Stop Putting Up With the World. Start Making It.
by Stephanie Johnstone & David McGee
If a couple days ago you heard somebody screaming like Westley when Prince Humperdinck set the machine to 50, that was us having just read the 18 Truths About Modern Dating thing that’s gone viral. And while we believe screaming like that was a perfectly reasonable response to reading it, we wanted to also respond in perhaps a more constructive way.
Let’s talk about these “truths”.
1. The person who cares less has all the power. Nobody wants to be the one who’s more interested.
It sucks that much of our culture tells us that being removed is cool. We think that probably stems from how difficult and scary it can feel to be honestly vulnerable. Anyone who has tried this knows that there is a great potential for hurt. But there’s also the greatest potential for fulfillment.
If it’s important to you to have power, have the courage to be upfront and honest about what you feel, even (especially!) when it’s hard. This will make you more powerful than somebody cagily holding back is ever going to be. And this kind of courage is contagious, yo.
2. Because we want to show how cavalier and blasé we can be to the other person, little psychological games like ‘Intentionally Take Hours Or Days To Text Back’ will happen. They aren’t fun.
Are you doing this? Just don’t do this. Don’t be cavalier and blasé toward people you ostensibly care about.
If you are building your relationships on psychological games, is that really the sort of future you’d like to build?
If you think that somebody else is doing this to you, and it feels crummy, consider asking them what works for them in terms of frequency of communication (this could be as easy and straightforward as saying “Hey, what works for you in terms of frequency of communication? I want to make sure we’re on the same page.”), and check in with yourself to see if that works for you. Hooray!
3. A person being carefree because they have zero interest in you looks exactly like a person being carefree because they think you’re amazing & are making a conscious effort to play it cool. Good luck deciphering
What? No. You don’t have to decipher this stuff. There’s this other great option: TALK TO EACH OTHER ABOUT THINGS.
4. Making phone calls is a dying art. Chances are, most of your relationship’s communication will happen via text, which is the most detached, impersonal form of interaction. Get familiar with those emoticon options.
If you want to call someone, call them. If you would like them to call you, ask them to call you. It really can be that simple.
Even texting doesn’t have to be impersonal! You can write a whole love poem in texts, if that’s your jam. Don’t blame the tool: texting can be whatever you want it to be. :-p
5. Set plans are dead. People have options and up-to-the-minute updates on their friends (or other potential romantic interests) whereabouts thanks to texts & social media. If you aren’t the top priority, your invitation to spend time will be given a “Maybe” or “I’ll let you know” and the deciding factor(s) will be if that person has offers more fun/interesting than you on the table.
If it’s important to you to make set plans and stick to them, it’s OK to ask for that! Maybe somebody will find it really hot that you’re so excited to see them that you want to put it in your calendar in pen. Maybe they share your frustration with ambivalence. Or, hey, maybe they like to be ambivalent. And maybe that means they’re not the right match for you, and that’s OK too. Luckily, other humans exist, and some of them almost certainly share your scheduling preferences. Rock on.
6. Someone who hurt you isn’t automatically going to have bad karma. At least not in the immediate future. I know it only seems fair, but sometimes people cheat and betray and move on happily while the person they left is in shambles.
Hey, you know, this one is actually a truth you just have to deal with. Bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. C’est la vie. But how about we all do our best not to cheat, or betray, or leave people in shambles? Ever. Right?
7. The only difference between your actions being romantic and creepy is how attractive the other person finds you. That’s it, that’s all.
Despite what culture tells us, not everybody wants to be romanced. And despite what romantic comedies and chart-topping pop songs tell us, obsessive behavior is not inherently romantic. “Romantic” actions are often unwelcome, regardless of whether someone is attracted to you. If you’re not sure, maybe stay away until/unless you’re SURE that your attention will be welcome. The best possible way to know this is: ASK! And if people are telling you that your attention is unwelcome: LISTEN!
8. “Let’s chill” & “Wanna hang out?” are vague phrases that likely mean “let’s hookup” — and while you probably hate receiving them, they’re the common way to invite someone to spend time these days, and appear to be here to stay.
Sure, it can be difficult to know and say exactly what you mean all the time. But if you’re not clear what someone else is asking you, ask them to clarify.
9. Some people just want to hookup and if you’re seeking more than sex, they won’t tell you that they’re the wrong person for you. At least, not until after they score your prize. While human decency is ideal, honesty isn’t mandatory.
Wait, what? Sex isn’t YOUR PRIZE. It’s neither a prize to give nor a prize to be won. What even is this?
It’s OK to be into a hookup for sex, and it’s OK to not want a relationship to be just about sex. Whatever you’re into: just be honest. There’s a possibility for infinite hurt whatever side of this you’re on. Prioritize being clear about what you’re interested in, and be upfront about it.
10. The text message you sent went through. If they didn’t respond, it wasn’t because of malfunctioning phone carrier services.
Well, it might have been, but if you don’t trust what someone’s telling you, you probably have muuuuuuuuch bigger problems to talk about.
11. So many people are scared of commitment and being official that they’ll remain in a label-free relationship, which blurs lines and only works until it doesn’t. I’ve said it many times before, I’ll say it again – “we’re just talking” is opening the door for cheating that technically wasn’t cheating because, hey, you weren’t together together.
