Our Disposable World: Why Long-Term Relationships No Longer Work
In today’s world, everything is disposable. From on-the-go plastic-packaged lunches to wear-it-once outfits to upgrading your phone once a year, we have successfully created a throwaway society. If something is broken we don’t endeavour to fix it, we just throw it away and get ourselves a new version.
And it isn’t just things that have become disposable. It’s also people.
Instead of working on our relationships we simply give up when there is a slight hint of a problem.
Disposability is entrenched in our society, and dating apps are the relationship version of that. The temptation is always present to download Bumble or Hinge and take a look at what else is out there. We’re always thinking about the next person and looking for something ‘better’ than what we already have. Just keep swiping and you’ll find that perfect person. It’s even what dating site Plenty Of Fish built its brand on: there are always ‘plenty more fish in the sea’.
Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing. Of course no one should settle for a negative relationship, and the knowledge that it’s potentially easy to find new connections can be a God-send for some people who feel trapped in their existing situation.
But it just feels like most of us have lost the ability to be content and happy with what you have in the present, the here and now. Instead we’re constantly focused on progression, improvement, the future.
It’s easy to find yourself focusing on the ‘what if’. What if there’s someone out there better suited to you? What if your current partner doesn’t turn out to be the right one? But by living in those ‘what ifs’ we forget to enjoy and cherish what we have. That means that our relationships and our connections with other people suffer — and, ultimately, these connections are all we have in life.
In today’s consumer-driven society we expect and value instant gratification and pleasure. But research (famously, the Marshmallow Test) finds that if we exercise patience and hold out, we will often receive a greater reward. I think this is true of relationships too. Dating apps may offer instant gratification and pleasure in terms of a date or sexual experience. But they don’t hold the long term pleasure and reward of making a true, deep connection with someone. And no matter what we may say, this is something we all need.
A 1938 Harvard study, famous for being the longest-running study on human development, followed 724 participants to determine what makes us happy. The results showed that, despite what we think, happiness doesn’t come from wealth, achievements, or fame, but from the relationships in our lives. They published the results in the 2012 book Triumphs of Experience.
People aren’t ready made or perfect. There will always be hiccups, mistakes, and problems in any relationship — romantic or otherwise. That doesn’t mean it’s time to walk out the door as soon as it gets difficult, those relationships are too important to give up on.
“Even in romantic relationships, when I ask my students what would they do when things get difficult, most of them say they would move on rather than try to work things out, or God forbid, turn to a counselor.”
If you own a house and a lightbulb goes out, what do you do? You’d get a new lightbulb or fix the broken one. You wouldn’t immediately put the house up for sale and start browsing RightMove for a new place to live.
To me, the same goes for relationships. We’re losing sight of what it’s like to actually commit to something and work through any issues, challenges, or mistakes together, as a team or a partnership. That doesn’t mean you should accept ill-treatment. But it does mean that we should try a little harder to work through issues. Communicate. Listen. Seek help or an external perspective on your relationship. Cherish the connections you have.