Couples

What Does All This Ambiguity Mean For Long-Term Relationships?

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Are they or aren’t they?

Or, more importantly, are we or aren’t we?

Relationships have always been a guaranteed source of stress, angst, and all manner of other unsettled feelings, but dating these days is more unstructured than it's ever been and the anguish is even worse in our age of ambiguity.

Whereas once upon a time dating followed a relatively set path, now we're all pretty much running around blindfolded and hoping for the best. From friends with benefits, to long term live-in partners that are anxious about making the leap to marriage, our commitments are fuzzier than they have ever been before. This is especially true for younger generations, who often fear using the terms "relationship" or "dating." “We’re hanging out” is as committed as it gets.

But why this sudden urge to remain ambiguous?

One theory is that those in their 20s and 30s are the first generation to grow up witnessing mass divorce. Having watched their parents split, they may carry a legacy of insecurity with them and avoid intimacy in order to cope with it. They may also simply feel that relationships are too risky a proposition.

On the other hand, the rising incidence of narcissism that researchers are seeing amongst the younger generations may also be to blame. If we are increasingly focused on ourselves, we may also be increasingly likely to reject the responsibility of caring for someone else.

There's also the fear of rejection, which has plagued every generation since the dawn of dating. Throw in online and mobile dating, which allow people to test the waters from behind the safety of a screen, and it's no wonder we feel safer with vague intentions and minimal commitments. The ease of shopping for potential partners via digital means, plus the greater social acceptance of diverse romantic arrangements and the disappearance of clear labels, have all added to the dating confusion.

Initially, ambiguity in such a bad thing, but as a relationship continues, it becomes difficult to navigate. Constant ambiguity comes with certain risks. One person may feel more committed than the other, but may be afraid to bring it up for fear of pushing their partner away. The result is a whole lot of insecurity and time wasted with someone who ultimately isn't seeking the same thing.

That ambiguity is also extending into our breakups. More and more people are having sex with their exes, and far too often one hopes the inconclusivness means the relationship is rekindling while the other just wants a temporary hookup in the interim until they find someone else.

The question now is: will we develop new rules to govern our age of ambiguity? What will they be?

Are Women Claiming Equal Power in Relationships?

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Most women will agree that they prefer equal partnership when it comes to romantic relationships. This mean they each have equal say and an equal role to play in things like finances, child care, household chores, and major decisions like where to live or whether to start a business.

It makes sense in our culture, as the majority of women are pursuing both careers and families. They want a partner who respects and supports their ambitions.

But what if the reality is different from our post-feminist ideal of equality in relationships?

New research by New York University doctoral candidate in sociology Ellen Lamont is challenging the way many women still seem to accept certain elements of “the man’s role” both in terms of dating and marriage.

Maybe some of this rings true for you: Lamont found that when dating, women seem to prefer the man to ask them out and to pay for the date, a more traditional role. Also, women like to leave it to the man to make decisions about the trajectory of their relationship. That is, they wait for him to say “I love you” or to commit to being serious first. Essentially, this puts the man in control of the relationship.

It seems dating and courtship play a big role in how women view long-term relationships. If during the dating process, women put the man in the driver’s seat (so to speak) and let him decide where things are headed, then how is it possible to easily transition to an equal partnership once they are in a long-term, committed relationship?

“[Women] want traditional courtship and egalitarian marriages and I just don’t think that will be possible,” she said. “Their justifications for traditional courtship are based on beliefs in essential biological differences between men and women and they reinforce these beliefs in their dating practices.”

Lamont chose to study women who had some form of college education to better understand women who are balancing both career aspirations and wanting a love relationship. Even with education and ambition, many of the women still subscribe to “traditional gender norms,” according to Lamont.

“Women were supposedly so desperate to get married, while men were supposedly so reluctant,” Lamont said. “I wondered if women’s so-called desperate behaviors that are so frequently highlighted in the media were actually the result of the powerlessness they feel about the process of getting engaged.”

It’s an interesting point, and maybe one worth considering as we move forward into a bigger and more technologically advanced dating pool.

The women surveyed ranged from 25 to 40 years of age.