“Cheating” doesn’t have a universal definition; figure out with your partners what constitutes cheating. What counts as cheating to you? Thinking about someone else and smiling? Thinking about someone else during sex? Feeling attracted even a little bit? Having a three hour conversation in a dark corner at a party, but you don’t touch? Giving a BJ but not having feelings about it?
And hey, not only does cheating not have a set definition, NOTHING does. There’s no such thing as a perfect model of “a relationship”. A relationship is built by people relating. We get to create how we are.
12. Social media creates new temptations and opportunities to cheat. The private messaging and options for subtle flirtation (e.g. liking of pictures) aren’t an excuse or validation for cheating, but they certainly increase the chances of it happening.
Again, don’t blame the tool. Clicking an upward thumb doesn’t increase a chance of cheating happening; cheating does. Not talking to each other does. Discuss with your partners what sorts of social media interaction you’re comfortable with.
13. Social media can also create the illusion of having options, which leads to people looking at Facebook as an attractive people menu instead of a means of keeping contact with friends & family.
Everyone always has options. This isn’t an illusion. This is always going to be true. But you don’t have to think about relationships that way at all! Do you want your partner to be with you because they have NO OTHER OPTION or do you want them to be with you because they choose, on a daily basis, to be with YOU?
14. You aren’t likely to see much of someone’s genuine, unfiltered self until you’re in an actual relationship with him or her. Generally people are scared that sincerely putting themselves out there will result in finding out that they’re too available, too anxious, too nerdy, too nice, too safe, too boring, not funny enough, not pretty enough, not some other person enough to be embraced.
It does indeed seem that this is a common phenomenon, and, honestly, it breaks our hearts. It is very, very hard to be your genuine self, and all of us are imperfect at it, even when we are trying to sincerely put ourselves out there.
But: what is the fucking point of relating to people if you’re actively trying to not really be you? A relationship is a constant act of relating. It’s not Quidditch, where once you catch the Snitch (kissing! sex! saying I love you! marriage! whatever!) the game is won. We have the option to do our very best to be kind, and be honest, and spend time only with people who recognize that kindness and honesty are awesome.
15. Any person you get romantically involved with you’ll either wind up staying with forever or breaking up with them at some point. These are equally terrifying concepts.
This is true of every person you meet ever: you’ll either know each other until one of you dies, or not. And though of course it can be hard, it doesn’t have to be terrifying.
Relationships that last forever aren’t necessarily good; relationships that end weren’t necessarily bad. Every person in your life — friend, family, lover, barista, that person who smiled at you that one day on the subway, whether your connection is romantic or not — helps make you who you are. This can be heart-shatteringly gorgeous and wonderful. We feel like shouting this from the rooftop.
16. When dating, instead of expressing how they feel directly to you, a person is more likely to post a Facebook status or Instagram a Tumblr-esque photo of a sunset with a quote or song lyric of someone else’s words on it, and while it may not mention your name, it’s blatantly directed at you.
We, too, once went to middle school.
17. There are plenty of people who’ll have zero respect for your relationship and if they want the person you’re with, they’ll have no qualms with trying to overstep boundaries to get to ‘em. Girl code and guy code are wishful thinking and human code isn’t embedded in everyone.
Um, these people are assholes. Don’t hang out with them.
18. If you get dumped, it’s probably going to be pretty brutal. People can cut ties over the phone and avoid seeing the tears stream down your face or end things via text and avoid hearing the pain in your cracking voice and sniffling nose. Send a lengthy text and voilà, relationship over. The easy way out is far from the most considerate.
Don’t be brutal when you dump someone. Just don’t.
We’ve been getting increasingly blunt because come on now. By 18 this is positively wearying.
It can’t be said enough: we *collectively create* the culture around dating AND every other way of being with each other! Dating rules are not written in the fabric of the cosmos; they are a reflection of the way people treat each other. Even if the things listed in these 18 are common tendencies, they are emphatically NOT things we just “have to deal with”. It’s like Reid Mihalko says: Be the change you want to see in the bedroom.
Let’s imagine for a moment that the “truths about modern dating” are things like:
-We do our best to contagiously and courageously be our authentic selves.
-When we date people, we are clear about what kind of communication and relationship rhythms work best for us.
-We do what we can to remain kind in every interaction with everyone ever, whether it’s romantic or not.
-We try not to take anybody for granted – ever.
-We remember that we have the power to create and define relationships in the way that works for us.
That’s a world we would like to live in, and we believe it is within our reach. How about you? Let’s build it together. Today. Right now.
Stephanie Johnstone is an NYC-based human / composer / organizer / theatermaker / muckraker / sexuality educator with a fierce commitment to celebrating and cultivating interdependence.
David McGee writes mostly plays but other things too, sometimes. His writing has been published by n+1 in the book “Trouble is the Banks: Letters to Wall Street” and cited by Against Equality (Queer Challenges to the Politics of Inclusion).
Sex For Smart People (That Means You!) is a podcast by us (Stephanie and Dave!). We think that authenticity and communication are the sexiest. www.sexforsmartpeople.com