Generation Y and Longterm Relationships: The Least Traditional yet

Patricia Madden

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Generation Y is the least traditional yet when it comes to romance and partnering up. Long term relationships, especially during the college years and into your 20’s are not considered as routine as they would have been in our parents’ time.

However, there is a cohort of young people who find their long-term, if not life partner, at a young age. What does this mean in an age when sexual experimentation is seen as a rite of passage and when settling down, and starting a family, is more frequently left until your 30’s?

The terrain for romance and relationship development has changed dramatically. My own parents married in 1975, when they were both in their early twenties. They started a family soon after.

I was a late edition to the family and so there is a 40 year + age gap between my parents and me. Now in my mid-twenties, while I have had a positive experience of romantic relationships, settling down and entering into the trappings of marriage and nesting seems like a long way off.

Young couple walking outside. Photo Credit: Flickr Rhys A
Young couple walking outside. Photo Credit: Flickr Rhys A

I spoke to Sadhbh, a 25 year old PhD student, who has been in a relationship with her boyfriend, Oliver, for over five years now. Sadhbh and Oliver met at college and have been inseparable since their beginnings in 2010.

Sadhbh describes how it has been a very healthy and positive relationship from the start. They are best friends and a strong support system for one another. They now live together happily in their Dublin city apartment. She describes their relationship as “very natural and straightforward” and talks about how she and Oliver have an “instinctive understanding of each other.”

Is this a unique circumstance for members of Generation Y? Sadhbh explained that there was a time when she felt, as her friends were going through “the motions of singlehood”, that they might not be able to identify with her advice on “boy troubles”, as she herself was in a steady relationship: “When conversations turned, as they often did, towards sharing bad dating experiences, I didn’t really have much to say.”

For today’s “Tinder-ised” generation, who have become accustomed to an abundance of romantic company, however fleeting; there may be the misconception that those who are in committed relationships are sacrificing freedom or fun. It may seem that they are limiting their options.

"I saw you on Tinder" graffiti. Photo Credit: Flickr Mar Heybo
“I saw you on Tinder” graffiti. Photo Credit: Flickr Markheybo

However, meeting someone with whom you share common interests and values, as well as sexual attraction, can be extremely fulfilling. I’d venture that it is more fulfilling than brief encounters in which neither party is fully in sync with the other.

Don’t get me wrong, the beginning of a romance; with all its excitement and butterflies, is fun. But few of us like to admit that the intimacies of that phase of a relationship are rarely as fulfilling as when you have grown to know each other better and understand what works for both individuals, as a couple.

While good old fashioned romance exists at the back of it all; undoubtedly, the dating scene has changed. Sadhbh notes that she an Oliver’s relationship “predates Tinder.” To today’s kids this may be enough to classify them as prehistoric, but Sadhbh maintains that they’re situation is not unique; however, she agrees the single scene has changed massively.

It is unusual to talk about topic that would have seemed so commonplace to our parent’s generation, as though it is an anomaly. Societal shifts mean that our expectations of romantic relationships have changed.

In her second book All The Single Ladies, author Rebecca Traister discusses how the proportion of unmarried women in the U.S. has increased and the median age of marriage for women has risen to an all-time high. It may be said that the increased independence of women socially and financially has meant that marriage is less of an economic necessity.    

 

This is not to say that female independence is the demise of long-term monogamy. Rather, it shows that equality of the sexes means that people can focus on meaningful and fulfilling relationships. These are increasingly built on connection and emotional fulfilment, and less so on superficial or financial necessity.

Sadhbh makes the point that “a relationship is probably not good if it restricts your life”. We could add that a relationship should be an addition and enhancement to your personal happiness, rather than detract from it.

Perhaps we, as Generation Y, in becoming accustomed to the transience of romance via cyber communication, take for granted the enjoyment to be found is more committed connection that is developed over a long period of time.

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Patricia Madden