HowAboutWe Launches New Messaging App for Couples

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Dating apps are trying to step up their game and attract more users in order to compete with each other more effectively. After all, quantity means success in the online dating game, as we’ve seen first from established online dating sites like Match.com and now from popular apps like Tinder.

Because of the stiff competition, HowAboutWe is taking extra steps to distinguish itself in the online dating world – namely, by cultivating relationships instead of keeping more people in the dating game. This month, they launched a new standalone messaging app for couples that lets two partners share multiple types of content and create a story together.

The new app is You&Me, and it gives users a chance to have a little mobile fun with their relationship. It is an app that provides direct, exclusive communication between you and your partner.

With You&Me, you now have options for the types of messages you can send your love – photo, text and video messages – as well as the ability to send voice memos and a favorite song. “This made me think of you” is one response you can send, along with a picture or video, or “is there anything you need me to pick up at the store?” if you are looking for something more practical.

Plus, there are extra features like Photobooth, which offers a similar experience to the old-fashioned kind you used to do with friends at an amusement park or arcade, with a screenshot resembling a film strip of the different faces you made. Halfsie takes a Front-Back style photo of half of your face on top (nose up) and half of your partner’s (nose down) on the bottom. Secret sends a “steamed up” photo that the recipient must wipe clear to see. Sexy.

Interestingly, the app is responsive and knows when you are physically together in real life. The interface changes to reflect that. This makes me a little uncomfortable. Do I want my phone to be so aware of my movements with my partner?

HowAboutWe has ventured into new territory with online dating, first offering an online dating site that was driven by creativity – that is, a date idea – instead of based solely on profiles. They then extended the brand to include married couples in HowAboutWe for couples, providing date ideas and services to help you plan and execute the date. Plus, it offered discounts on unique local experiences to each city.

Recently, the company has acquired a series of media properties that discuss all things sex, love and dating, including Nerve.com.

The app is free and available only on iTunes, so you must both have iPhones to be able to use it.

For more on this dating service including the new couples app please read our review of How About We.

HowAboutWe Co-Founder Talks Online Dating Sites and the Company’s New Focus

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Aaron Schildkrout and his friend Brian Schechter founded HowAboutWe four years ago as an alternative to traditional online dating. In a recent article in The New York Observer, he said that the fundamental problem with online dating sites was that they needed to keep subscribers. The sites work best when people are looking for dates, not when they are in relationships and dropping out. Dating sites depend on a huge database of subscribers.

HowAboutWe’s focus is a bit different for an online dating site. For one, they have branched out from their online dating platform to creating a valuable resource for all people interested in dating and relationships.

The primary goal of their dating site is to help people meet offline (and get them there as quickly as possible), so they can move towards forming relationships. Instead of searching through profiles, members can create an idea for a first date, put it out to the network, and see who’s interested. Schildkrout says it’s a way for people to meet more organically.

Because of the site’s focus on date activities, it was a natural progression to create a site for couples who are looking to be inspired. Many couples are bored with the same old dates they do all the time, but don’t have the time to research or a lot of money to do something more unique. This is where HowAboutWe comes in – they curate dates particular to each city they service, and set the whole thing up for a discounted price.

It’s an appealing idea for couples. As Schildkrout says, “We make the booking process and the reservation process extremely easy — you never have to show a voucher, your name’s already on the list. We do all the work for you. We take care of all the details.”

The company is also getting into media content, acquiring sites like The Date Report and Nerve.com and creating two additional new blogs related to dating and relationships. “We built out a world-class editorial team,” says Shildkrout, “and for the last three months, we’ve been working really hard to create a media wing focused on becoming the authoritative voice on all things love, and have grown traffic dramatically in that process.”

Popular apps like Tinder and the bigger or more traditional dating sites like OkCupid don’t seem to bother Shildkrout. He sees Tinder as more of a lightweight hook-up experience and OkCupid as an algorithm-matching experience which might not match you with someone outside your type. He is focused on his product, on connecting people in a real-world way. And he’s looking to build content that gets a conversation started. 

