What are the real facts about young adult relationships? If you can get some young people to talk about it, you will hear a common theme: It is very hard to find a partner for a serious, long-term relationship.
Some individuals say that it is so difficult that they have become ambivalent about relationships. Others say that singlehood may be the way to go. Yet the majority of young adults expect that a partner will appear in their lives at about age thirty–when they are ready for it. Until then, the world “commitment” is often not in their vocabulary.
These modern love behaviors really have little to do with a generational change in values. Rather, they reflect the social-economic revolution that is going on worldwide. In that context, young adult behaviors are understandable. But you have to get out and talk to a lot of young adults to fully appreciate what is going on.
In interviews across the U.S., young adults told me that there were seven things that made romantic relationships difficult and confusing for them:
- Society is Changing. Things are evolving so fast that the guidelines for romance that you saw in operation when you grew up do not work very well when you reach adulthood.
- Adult Statuses are Hard to Obtain. In today’s economy, making money and getting the full responsibilities of adulthood do not come easy. That is why individuals cannot commit to a relationship in the same time frame that their parents did.
- Female Economic Liberation. Young women often seek economic liberation rather than a husband. These young women are simply not willing to settle for a man who does not meet their expectations.
- Changing Demographics. There is a large segment of the population that is single. This makes it seem like there is some sort of liberating power in singlehood. Many young adults give this as a reason to put off serious relationships and marriage.
- Self Fulfillment. Seeking self-fulfillment stands in competition with serious long-term relationships. Young adults want to get out and discover the world and how they fit in it before they think about settling down.
- Lack of Male Role Models. Young men are not all that sure of what role they are supposed to play in today’s relationship environment. They face changing expectations from their friends, families, and female partners. Some say their fathers live in a different world and cannot offer much in the way of targeted emotional support. In response to this situation, many young adult men move cautiously when starting serious, long-term relationships.
- Mobilization of Relationships. In the modern world, people are on the go and so are their relationships. Both partners move at the same time while texting or calling on their cells. This takes place in the context of a digital, online social world. At the confluence of all this activity, friends often act as coaches in each-other’s relationships and group activities often replaces dating. This new cultural reality has put the brakes on the rush to marry someone who is not your friend and whom you do not really know.
When taken together, these issues make it difficult for young men and women to have serious long-term relationships. Yet they do not report feeling defeated or remorseful. Rather, they see opportunity. A majority of men and women say they are working on improving their intimate communication skills and earnest self-assertion. They have to work hard at communicating because they never know what to expect next in today’s constantly-changing world.
As we look at the future of modern love, nobody really knows what lies ahead for young adult relationships. Society will continue to change and so will their behaviors. That will be okay for those young adults who keep an open mind and strive to learn new communication skills. When individuals do these things, their relationships will be as meaningful and exciting as they care to make them.
For more on 21st century romance, go to my book Low Stress Romance.