I just went through a breakup. At least I think I did. The non-rules of modern dating make knowing such things taboo.
Whatever happened, this “uncoupling,” conscious or otherwise, was absolutely miserable. The resulting pain, confusion, frustration, and sadness convinced me that human beings are not made to endure break-ups. At least not many more than one, and at least not yet.
Serious serial dating is, after all, a relatively new phenomenon. Sixty years ago, people dated casually. “Casually” meaning they’d go get ice cream in groups. Not “casually” meaning they’d sleep with each other until someone decided to try to DTR. A person started “going steady” when he found a partner he intended to marry, and marriage was a way to stay ‘til death did you part.
For preceding generations, when one often had less choice in the matter of a life-long lover, and with happiness in marriage being “entirely a matter of chance,” practical compatibility was the priority rather than romance. Marriages were more or less arranged. Hearts, I am sure (and Jane Austen assures me), did inevitably break, but much romantic longing was kept reasonably in check by demands imposed by a society which made simply speaking to someone without a formal introduction something of a scandal.
Today, anything goes. And everyone goes crazy.
More Fish Equals More Shark Bait
The digital age has made the process of dating and mating easier than ever. There have never before been so many ways to find, connect with, and woo a potential beau. But the haystack may have gotten a little too big: with so much more variety, there’s also a lot more room for things to get complicated.
And complications have consequences.
The dramatic and damaging fluctuating of emotion that the Bennett sisters go through in “Pride and Prejudice” would make for an average chapter in the plot of the modern woman’s dating story. Hello, Taylor Swift. A study commissioned last year found that the average woman will “kiss 15 men, enjoy two long-term relationships, have her heart broken twice, suffer four disaster dates, be stood up once, have been in love twice, have lived with one ex-partner, and have four one night stands” before settling down with “the one.”
That’s a lot for one heart to go through, especially considering how emotional turmoil affects the mind and body. Increased blood pressure and heart rate, indigestion, weight gain (and loss), a weakened immune system, depression, and anxiety are all effects of heartbreak.
More Dating Means More Breakups, and Breakups Hurt
What’s more, feeling in love floods your brain with dopamine, the same chemical associated with cocaine. This is your body. This is your body on love. And even after your sweetheart says “so long,” your brain will still be craving those feel-good chemicals. Unfortunately, there’s no rehab center for love addicts going through withdrawal. (The local bar doesn’t count.)
Simply put: Break-ups are bad for you.
Yet modern society expects us to plod through failed relationship after failed relationship, pick up the pieces, put them back together, move in, move on, and try again, only to be broken again by some non-committal, freedom-loving, field-playing millennial who is super sexually revolted (and revolting).
Humans were not designed for this. The suffering and literal lovesickness that result from the termination of these romantic entanglements are nature’s way of warning us that what we’re doing is both unhealthy and downright unnatural.
Mother Nature has equipped us with countless biological red flags for our survival, most of which we take for granted. Your body shuts down when it goes through a breakup. Dozens of breakups mean long-term disease. Might this be your body’s way of telling you that investing in a series of intimate relationships only to see them dissolve is not how nature intended things to be?
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Jaded
Imagine, for instance, a broken-hearted he-man of the Cro-Magnon era sitting dejected in his cave after having dated and been dumped by a few promising cavebabes over the past six months. He’s drained, disinterested, unmotivated. He’s unable to hunt or gather. He’s so forlorn that he can’t even think of foraging or collecting firewood at a time like this. He’s also tired and thin and looks like hell, so no female feels inclined to approach him and lift his spirits out of their destructive rut. He’s malnourished. His immune system is out of whack. He catches the flu.
Dramatic? Yes. But not totally overblown. We contemporary homo sapiens have the luxury of take-out and fast-food delivery for our nourishment, so we don’t usually starve under the strain of heartache. But all those pizzas and egg rolls do take a toll on one’s arteries, and our performance at work is put in jeopardy. Either way, heartbreak spells doom.
The practice of bonding and staying close until one partner arbitrarily changes his or her mind is detrimental to both physical and emotional well-being. And what doesn’t kill you makes you jaded.
While I admit that a broken heart or two along the way is inevitable, the way we respond to repeated disappointment has its own negative ramifications. We end up giving increasingly less of ourselves to each subsequent relationship to avoid another agonizing emotional roller-coaster. The piece of tape that is our emotional attachment gets less and less sticky each time it’s ripped off.
The Road to Happily Never After
We’re left never really trusting, never really fulfilled, and never really happy. We lower the bar and settle for matches that are “good enough” but not truly satisfying because we come to value stability over idealism.
I’m not trying to pooh-pooh previous generations and imply that their heartache wasn’t as legitimate as ours. Quite the contrary. Our ancestors seemed to be much more respectful of delicate human emotion, and to handle with care affairs of the heart. What I am seeking to point out is that the tumultuous hooking up, shacking up, and breaking-up that is commonplace in our hit-it-and-quit-it culture has until recently been only the stuff melodramatic tragedies were made of, and that what’s accepted and expected dating policy today dooms us all to a life of happily never after.
Human beings have not evolved to keep up with society’s relaxed romantic rules, and unless we all turn half Vulcan, I doubt we ever will. People are still unavoidably and biologically wired to want and need the same commitments and social constructs that led our ancestors to repopulate the earth and build a healthy society with a strong family structure as its foundation.
When our parents’ generation dated seriously, it was safe to assume that marriage was at the end of a courtship; today dating brings with it no such expectations. Hope, however, still remains. But hopes without expectations lead to broken dreams and mental and physical suffering.
Spurned spinsters and rebuffed bachelors end up giving up on the idea of true, committed love. The joy marriage brings to its participants and the value it adds to society are not being realized. We end up settling for partners who are not suited to us (seen the divorce rate lately?), or not acquiring partners at all (or the marriage rate?).
How is this a good thing?