Online Dating Doesn’t Just Save You Time – It Saves You Money

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A lot of people love online dating because of its convenience. It's hard to beat being able to scan through potential matches from the comfort of your own home, entirely at your leisure. Traditional dating can be found, but it can also be a huge time suck. Sometimes all you want is an efficient way to weed out the frogs from the princes (and princesses).

Online daters already know that dating websites are a great way to save time, but it turns out they're also a great way to save money. Couples who meet online tend to marry after a shorter period of time than couples who meet in real life, meaning that a courtship that begins via the Internet ends up being thousands of dollars cheaper than meeting and wooing someone offline.

According to market strategists at New York City-based ConvergEx Group, the average dating period prior to marriage for a couple who met in real life is approximately 42 months. Let's do some math: if that couple goes on one date per week, and that date costs around $130 (for food, drinks, entertainment tickets, etc.), then the total cost of that couple's courtship would be around $23,660.

The average time between meeting and marriage for couples who meet online, on the other hand, runs around 18.5 months. The average dating site customer spends $239 a year for online memberships, according to ConvergEx Group, and if we assume that the amount spent on dates is the same, an online dater saves $12,803 in comparison to an offline dater.

And what if the dates go Dutch? In that case, each online dater saves just over $6400. Not too shabby at all!

But, just because it's more acceptable, easier, and less expensive for people to meet online doesn't mean more US citizens are using dating sites to meet marriage partners. According to the Pew Research Center, only 51% of Americans were married in 2011 – a significant drop from the 72% who were married in 1960 – and the numbers are continuing to decline.

ConvergEx suggests that the trend could be in reaction to the high divorce rates seen throughout the 1970s and 80s. “Seeing their parents and/or friends’ parents go through a divorce has made today’s young people more cautious when it comes to finding a mate,” they say.

Many more of today's young people are putting their careers had of relationships, making them less reliant on a spouse for support and possibly also contributing to the decline in marriage. Marriage rates are reportedly also dropping faster among people with less education. "Declining marriage rates among those with lower levels of educational attainment is a warning sign that is worth watching," says ConvergEx, "especially if the trend continues."

What Facebook Knows About Your Love Life

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File this one under “Cool Or Creepy?”

It’s no surprise that Facebook gathers a lot of data about its users, but what is surprising is the conclusions the site can draw by interpreting that information. Of course Facebook knows when you’re “Single,” when you’re “In A Relationship,” or when “It’s Complicated,” but it turns out the social networking site actually knows a whole lot more than that about your love life.

Facebook data scientist Mike Develin works on the site’s search function, studying how people use it, what they’re searching for that isn't available, and how to make it more useful. Along the way, Develin and his team noticed some intriguing romance-related patterns.

It starts with a period of courtship. On Facebook, ‘courtship’ means messages are exchanged, profiles are visited, and posts are shared on each other's timelines. During the 100 days before the relationship starts, there is a slow but steady increase in the number of timeline posts shared between the future couple. The peak is reached 12 days before the relationship begin, at 1.67 posts per day

At “Day 0,” when the relationship officially begins, a couple’s Facebook interactions start to decline. Presumably because they are now spending more time together in person, the happy couple feels less need to communicate online. The lowest point is 1.53 posts per day, reached 85 days into the relationship. Along with that decrease in Facebook interactions comes good news about the content: the interactions may be fewer, but they also get sweeter and more positive. Warm fuzzy feelings are dramatically on the upswing after Day 0.

On the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy side is the breakup data. The research team also took a look at couples who split up and got back together, and documented the saga on their profiles. The maximum, Develin reports to USA Today, was a couple who went in and out of a relationship 27 times in one year. Yikes. It’s a good thing Facebook also found an increase in private messages, timeline posts, and comments from supportive friends during tough times.

What all this means is that horoscopes won’t accurately predict lasting love any time soon, but Facebook might. "We have such a wide-ranging set of data, including on places there may not be data on otherwise," Develin told USA Today. And because Facebook knows so much about its users’ authentic identity, there is very little territory its researchers couldn’t explore. The patterns they identify could be instrumental in mapping human interactions and proving or disproving theories about relationships. 

For more on how to use this social network to find dates you should read our Facebook review.