Love in the new millennium

Boy meets girl. They fall head over heels, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, and they live happily ever after. Sound familiar? From the timeless cinema classics – Roman Holiday, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s to the romantic feel good blockbusters Pretty Woman, Bridget Jones Diary, and When Harry Met Sally – these modern day love stories reflect what we’ve always known – we just love to be in love.

So what is modern day love like? How is it different to our parents and grandparents generation?


Happy endings

Love in the new millennium is all about choice. We can stay single, we can live together, and we can marry who we want if we choose. In the 21st century we are reinventing the way we view love relationships, according to Ann Hollands CEO of Relationships Australia NSW.

“Modern day love is an idealised view of love – just like the romantic comedy, but this is also coupled with a healthy does of realism,” she says. “In some ways we are more sophisticated than previous generations, we know and accept that there will be lots of ups and downs, and we recognise the complexities of a relationship. But even though we realise that no relationship can be perfect we still have this almost paradoxical belief in the happy ending.”

The last few decades have also changed what was once considered taboo in relationships. Mixed marriages of different religions, same sex unions, couples living together, and babies born out of wedlock raise few eyebrows or get tongues wagging these days. It’s a far cry from the conservative 1940’s and 1950’s where a union of two people of different races, or any love match not considered the societal norm, meant those who dared to buck the system not only became outcasts from society but were also ostracised from their families.


Challenges of modern day love

In an age of freedom, the dynamics of love relationships have changed. Modern day romantic dilemmas can be a result of the complex times we live in says Sherry Marshall, (Process Psychology), Relationships Therapist and Trainer.

“When we first form a partnership we are in the honeymoon period – it might last two months – two years or two decades – then we move into what I call the kitchen sink period – the reality of life, with all its ups and downs,” she says.

The reality of life for many modern day couples is juggling the demands of parenthood and full time work. Others are struggling with stepfamily dynamics and dual households. Single parents are navigating the complexities of establishing relationships with children in tow.

“There are many issues couples have to deal with that their parents and grandparents didn’t,” says Marshall. “In the past it was also simpler because there were clearly defined roles for both men and women – the husband was the provider and the wife stayed home and raised the children,” she says. “These roles are no longer clear cut. As a result, couples in the new millennium are trying to navigate how to function effectively together,” adds Hollands.

“This is this is the biggest struggle of our time – a couple might be deeply in love but they are rowing the boat in different directions,” she says. It’s difficult because we are brought up to be strong individuals, and that makes it harder to make the transition into a long term relationship.”

“We might fall in love but converting that into a sustainable partnership is a different thing,” she says. “In many cases we are almost living as two individuals under the same roof without really forming a partnership as such. Essentially we have one foot out the door just in case,” she says.

It seems that modern day love is a leap of faith, we know it comes with no guarantee that it will stand the test of time – but we hope with all our heart that it does.


Love and marriage?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics over 118 000 marriages were registered in 2008 – that’s an increase of 2.1 per cent over the previous year. In New Zealand 21 600 marriages were registered in 2009, down one percent from the previous year according to Statistics New Zealand.

Getting married is one thing but staying married is another. To judge by the statistics when the going gets tough, it seems we aren’t giving up on love. More and more people are choosing to stay married, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Statistics show a shift over the last decade – divorce rates stand at 2.2 per cent in Australia, a figure which has decreased continually since 1999. In New Zealand there were 8700 divorces granted in 2009 – the lowest number in 20 years.


Love in bygone eras

Many of the first marriages, if we can call them that, were by capture. When there was a scarcity of women in a village, men swooped in and raided other villages for wives. A later and more civilised approach saw marriages arranged by the parents. “In wealthy neighbouring families parents introduced couples at a young age,” says Allan Pease, Author and Communications Expert.

“From around age five or six, parents would guide the children – it was just expected that they would marry so the assets of the families would be increased,” says Pease. “Marriages were also arranged between kings and queens of neighbouring countries to strengthen their borders and avoid wars.The only people who married for love were the poor,” he adds.

In times past as well, once you were married – it was for life. “It really was till death do us part – no question – but it wasn’t such a bad deal really back then because you were only expected to live to be about 40,” he quips. You only have to look at the incredibly tortuous manoeuvres and manipulation that Henry VIII had to go through to end his marriages to understand that “irreconcilable differences” was just not enough justification to end a union is times past.


The 1950s and 1960s

In the 50s, and 60s boys and girls met, dated and married. “If you weren’t announcing your engagement by the age of 21 people would think there was something wrong,” says Hollands. “Getting married was a sign of moving into adulthood so there was a lot more pressure to partner,” she says. At that stage getting married was still for keeps.

