Sex, Dating and Perceptions: The Millennial Problem?

“I just don’t think we’re sexually compatible or something.” My friend rolled her eyes, seemingly in distaste at the memory of the experience she was describing.

I took a slow sip of my coffee and asked for more detail, the writer in me already tugging at the deeper context of our girl-talk.

“You know how it is. I just wasn’t into it. I mean I had high hopes, and he’s a nice guy, but as it was happening I felt like I was just staring at the ceiling kind of waiting for it to be over. Definitely won’t happen again.” I looked back at her, “Yeah, I do know. You okay? That sucks.” She shrugged off my question, and our conversation trailed over to it’s next topic.

The thing is, over the past few years, I’ve experienced an endless rotation of these kind of conversations. The coffee or wine-induced discussions of the past week’s Bumble and Tinder date or options, the sexual exploits (successful or not), the disappointments, the games played and often, the eventual break-ups of so many ‘almost’ relationships.

As I, myself, navigate the dating realm in Toronto — I’ve remained, for the most part, single since moving downtown — I’ve become incredibly familiar with the dating and sexual culture that largely dominates our understanding of millennial relationships. It’s no secret; I write about it all the time, and my potential male suitors often find themselves nervously asking “Um, you’re not going to write about this, are you?” as we sit across from each other on a first date.

As a generation of young adults navigating life in the city, many of us will find ourselves mindlessly swiping through the dating profiles of potential matches in our geographical proximity. Many of us may find ourselves trying to carefully tip-toe out of an unfamiliar apartment into a waiting Uber, after waking up to last night’s (likely vodka-fuelled) decision. Many of us may find ourselves becoming jaded, shifting the baggage of past, failed conquests or the knowledge of our friend’s exploits onto the shoulders of our romantic prospects (even if we shouldn’t). And many of us will fall into this socially contrived trap of considering motives, vantage points and social perceptions, before we consider our own values, desires and intentions.

This is dating in 2017 and yeah, many of us are playing the game, but are we really coming out on top? We’re dating, a lot, but are they great dates? We’re having sex, but is it great sex? Or is quantity ruling over quality?

dating-sex-millennialsWe frequently talk about the cycles of lacklustre and generally shallow, instant-gratification that dating apps provide. We talk about the commitment-phobic tendencies of our generational companions. We talk about the influx of one night stands in the place of courtship or substance-based relationships.

Here is the thing, though. Dating apps aren’t necessarily the problem. Presumed millennial tendencies aren’t necessarily the problem. Sure, these elements can act as a conduit for certain behaviour patterns to become more apparent, but the behaviour (or potential for it) exists regardless.

Ultimately, it’s not about the social shifts that are born as a result of technology or generational mindsets. It’s about the way we navigate that culture while keeping our own needs, desires and sense of self intact. It’s about dating with transparency, not to gain advantage  so we can cut the sh*t and be honest about whatever it is we are looking for. It’s about having sex without neglecting our sexuality and experience (or understanding) of intimacy. It’s about having adult conversations and admitting when we’re unsatisfied, pissed off, want something more, or something less. It’s about respecting our needs, desires, emotions and bodies first and foremost, no exceptions.

Dating app relationships are fine. What isn’t fine, is skimming over or abandoning your core desires or intentions to impress a date or play it cool, assuming that they might be dating or sleeping with a handful of other people at any given time. What isn’t fine, is viewing the dating realm as a field of rotating prospects, always assuming you’re one swipe away from someone or something better (destination addiction or the paradox of choice, however you want to term it). What isn’t okay, is living with a subtle, but lingering sense of insecurity while (consciously or not) comparing yourself to assumed romantic or social ‘competition’ with the help of social media. And yeah, one night stands are fine, too. But what isn’t fine, is memorizing patterns in the ceiling stucco during sex because you feel detached from your companion and the scenario, waiting for the experience to be over because your sexuality and any grasp of intimacy has left the room (but left you there).

We aren’t passengers in our life, and we aren’t victims to a greater culture or trend. Despite how it may sometimes feel, we always have the right (and capacity) to control our situation and social and romantic scenarios.

We, as millennials, have more opportunity than ever before to communicate and connect. Hell, we are literally connected on every imaginable level. But we love to keep it surface-level. We’ve become masters at saying a lot, without really giving too much away. We love to try and out-maneuver each other. We love to minimize our sexual expression in favour of just scratching an itch or using an 8 hour courtship as a means to an end. We are constantly expressing ourselves via apps, social media and more, but we’re often more infatuated with illusions and perceptions than the substance that exists underneath it.

I think, more often than not, we need to check ourselves and break away from the distractions of new social norms and expectations to have an open conversation with ourselves. To get comfortable with everything that we are and everything that we want, and be totally unapologetic about that. If you’re looking for love, own that. If you’re looking for sex, no strings attached, own that. If you’re craving more from your sexual experiences and the exploration of your sexuality, own that. If you’re totally lost and not sure what you’re looking for, that’s okay too, just be honest about it. You can’t really expect to enjoy your experiences or find what you’re looking for, if you aren’t open and honest about what that is or, at the very least, able to consciously acknowledge it (and prioritize it).

Ultimately, we need to stop blaming dating apps or cultural shifts for our romantic or sexual problems and remember that, at the end of the day, we are always responsible for advocating for our best interests and desires. It always comes back to us. We always have the opportunity to speak up, open up, say yes or say no and redefine our path and the relationships we allow to become a part of it. We need to stop gorging on the easy availability of knock-off dates, sex and connections and take back ownership and control. We need to give our emotions and sexual capacities and expectations the environment they need to exist, develop and thrive.

We can change the game we experience, if we want to. It’s always been within our control. We just need to start actually talking about it all.