There have been some truly spectacular divorces and separations within my family.
Affairs, loveless marriages, late in life realisations about sexuality, hacking into each other’s emails, stalking, and even the odd death threat against the in-laws.
Personally, I grew up with great parents who were more or less staying together for the kids. I really do feel for them and appreciate the sacrifices they made for our wellbeing, but it’s been confusing as I try make sense of “grown up relationships”.
When you don’t grow up with relationship role models, you really have no idea of what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like.
You don’t see boredom, compromise, loyalty, excitement, romance, friendship – even communication.
So the only examples you have of what love looks like, is in the media you consume. The advice columns of teen magazines, the Twilight movies, Tumblr, Skins, love songs… you can see how this is problematic, right?
When you don’t see real-life relationships, you look to the world around you to tell you what love and intimacy should look and feel like.
In my late teen years, this left me vulnerable to co-dependancy, toxic relationship dynamics, and eventually abuse by my partner.
You hear people warning you that “relationships are hard, it’s a give and take, you have to compromise.” But this makes it difficult to draw the line between the natural amount of work required to sustain a relationship, and just forcing something that’s not working.
I was recently talking to a friend about how difficult, unrewarding, and ultimately futile the idea of a relationship seemed in 2020.
Technology and social media have touched every single part of our lives – and I’m so grateful it allows me to maintain long distance connections, work from home, read interesting articles, check up on friends, and broaden my horizons beyond my suburb.
But with it comes dating apps, increased levels of anxiety, the ease of ghosting and cancelling, pornography replacing intimacy, and weeks of talking to someone so the eventual first date feels… anti-climatic.
A majority of our interpersonal relationships rely on digital communication for sustenance, which leaves them more fragile. People regularly fall into traps of miscommunication, lurking their partner’s social media, the politics of whose photos you can like and who you can message, and the dreaded “talking stage.”
The relationships we grew up watching and seeing in our media, however problematic, for the most part don’t exist anymore. Watching He’s Just Not That Into You is by modern standards, adorable when Drew Barrymore’s character talks about the pitfalls of navigating dating via SMS, IM, voicemails, and e-mail.
You’ve Got Mail would never hold up in 2020 because Kathleen would Google Joe, ask the group chat for advice, and end up ghosting him. Joe would make passive aggressive tweets for a while before posting pictures of him with a new date, and Kathleen would like them – just to be petty.
Speculation aside, what we grew up craving and aspiring to is even more unrealistic still.
I’m not being melodramatic and saying love, romance, or intimacy are dead – of course I think it’s possible to foster a healthy partnership devoid of games and is only enhanced by social media.
But we can’t deny that these forces exist and shape all our relationships.
This is only compounded by the macro-influences of our society. Our year began with catastrophic bushfires, was shaped by a global pandemic, and punctuated by the heightened awareness of police brutality and racism.
Take into account the recession, global warming, declining middle class, slim chances of ever owning a house, along with the baseline level of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, and poverty in the world – it feels like re-arranging the deck chairs on The Titanic.
I realise at this point it all appears extremely negative – and I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s happily-coupled-up-and-in-love parade. I appreciate that a supportive partner can be a significant source of support and if anything, we should celebrate the pockets of joy in our life.
But it feels like those pockets are getting smaller and less effective.
The upside is that when the apocalypse finally happens, I’ll have a shot at the dystopian romance fantasy I grew up watching, à la The Hunger Games. As society crumbles around me, my only is concern is should I choose Peta, or Gale?