By Emily Erickson
You’re sitting in the hot seat, sweat beading in your palms. The audience is looming over you and the heat of the light beams feels heavy on your face. Regis’ million dollar question is still ringing in your ears, “Millennial, how will you find your life partner?”
You stare at the screen before you. The tick of the time clock grows louder with each passing second, but you will yourself to hone in on your illuminated options. Okay.
A) Meet your soulmate the oh-so-romantic, old-fashioned way: reaching for the same memoir at a bookstore, exchanging smiles at a brewery while discussing the elements of a perfectly-crafted porter, or accidentally touching towels while wiping off the sweat you splattered on the floor of your kickboxing class.
B) Scan every known social media site (except Myspace, obviously) in search of someone within semi-reasonable proximity who appears to be a perfect match and proceed to “like” just the right amount of content to appear interested, yet not creepy.
C) Create an amazing dating profile on (insert name of any contemporary dating app or site) and prepare to navigate a tumultuous sea of right and left swipes, cryptic messages, creepy replies, commitment phobes, casual sex-driven freaks, and the possibility of discovering a good match for you (if they manage to hold a conversation outside of text, that is).
D) Go ahead and rescue another dog because everlasting love doesn’t exist. Just look at your parents. And your friends’ parents. And the news. And the statistics.
When considering your options, you rely on a mixture of personal experience, social theory and logic.
You contemplate answer A, knowing meeting your partner out of happenstance seems to be obvious. Of course, the ideal way to meet the love of your life is, naturally, through a grand collision of circumstance and fate. This is the way it has been done since the beginning of love-driven matchmaking and what your Netflix rom-com roundup demonstrates time and again.
But in games like these, the obvious answer is usually flawed. You know that as a Millennial, you put off settling down and having kids longer than previous generations. You feel increasingly unprepared for such steps due to educational and occupational pursuits and hurdles, as well as greater debt and cost of living. But despite your unpreparedness, you still feel the pressure of your impending time clock.
In addition to Grandma’s snide remarks about not being so picky and proposing already (she’s educated and fertile, after all), Millennials all experience a poignant transition in their social media newsfeeds, with the photos of their peers and friends donning red solo cups and sharpie face art flashing into engagements, weddings and babies… so many babies, seemingly overnight.
The continuous bombardment of “Save the Dates,” and daily exposure to ever changing last names drives you to forgo the slow game of answer A, and forge on down the list. We live in a world of immediate gratification, after all.
When considering answers B and C, the social media site scanning and dating profile options, a prominent Social Psychologist, Barry Schwartz, comes to mind. In 2000, Schwartz proposed the “tyranny of freedom” theory: the notion that too many options, or absolute freedom of choice, can be debilitating rather than liberating.
After the introduction of social media and online dating, the necessity for proximity was virtually eliminated when seeking a life partner. Previously, you’d find your match within relatively limited social circles, whether it be your hometown, college, workplace or church group. The pool from which you were drawing was much smaller than the world of choices we have today.
As Schwartz proposed, this bounty and ease of access to unlimited options generates both unrealistic ideals as well as a general feeling of being overwhelmed. Tiny flaws in potential partners that previously would be considered minor shortcomings become deal breakers, as there is always the prospect someone else, someone better, just a swipe away.
Suffocated by all of the options, the supposed compatibility that doesn’t come to fruition, and a perpetual “grass could be greener” complex, you continue on to consider answer D.
Maybe the concept of everlasting love is something we’ve created and romanticized, but isn’t actually attainable for most people, if at all.
According to “The Science of Happily Ever After” author Ty Tashiro, Ph.D., Millennials grew up watching nearly 50 percent of the marriages in their parents’ generation end in divorce, with another 10 percent being permanently separated and 7 percent remaining together but unhappy.
So, Millennials grew up understanding that marriage is a one-in-three wager of half of your worldly possessions that you and your partner can beat the odds and find life-long happiness.
Brushing aside the likelihood that D is probably the most logical answer, you reevaluate all of your options because, despite the statistics, you are an optimist, like the rest of your generation. There are certainly worse odds than one in three.
The tick of the clock bangs on your eardrums, and Regis asks for a final time, “Millennial, how will you find your life partner?”
Is it too late to phone a friend?
Emily Erickson is a freelance writer and bartender originally from Wisconsin, with a degree in sociology and an affinity for playing in the mountains.