Trends in How Today’s Students Handle Relationships


The emergence of technology and social media can make dating relationships and friendships difficult to establish. Dr. Tim Elmore shares the following tips that lead to authentic relationships.

With the emergence of technology on portable devices and social media, there is a new kind of relationship pattern emerging with students today. “Generation iY” (which makes up the second half of Gen. Y) faces a new dilemma. You might call it the “artificial relationship.”

Finding out that someone doesn’t love you anymore is hard—not hearing anything at all is even harder. Getting coffee at Starbucks to tell them you no longer want to see them is painful—but not responding to a text is tacky. Breaking up is difficult, but not really every breaking up is messing up a generation.

Sound familiar?

As I meet with high school and college students, I am discovering a pattern in their relationships. I ask them to think about their last relationship. Maybe it was just a hookup, or maybe it was something deeper, but I ask them to reflect on how it matured over time—how it began, progressed and ended. The response I get from students who saw connections just evaporate (with no real closure) was overwhelming. In fact, their emotional pain was greater than the students who began and ended dating relationships with clear communication.

The big question is: Is the relationship even real if no one says goodbye?

Lauren Martin (who is a journalist and a Millennial herself) writes graphically about this emerging challenge:

There’s no denying that we live in the age of the unformed relationship. There’s no denying that we’re dating in a shallow, text-based world. There’s no denying that our relationships aren’t relationships at all.

We’re dating over platforms before meeting in person and connecting over messaging machines rather than face to face. We’re entering fake relationships and ending them with even less attention. Most of our relationships are over before we can say we know what that person looked like.

We’re just not responding, not answering and not giving a ****. We’re throwing our hearts at the first person who direct messages us, then taking them back at the first sign of something better.

The problem with today’s dating culture is that there isn’t one. There’s a hook-up culture, and within that hook-up culture, there’s shallow, biased and surface feelings that we’re trying to use to get away from the real ones.

We’re guarding ourselves so that we never really have to face that inevitable heartbreak that almost always comes with every relationship. We’re refusing to enter real relationships, and we’re also refusing to officially end any of them.

By constantly keeping people on back burners, refusing to end things with real closure and never starting or stopping on any real terms is more damaging than experiencing the heart-wrenching pain of a real, honest breakup.

Because at least with the pain of a terrible and sad ending, there’s the hope of a fresh start.

Building Good Social Habits in Students

May I suggest something?

In times past, every generation of young adults had to learn how to handle the pain of initiating, cultivating and sometimes ending a serious relationship. (Think about it: if you dated ten people in college, you can only marry one, so you had at least ten breakups). The problem today is—we adults have never had to train kids to sustain relationships through a portable device. Kids are learning poor habits.

Let me suggest some tips to pass on to students about handling relationships:

  1. If a relationship begins online that you want to deepen, take the step to progress toward a face-to-face introduction as soon as possible.
  2. Never share emotion digitally. Texts and Facebook posts are for information, not for depth. Emotionally-filled communication should be face to face.
  3. Social media is great for updates on your life, but don’t consider all the people who “follow you” as friends. Friends are people who you actually see.
  4. Dating relationships can’t be authentic if they are only done online. You may disagree, but up till now, we’ve not been able to navigate true depth digitally. We are social creatures who were made for interpersonal relationships.
  5. Genuine relationships have beginnings; they involved two or more people working to cultivate the relationship by investing emotionally in it. And if need be, they end with an encounter that defines the relationship. Too many people are left wondering as they wander through their connections.

As Lauren Martin points out, “Without this ending, without ever getting that closure we need, we’re refusing to let ourselves ever enter into something without carrying along our past five ‘failed’, still open, never-ended ‘relationships.’”

What do you think about this trend?

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