use. I mean, declining sex.” Millennials overall do not like instability, but unfortunately relational growth innately involves risk.
2. Emotionally anchored. As much as millennials may seem independent, many are actually the product of “helicopter parents” and accustomed to a strong emotional anchor. Studies show that millennials are very close with their parents, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s Boomers who are having a hard time cutting the apron strings, or if it’s millennials who are a bit wary of flying the coop. Either way, with a generation that is used to moral support, it may be wise to think of ways now on how to someday transfer that loyalty and love to someone other than your parents.
3. It’s all about the Benjamins. Of course the reason many millennials are still close to their parents (as in living with them) and postponing couplehood is because they are broke. Finances remains the number one reason to divorce, but the root of the issue is relational not financial. There isn’t a certain dollar amount that’s needed in your bank account to ensure success of a relationship. It’s not a lack of money that makes relationships fail– it’s a failure to communicate and compromise.
4. Hard skills vs. Soft skills. In the workplace millennials have proven to be strong on hard skills, but rather weak on soft skills. Part of the problem, according to Dan Schwabel, is technology. Can millennials get things done? Yes. Are they strong in nuanced skills like positive attitude, work ethic, and good communication skills? Not really. I think the same principle applies to romance. There is an app for making first contact, and getting noticed, but technology can’t help you with the soft skills. For that you have to take the risk of putting yourself out there to live and learn, and definitely fail many times a long the way. And that’s ok.
To Love is to Risk
That’s what Bob Marley said anyway. Having all right tools and knowledge will never be a guarantee of finding and sustaining love. There is no way to perfectly streamline or harness love’s benefits and fulfillment. In observing millennials as a whole, they prefer guarantees over a risk– which is unfortunately not an option in love. Until some tech genius isolates the perfect algorithm of love, there is no app for it.
Until then, I wish you luck in the exciting, and messy process of finding your heart’s desire. Be smart. Be wise. But do not be (at least too) practical. Oh, and whether your Valentine’s Day plans are going out on a date with a new interest, spending time with your main squeeze, or binge-eating ice cream through a movie, I recommend watching the movie Frozen. It’s a good conversation starter on the nature of true love, and starting to formulate your own thoughts about it. Thanks Disney!