Andrew Reiner’s article published 2/9/14, titled “Love, Actually” is a commentary by a college professor on his students approach to love. The bygone days of dating are seen with rose-colored glasses (though didn’t women only get a real voice in dating in just the 1960s?) and Gen Y’s approach to love comes across as more robotic than human. The article certainly has some insights—but perhaps the observation is a symptom of a larger problem rather than an isolated phenomenon in the Tech generation.
Dating — it’s complicated. Those bloopers and heartbreaks that everyone, no matter their age or gender, can remember all too well in their own life, are a necessary byproduct of what is commonly called “putting yourself out there.” Talking about how you really feel, saying something that you mean, telling someone that you like or love them when you’re not sure that the feeling is returned—Reiner argues that Gen Y is “terrified and clueless” about how to do this (and haven’t lovers in every generation been afraid of this, too?) But the reluctance of Gen Y to put themselves out there isn’t really just a problem with dating, is it?
Growing up in an age of overexposure to criticism, whether directed at us or an unknown internet commenter, we have learned that nothing is safe. When we share thoughts, feelings, opinions—facts, even, in some cases—we have learned that we can, and may be, attacked at any moment. Sound logic—that won’t save you. A benign, cheerful comment—better strap on your seatbelt. When you grow up in a world where you see the range of hateful, aggressive, and even violent things people are able to say to each other online, you do as humans have done successfully for thousands of years—you evolve, even if only subconsciously. You don’t want to really believe in something when no matter what that belief is; there seem to be a thousand people right at your fingertips to tell you are ignorant, wrong, and morally corrupt to believe the things you believe. Because if you really believe it, it hurts. But, if you’ve hedged your bets and refused to let yourself attach to that concept—perhaps love, in Reiner’s student’s case—then it’s much easier to let go.
I am not arguing that this critical tendency of humanity is a new development in human history. But have the voices ever been able to get to close to our ears? Have they ever been so loud as to almost drown out that small voice of courage inside you that tells you to hold fast, speak up, or really believe—in yourself, in your country, in your faith, in others, or in love?
From the continuously multiplying talking heads on TV to the comments section on pretty much anything, no matter how innocuous, these critical voices are sensational, entertaining, and perhaps facilitate a constructive dialog which helps us to consider issues from an alternate point of view and better appreciate their depth. But I think, unfortunately, far more often, they serve as reminder of the dangers of believing, of putting yourself out there.
This is a problem — as Reiner reminds us, Dr. Brene Brown, the expert on vulnerability said, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” You can’t have North without South, you can’t have love without hate. Gen Y’s seemingly “blithe” attitude about love and intimacy does not, as Reiner suggests, come from being sex-crazed party animals without any understanding of the importance and value of romantic relationships. In fact, I think we know how special it can be, and I think, deep down in even the most jaded of these young souls, we want it, too. But doesn’t it seem quite foolish to believe in love when you grew up being blitzed by divorce rates and failed relationship statistics on morning news shows? It’s hard to internally reconcile the two, let alone vocalize the belief.
What Reiner observed I think, is just the tip of the iceberg. Gen Y is afraid to “put ourselves out there”, whether we are talking about believing in true love, sharing an idea in class, or holding a less than popular opinion. But I don’t think what we need is a “grade-based seminar about love”. We need to remember, and actively remind each other and ourselves, that it’s okay to believe. We need is a reminder that no detractor’s voice, no matter how deafening, should ever drown out the voice of our own hearts and minds.