“Even if you found yourself in an unhappy marriage you stuck with it, because as a divorcee you were stigmatised, you were basically a social outcast, and if you had kids then you were an outcast and poor as well,” adds Marshall.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the women’s movement exploded across the western world, liberating and empowering women. “The introduction of the contraceptive pill meant that women could be sexually active, without risk of unplanned pregnancy,” says Marshall.

Increasing equality in wages, coupled with the availability of higher education for women meant women had greater earning capacity – and more freedom. All of this meant that marriages that were not working did not have to be endured, they could be ended and the search for love could be renewed. Whether this has led to greater happiness or a more love-filled world remains a moot point.


Love in the digital world

In medieval times lovelorn potential suitors wooed their intended with readings of poetry, and serenaded them with verse. During the Victorian era, courting was an intricate process – involving chaperones, and written communication – even marriage proposals were often handwritten. These days to communicate with their partners many boyfriends power up their mobiles and flick their girlfriends a text (“sms”), or have an online chat via Facebook, or Messenger. Partners can also keep track of each other through Twitter.

Technology in the new millennium is revolutionising the way many people meet and form relationships. Research by Microsoft has shown that love in the 21st century has well and truly found its home in the digital world. They discovered 66 per cent of people admitted they’d rather ‘type it than talk it’ on Instant Messenger (IM) for Valentine’s Day 2010. One in three people profess to having declared their love via messenger.

You might also be surprised to learn that it’s not just techno savvy teens and Generation Y’s who are embracing the new technology. According to NeilsenWire, a group that monitors emerging market trends, 41.7 per cent of users of Facebook are aged 35 – 49.

Twitter’s audience levels grew by more than 400 per cent in 2009. Facebook is still the most popular social networking medium, eagerly embraced by Australians and New Zealanders – over 37 per cent of Australians use Facebook on a daily basis, and over one third of New Zealanders are on Facebook according to Social Media NZ.

“The new technology has changed the way we live and share relationships with significant others. One of the things that has changed along with it is how we conduct our relationships,” says Marshall.

“In the past relationships were much more private – now public is the new private,” she says. “On Facebook some people even avoid telling the other person the relationship is over – they just change their status online to single.”

So what does less face to face communication mean for relationships? “It doesn’t allow you to fully understand what the other person is really telling you, because you can’t interpret their body language,” according to Pease. “Body language makes up 60 to 80 per cent of the impact of messages, take it out of the equation and there is plenty of room for misinterpretations and error,” he says.

Cyber dating

So how do people meet and form love relationships in the new millennium? Many are still meeting others through the workplace, clubs, parties, and social gatherings. However, there’s also a bold new kid on the block, internet dating, and it’s rapidly gaining acceptance as the meeting place of choice in the new millennium. In fact one of Australia’s largest internet dating sites RSVP claim that their site is responsible for initiating one in eight long term relationships.

For those leading busy lifestyles internet dating is a convenient way to meet others. Yet for every person who has had a successful internet dating encounter there are many others who haven’t. “There are inherent dangers in it,” according to Pease.

“While internet dating allows you a wider range of opportunities to meet prospects – it also means the quality of prospects that you’re meeting is not as good. The reality is on these dating sites people do lie – the single 28-year-old you’re chatting with could be a 48-year-old married bloke,” he says.

Philip Armstrong CEO Australian Counselling Association Inc agrees caution is the key when cyber dating. “The more that you communicate via the web the more you are putting an emotional investment in an email address, and that makes you vulnerable,” he says.

If you do meet someone via an internet dating site or chat room, it’s important to meet face to face as soon as you can. “You need to determine if they are legit, so you can find out if the person is who they say they are, so you aren’t wasting your time,” Armstrong says.


Speed dating

If internet dating isn’t for you, there’s always speed dating. Singles gather at a predetermined location and spend a few minutes chatting to a person of the opposite sex before moving on to another table. If you like what you see and hear you can then be put in touch with the person who caught your interest by the organisers of the event.

An extreme form of speed dating has evolved in America called eye-gazing parties, in which participants sit across from each other for three minutes looking deep into each others eyes, before moving on. Not a word is spoken.


Consumer love

These days the wedding industry is big business. The average wedding can cost over $40 000, with many people finding themselves in debt in order to get married with all the costly trimmings. “We really are living in an age of consumer love,” says Marshall. “Love really has been commercialised, marketed and branded,” she says.

Many modern weddings are themed and some people hire wedding planners, who orchestrate the entire event for a fee. Another relatively new concept in weddings is the destination wedding, where the bride, groom, family and selected guests jet off overseas for the nuptials.

