Love or Lust?
February 12, 2013
The concept of dating has been around for hundreds of years. Dating is a form of courtship where two individuals partake in social activities in order to assess one another’s place within a possible intimate relationship. While the practice has evolved to keep pace with the changing cultural and technological pressures of the world, the essence of dating remains clear: to figure out situations and experiences first hand.
Dating is an important step in figuring out your own identity, as well as learning what attributes you will need to develop in order to have a successful romantic relationship.
As you are getting to know this new person, you are constantly challenged to think about what qualities you would like your partner to have. Dating provides the opportunity to explore your emotional and logistical needs based on the environment created by the relationship. Perhaps you like someone who is funny, outgoing and a bit nerdy. Or maybe you’d prefer that this person would stop talking so much and actually listen for a change.
You might date someone who lives far away and is always
busy with work and other commitments. Or perhaps this person has way too much free time and wants to spend it all watching TV and making online purchases. Whatever the scenario may be, dating provides an unmatched social platform for getting to know your own needs and wants in an intimate relationship.
Fast-forward six months. You’ve been on several dates with many different individuals, and you have now found someone who you’re really excited about. The two of you often hang out, go on formal dates, and talk to each other when you aren’t in each other’s physical presence. You really like this person and you want to go deeper, to learn more and to share more. Maybe it’s time to take things to the next level.
Monogamous relationships, meaning romantic relationships with a single partner over a period of time, are a great way to further explore the dynamics between two people beyond the realm of dating. While dating is a great way to start learning about how you interact with other people in an intimate setting, being in a romantic relationship brings upon a whole new set of opportunities and challenges.
You will learn about communication, which involves the notion of how important it is to be open and honest with your partner. You will have to make commitments, and in turn you will feel secure knowing someone is making commitments to you as well. You will work as a team and grow in your understanding of interdependence. You will have the opportunity to explore one another, both emotionally and physically. There will be times during which you will feel entirely satisfied with your relationship and others that may lead you to wish you had never met your partner.
Regardless of how the relationship turns out, if you can reflect back on everything and say that you’ve learned something about yourself and about the world, your efforts will not be in vain. And as long as you’ve learned, the next time you put yourself out there you will be that much closer to finding something lasting and fulfilling.
There are many who say, “Dating and relationships aren’t for me. I just want to enjoy myself and not get serious with anyone right now.” There’s certainly nothing wrong with this line of thought. Some people just want to fool around and have fun without worrying about having to make any serious commitments.
While hooking up can be a fun and fulfilling experience if both parties communicate well, it doesn’t capture the whole spectrum of human intimacy in the same way that dating and monogamous relationships can. Hooking up is only a single aspect of a relationship. There are also the problems of miscommunication and misaligned intentions that can create more harm than good.
The biggest problem with the hookup culture is that it glorifies a single aspect of a relationship, hooking up, while ignoring the majority of the other aspects of human intimacy that can often be equally or even more fulfilling.
Dating and romantic relationships provide amazing opportunities to learn about yourself, others, and the world we live in. So put yourself out there and meet someone!
While monogamy still reigns supreme as the most widely accepted and consistently practiced type of romantic relationship in the U.S., modern discussions about sex and relationships have begun to acknowledge the legitimacy of many less conventional styles of intimate partnership. These sorts of relationships (including but not limited to polyamory, swinging, and open relationships) fall under the heading of ‘consensual non-monogamy,’ and are defined by their one common feature: a mutual agreement to be sexually and/or romantically involved with multiple partners in the same period. College age folk, while maybe unfamiliar with the technical term for such relationships, surely indulge in non-monogamy. Even ‘friends-with-benefits’-type arrangements may fall under the consensual non-monogamy umbrella. Although a new slew of rom-com’s portray these relationships as mere failed attempts at monogamy, innovative research in the field of psychology considers consensual non-monogamy a real alternative to the traditional monogamous relationship.
Research conducted by ‘Stigmatized Sexualities’ lab led by Dr. Terri Conley at the University of Michigan has given our progressive generation good reason to question the prevailing stigma surrounding such nontraditional relationships. In their latest review of the psychology literature on monogamy, Dr. Conley and her graduate student team explain that consensual non-monogamy can provide the relationship-seeking individual a host of benefits. For instance, when compared with monogamous couples, individuals in consensual non-monogamous relationships report similar levels of relationship satisfaction and intimacy with their partners. What’s more, individuals in consensual non-monogamous relationships may experience lower rates of partner-directed jealousy and higher rates of sexual satisfaction when juxtaposed with their monogamous counterparts. This is, of course, not to say that monogamy cannot be a rewarding and beneficial relationship style for partners who are truly faithful to one another. However, when considering the transitional nature of life for today’s college student, consensual non-monogamy seems like a sensible option.
One only needs to imagine a typical pair of college seniors in committed, monogamous relationship to see the rationality behind implementing a consensual agreement to non-monogamy. The typical pair of undergrads, despite having been happily committed for the past two years of their college career, naturally (but often secretly) develop anxiety about missing out on the famous college dating experience. At this juncture in a typical monogamous relationship, one partner will often end up impulsively cheating on the other at a party or suddenly breaking off the relationship due to feelings of confusion or guilt. Severe, unnecessary heartbreak usually results and intense negative sentiment arises between the once loving couple.
Consensual non-monogamy provides an alternative ending to this scenario. At the delicate juncture in which couples often split, supporters of consensual non-monogamy would have offered a better solution to the problems of desire which frequently undermine otherwise healthy relationships. Adopting an agreement to consensual non-monogamy allows couples like the one aforementioned to keep their relationship intact, while in the meantime opening up an honest space to communicate about their real wants, needs, and desires, no matter how taboo they might seem. In consensually opting to try non-monogamy, the average college couple may find a much more practical way of dealing with the inherent complexities of long-term intimacy rather than lose the entirety of their relationship.
The previously imagined solution provided by consensual non-monogamy pales in comparison to the harsh ending which commonly comprises traditional monogamous scripts. Such scripts teach individuals to feel wrong or immoral for possessing sexual desires for other people, when in fact, such feelings are normal and natural. Monogamy’s unreachable standards, defined by unwavering desire toward one person, prevent honest communication about certain intimate feelings and often result in hurt and pain for the persons involved. For the ordinary human being who learns from a young age that attraction should not just be reserved for a singular person, consensual non-monogamy is simply a realistic approach to partnership.
Between the 50% divorce rate and the inevitable decline in sex frequency that comes along with long-term exclusivity, it is obvious that not even finding ‘the one’ curtails the potential for future problems in one’s relationship. Naturally, consensual non-monogamy does not promise to automatically erase these problems either. It does, nonetheless, provide a unique opportunity for increased liberty in building and defining one’s relationships.
Make no mistake, to navigate multiple close relationships with proper care takes a serious amount of responsibility and maturity difficult to hone at any period in one’s lifetime. For college students who already manage to balance obligations to work, school, and friends, though, the freedom to partake in this type of relationship free from stigma only seems warranted.
Instead of attempting to deem one type of relationship, be it monogamy or non-monogamy, the optimal or ideal relationship style, we may conclude that it that it is not really about the type of relationship you choose—but about what type of person you choose to be in your relationship. If you want to stick to monogamy, that’s great. But if you want to try out consensual non-monogamy, that’s great too. Just be mindful of how you treat your significant other(s) in your relationship, and remember that the realm of love and relationships is a vulnerable one.
For a more comprehensive overview of the studies mentioned above, please see Conley, Ziegler, Moors, Matsick, & Valentine’s ‘Critical Examination of Popular Assumptions about the Benefits and Outcomes of Monogamous Relationships’, 2012.