My parents met their junior year of college, in line for a bar called "What Ales You?" Twenty-something years later, my older brother met his life partner before he could legally drink. It's safe to say that I grew up assuming falling in love in your late teens was something that happened naturally to your body, like hormonal acne. As I graduated high school and then college, I wondered where the heck my star-crossed lover was. Moreover, I wondered why dating today is so hard. As the great Charlotte York once said, "I have been dating since I was 15. I am exhausted. Where is he (she)?!" But seriously. What gives?
Like any chatty young millennial with too much free time and internet access, I reached out to every type of relationship expert I could think of. Pausing the Sex and the City episode I was watching (via my ex's HBO account), I asked them about the culprit of today's dating drama. Hookup culture? Addiction to technology? Inability to create real and vulnerable relationships? (Spoiler alert: It's a little of all three.)
In hopes of understanding why dating today feels so hard — here's what five relationship experts had to say.
1. We Are Flooded With Images Of "Perfect Love"
Our expectations are higher today because we are flooded with images of “perfect love” from TV, films, advertisements, and social media. We expect perfection and, if we don’t find it, we move on quickly. This makes dating harder because it’s common for us to look for what’s wrong with someone, instead of focusing on what’s right. We expect an intense spark to be there from the start. If it’s not, we check out and look for someone else, because we feel it’s easy to meet someone thanks to modern technology.
And having fun has become more and more important in today’s culture. After the initial spark wears off and the routine sets in, we become frustrated, bored, and want to experience the spark again. Many people would rather start fresh than fully dive into the other phases of love. And the ease of finding someone online takes away the perceived risk of ending up alone.
— Claudia Cox, relationship coach
2. Having Seemingly Unlimited Choices Makes Dating More Complex
In the past we relied on chance meetings, using friends as intermediaries, talking to a person to gain knowledge about them and thus our choices were reduced but the intensity of our connections was greater. Now we have access to anyone in the world — literally. We have computer algorithms that will match us based on stated preferences, we have the ability to make our physical appearance on line look more flattering than our actual appearance and we have all of this at the swipe of a finger. The result is, for many, having to sift through lots and lots of “dating data” to find a good, authentic fit.
Moreover, because we have access to people without having to leave our homes, we have access to communicate our wants and desires without much cost. The result is a much more complex array of dating categories including casual sex and hookups. We simply find another individual via the Internet who wants casual sex and without having to ever leave our homes we can arrange the process. There is very little investment and thus, it happens frequently.
— Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show
3. "Hookup Culture" Gives Us Mass Confusion
In the not too distant past, obtaining a casual sex partner was a difficult bit of business.
'Hookup culture' has given us mass confusion. It's made it hard to define what we're doing with a person. We find ourselves asking, 'Is this a date?', 'Are we a couple?', 'What are the rules?' 'What are the expectations?' 'Am I one of many?' 'Dare I text them first?' 'Is it OK to let them know I like them?' 'If I express a concern, will they dump me?'
There's no need for a 'committed relationship' if a person is primarily seeking sex. Hookups are effortless, therefore the rigors of being a 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' have been eliminated.
— Susan Winter, NYC-based relationship expert and love coach
4. The Internet Makes It Harder To Be Truly Vulnerable
Now we can hide behind our phones and computer screens and totally avoid vulnerability and true intimacy but simply telling ourselves, 'it shouldn't be this hard' and then you move on to the next person waiting in the wings.
Like social media, online dating has allowed us to invent the person we would like to be, even if that person is not truly who we are. This is often subconsciously done (I'm not talking about intentional catfishing here). By creating a profile of who you think you are or perhaps wish you were, you are potentially attracting the wrong person and setting yourself up for failure without even intending to.
It has also left us with the impression that if the person in front of us doesn't meet our needs, there are plenty more where they came from and I can just find a new one. Why try so hard? Why push myself to be self aware, vulnerable, scared, compromising? I can order something off of Amazon and get it within 24 to 48 hours, and I can find someone who more perfectly suits my wants and needs.
— Nicole Richardson, licensed marriage and family therapist
5. There's A Lot Of Distraction & A Lot Of Gray Area
Before, relationships were relatively black or white — either you’re together, or you’re not. Today, there are multiple shades of grey that exist, and as long as both parties are aware and agree, who is anyone to dispute that? Relationships today can look however they want and the ability to have sexual relationships outside of monogamy has accelerated that idea.
The amount of content we have accessible to us due to the internet gives us many more options to 'distract' ourselves from creating in-person connections, because there’s a false sense of connection created by liking or commenting on posts on social media and other platforms.
— Thomas Edwards Jr., founder of The Professional Wingman
From hiding behind phones to feel overwhelmed with choices, there are a ton of reasons dating is so hard today. I've found that it can be helpful to try to see every happy couple as proof that you can (and will) find love, too, instead of comparing yourself to your friends in happy relationships. At the end of the day, while modern dating may be hard, you can sleep easy knowing that so many others are navigating this bizarre sea of love, together.