Thankfully the Social Media Generation Never Breaks Up
My sister just sent me an NYMag article entitled “All My Exes Live in Texts: How the Social Media Generation Never Really Breaks Up.”  It’s a fun read, and there are certainly many things I relate to in the article. There are many ways in which I’m proud of my generation. I believe that our acceptance of change and deconstruction of previously unexamined norms will benefit the world with greater freedom and equality.
Yet deconstruction isn’t enough. We still have to re-construct.
We’ve been complicit in a global trend of superficiality. Not that there was necessarily deeper public discourse before. Maybe there was—I couldn’t know—but why would I care? What end purpose does comparison serve? There are so many ways in which we can critically examine our positions to allow for more complexity, and therefore more accurate representations of reality. And this is not a phenomenon relegated to the Millenials; in typical Millenial fashion I reject that generational generalization.
A Critical Look at Relationships in the Social Age
The NYMag article points out many ways in which sexual and romantic relationships have changed.
“My peers and I have all these exes, in part because we have more time to rack them up before later marriages, because we’re freer about sleeping around, because we’re more comfortable with cross-gender friendships and blurring sexual boundaries, because not committing means keeping more love interests around as possibilities, and because the digital age enables us to never truly break up.”
What of it? What is the point? What is “the social media generation’s” point?
This author, like this article, like the new relationships the Social Media generation embodies, all have purpose whether or not we are aware of them. I believe that becoming aware of these purposes allow us greater freedom and empowerment. We get to choose whether or not to accept the purpose, to reject it, re-purpose it, or do something else entirely with it.
My purpose in this article is to explore the deeper meanings in our changing relationships, and what we might gain by upgrading some of that discourse with a more nuanced view of reality. What do we gain by seeing shades of grey instead of seeing everything in terms of either/or? What happens when we see the developmental progression of these shades, from lesser to greater complexity? What happens when we look not just at culture but mindset, behavior, and systems as well?
We want to hold on to our ex-relationships for many reasons, but I believe that underlying much of these reasons is a deep need to be seen and heard. My ego—as the sense of who “I” am—wants validation. If I need validation I must feel like I’m not enough as I am—if I knew I was enough then I wouldn’t need validation, right?
It’s no surprise that I don’t feel like I’m enough. We intake more information in a day than the average historical human in a lifetime, and our world is undergoing unprecedented population growth. The threats we face are bigger and scarier that any we’ve been aware of in the past. As a species we have forever changed the ecosystem of our planet, and we can potentially destroy ourselves. Yet my brain is pretty much the same size as all of my ancestors, who seem to have faced much smaller and less complex issues.
To paraphrase: when you think you’re simply flirting with an ex on Snapchat, you’re actually engaging the existential query of what it means to be human, including our desire for purpose (and therefore our fear that life has none) and the fear of non-existence (because we know that we’re going to die but we might be able to find a way to be remembered).
The Practical Aspect of Deep Introspection
Now you will probably want to turn my own question upon me: Why should I care? So what?
When you’re unaware of your true motivations, you’re lying to yourself. If that wasn’t bad enough on its own, this ignorance means you’re hardly ever in control of your emotions. You’re always at the whims of unconscious desires—such as the desire for purpose, and the fear of non-existence.
I don’t claim that you should care about this awareness for it’s own sake; I’m claiming that whatever you care about is getting hijacked by non-awareness. To wit: even if you all you want is a late-night, drunken booty-call, the fact that you’re acting upon unexamined motivations is going to sometimes keep you from taking the best actions toward getting that ass.
You don’t always have to psychoanalyze yourself, your culture, your actions, or the systems that support us all. In a way the analysis is a deconstruction, and sometimes all that is called for is a reconstruction, and a commitment to uphold the new way of being even in the face of challenges.
“Etiquette can’t keep up with us—not that we would honor it anyway—so ex relationships run on lust and impulse and nosiness and envy alternating with fantasy.”
Defining your purpose and sticking to it is one powerful way to reconstruct. Instead of proscribing new rules, creating a new etiquette to follow when it comes to relationships, I propose that people clarify their purpose and communicate it whenever it feels necessary or challenged.
The beauty of this for me is in its simplicity and universality. It is simple—define my purpose and determine whether or not a particular action aligns with that purpose, yet still honors the understanding that different contexts call for different solutions. It is universal because it applies in all areas of life, not just relationships.
What if We Focused on Purpose?
What if people thought about their purpose when discussing politics? If we always came back to our deepest purpose, even in our rhetoric, we’d see that most of the time the “other side” is not full of evil demons, it’s full of people with the same goals but vastly different ideas of how to achieve them. It’s not a panacea, but it would certainly make for less stress, happier news, and friendlier conversations.
What if people thought about their purpose when discussing religion? They might see that their even the unwanted evangelists truly care about their wellbeing. We wouldn’t create a utopia, but we might find an easier, more peaceful path to get close to God, or reach enlightenment.
And what if we brought purpose into our sexual relationships? They could become even more powerful crucibles for positive transformation. And then NYMag would publish articles would be titled something along the lines of “All my exes catalyze next steps*: Thankfully the Social Media Generation Never Breaks Up.”
*of profound growth