I recently started to realise I had it easy for the first part of my life when it comes to love and relationships. Sure, there were some bad boyfriends, but those didn’t stick for too long. As a person who enjoys being with someone else, I was lucky to meet, love and share my life with good men. But what does being single look like after being in relationships for the past 8 years? And how do people fall in love in 2016?
I’m a child of a broken marriage. My mother was married to my father for over 20 years and she had three children – my two older brothers and me. My father was an alcoholic, narcissistic, cheating, abusive man. The way i saw it, he was a bad man. I never had to make any excuses for him. When my father left, my brothers took it upon themselves to take care of me. They took turns in being the dad while my mom was trying to support us with a government salary. It was hard, but we managed. And my brothers loved me. They were, in my eyes, good men.
My opinion of men has always been mixed because of this. I have constantly been torn between looking at men like I did at my father and looking at them like I do at my brothers. In a fucked up way, I have always been attracted to both kinds. The bad, insensitive, hurtful, narcissistic men and the strong, dependable, loving, caring men. In spite of all this, I have always been open with the men I met along the years. I never ran away from someone because i was scared or because it was painful. I dove head first and allowed myself to be vulnerable, trusting and accepting. I believe in giving people a chance and taking the time to find out who they are. I never start something knowing exactly what I want from it because I don’t.
My western friends would say this way of looking at things is naive, not smart, risky and unnecessary. They would say there are rules and if you don’t play the game, you get hurt. As someone who has lived outside this game all her life, hearing this level of paranoia when it comes to love and relationships made me laugh. But now it makes me worried.
I have had good, long-term boyfriends and I never dated in the Western sense of the word or had one night stands. I met my boyfriends coincidentally and got together immediately. We would both jump right in and take the risk – honest, intense, passionate, open. We didn’t know what would happen and we didn’t limit ourselves or set any rules or play any games. I am 27 now and I have had three big relationships in my life with three very different men. I loved all of them differently and learned something new from each. Now I am single again and it seems I have landed in a culture where honesty, respect, openness and passion are obsolete.
In the age of Tinder, Grindr, Happn, Bumble and many other dating apps that allow people to flip through potential dates like picking socks for the winter season, it seems not only romance has died, but also the respect needed to nurture healthy relationships. Is Tinder a symptom of our self-indulgent, self-absorbed, individualistic, lonely society or has it perpetuated a model in which every human interaction is need-based and transactional?
As an idealist and generally concerned individual when it comes to social trends, I am struggling. My way of looking at relationships seems to not fit with contemporary trends. I am caught in a culture of hooking-up, texting instead of picking up the phone and calling, and the ever-so-frightful “seen at 22:22” omen that hangs over my head days after in which time I try to understand how can people just give up on others so easily.
All my friends who are dating now, on or off Tinder, share the same stories. They go on dates with people they either don’t know at all or met briefly. If they had a great time (which rarely happens) they play it safe and not let the other person know they had a great time because they don’t want to seem to eager. Being eager or honest about having a good time is apparently frowned upon. The girl usually waits for the guy to ask her out again. The wait can take days or weeks. The girl won’t ask the guy out herself because that would seem needy. If you asked a guy out, he will wait forever to get back to you and when he does he will text you late at night and suggest you meet for a quick drink. If you refuse because it is late, he will assume you are not DTF (“down to fuck”) and probably looking for something serious, so that is the last time you will hear from him.
Not everyone experiences this all the time, but it’s becoming alarmingly familiar. The roles rarely change, women are most often the ones trying to navigate through the jerks. And I am forced to wonder, has it always been like this? Perhaps being in relationships most of my life, I was spared of the jerks of tinder and the likes. Or maybe Tinder is the result of our culture’s continuous alienation. We have transformed everything into a commodity, so why not love and sex?
I am not sure what i think of men anymore. I used to be open and honest and kind because I knew there were many good men out there, just like my brothers. People who wait, who talk, who care, who love. But so many of the men that surround me now have gone bad. From open to selfish. From caring to narcissistic. From honest to deceiving. Paranoia and loneliness dominate the dating world. No one wants to share. No one wants to trust. Women are paranoid that if they let their guard down and sleep with a man, he won’t call the next day. Men are paranoid that if they tell a woman they had a good time, she will think he is too eager. No one says what they mean or how they truly feel. And we couldn’t be more wrong.
How have we become so self-involved? When did we give up on allowing others in? We live these amazing lives in a time where you can do anything you want to do. We are more free than ever, more educated, more connected, more rich than ever. And that has made us selfish and lonely. We live a glamorous life in which everything is permitted, everything is within reach. What we want, we can have. Including people. But when you have so much and meet so many, you end up with nothing and no one.
The coolest person on Instagram will go to bed tonight maybe not alone, but definitely lonely.
How does a young woman navigate through her late 20s if she doesn’t want to be single, but also doesn’t want to be part of the dating or hook-up culture? How can one allow themselves to be as vulnerable as you have to be to meet someone truly important in a time when love and sex are simple commodities we exchange based on our needs? What do you give up? What do you change? How do you make it? If it is love – passionate, honest love, you are looking for, is there anywhere you can find it in 2016? When everyone is busy swiping left and right on tinder and seeing what else is out there, there is no time to stop, look and get to know someone. Vulnerability shouldn’t be a weakness, it is only by being vulnerable that we can find and give love. Games, paranoia and deceit alienate us from ourselves and from the ones around us.
Let’s allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To jump head first and give people the chance and the time to leave their mark. You might meet someone on tinder or at work or on a Star Wars forum, but if you started talking, keep talking and don’t stop until you get to know that person. Once again I am reminded of the men in my life. In my quest for love, I owe it to my brothers to give the good men the time they need to get to know me and for me to get to know them. I won’t be paranoid or deceiving; I will be honest and kind and patient. And I owe it to my mother to tell the bad men of the world that while they may be living their golden age of casual hook-ups, in the end, all everyone really needs is love.
Madalina Preda is an activist and storyteller living in Amsterdam, trying to capture everyday moments that tell the story of us. She writes about social trends, feminism, mental health and love. Her photography looks at the moments between moments, at what happens when we wait.