In simpler times, in the 1940s and 1950’s wedding dresses were often handed down, weddings were almost exclusively held in churches, and brides and grooms had hand fulls of rice tossed at them before having portraits taken in a photographers studio. If they had a reception, family members prepared and served the wedding food.


No dose of reality

Twenty years ago it might seem hard to imagine a TV show that allowed viewers to watch virtually uncensored, the lives of perfect strangers. Reality television show Big Brother was launched in 1999, and now there are a plethora of reality type shows, from How to marry a Millionaire, Farmer wants a Wife, Beauty and the Geek, and more.

Little of what you see on reality television is in fact real. A combination of larger than life characters, dramatic, and sometimes humiliating events, coupled with beautiful exotic locations, just don’t reflect the true dynamics of modern day living or relationships, according to Armstrong. “Many of the TV shows claiming to be reality television are exaggerated and misleading,” he says. “When you put people in a carefully controlled environment it doesn’t show the truth about relationships, there is no reality in it all.” If people are learning about love from these misrepresentations of reality, then who knows what the future may hold for love and relationships.


Yours, mine, and ours

Love in the new millennium for many is also likely to include the pitter patter of little feet. Sometimes those little feet may not belong to you. With more and more couples choosing to remarry, there has also been an increase in the numbers of step families.

For the newly married couple it’s a time of heady romanticism, and rediscovered love – it’s a chance at a new beginning. For many of the children though, it can be a time of heartache and confusion – it means letting go of the idealised hope that their parents might one day reunite.

Juggling the demands of stepfamily life is challenging for the parents trying to establish their own relationship, and cope with the demands of dual households, ex spouses and kids who might not get along. Deciding to be a stepfamily isn’t an easy road to take, it will test love relationships but with the right kind of attitude, stepfamilies can thrive.


Finding the one

You know he or she is out there somewhere. Your eyes will meet across a crowded room – and you’ll be destined to spend the rest of your days in blissful happiness. The romantic notion of finding that perfect person who is your soul mate and to stroll off hand in hand into the sunset is certainly alive and well in the new millennium.

Many still believe that despite the potential heartbreak, the domestic drudgery, and the disappointments there is someone special out there for each of us. Yet there’s also modern day twist to perfect love. There’s a strong yearning for romance, of wanting to meet our soul mate, but it’s also coupled with a longing for independence. “There is also a strong sense of individualism, that we should be happy as an individual, and financially and emotionally self sufficient,” says Hollands.

So where can you meet your perfect match? A common lament for many is that there just aren’t enough singles out there to go around. The problem really is that most people just don’t know what they are looking for, according to Pease who says we shouldn’t leave meeting a potential mate to chance.

“Singles need to set out with a plan – a complete job description of the person that you would like to meet,” he says. “Write your list of what you want for the perfect partner – what they physically look like, what they sound like, how they dress, and any other characteristics that you like. The minute you clearly define what you want, you will start to see it everywhere. If you want to meet someone with flaming red hair, blue eyes and freckles – put that on your list – I promise every where you go you will see redheads.”


The dating game – new rules

In the 1950s if a man and woman went out for dinner, he’d help her with her coat, he’d chivalrously walk between her and the curb, he’d order for his date, and then pick up the tab. Half a century later and the lines are blurred. “Men these days don’t really know what is expected of them when they are dating,” says Armstrong.

For starters it’s not unusual for a woman to ask a man out, or to want to split the cost of the date. “Should he open the car door for her, or shouldn’t he, who pays for the date? Many men are truly perplexed by what they should do,” says Armstrong. “When you’re in a relationship these days you need to lay down some ground rules, to have a dialogue at the very beginning about your expectations to avoid any misunderstandings.”


Making relationships work in the new millennium

Love in the new millennium is complicated. “In modern day relationships you really do need to use both your head and your heart,” says Hollands. “This means converting romantic attraction into something that is going to be a workable partnership, so you can find out if you are heading in the same direction.”

These days both woman and men are carving out successful careers; some are busy building investment property portfolios, others are undergoing post grad studies at universities. Some married couples opt to pack their bags and jet off to parts unknown in search of adventure. This is all completely unlike previous generations who didn’t really have much choice about how their married life would unfold. Men went to work, and their wives stayed home and raised the kids.

“You need to have conversations early on about whether you want to have children, or travel the world or make lots of money,” says Hollands. “You need to discover if there’s enough commonality to form a partnership that is going to work.”

In the new millennium we still believe in love, we still want the happy ever after. We haven’t given up on love, just relationships that aren’t working, because in modern day love relationships, more than ever before, you have the freedom of choice.


Carrol Baker

Carrol Baker

Carrol Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist who is a passionate advocate of natural health and wellness. She writes for lifestyle and healthy-living magazines across Australia and internationally.

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