When I arrived in America in 1997, very few people would kiss their friends on their cheeks to say hello or goodbye. I remember that at my first job, there was a co-worker who moving to another state and we had a little farewell party for her. I shook her hand and gave her the 2 kiss treatment, which is very popular in Brazil. She froze for a second, puzzled with my audacity and invasion of her personal space. Even though I knew some Americans felt uncomfortable with that gesture, I kept it going with everyone I met. After a few years, I noticed that more and more Americans were adopting this habit. Now everyone is kissing! Did I start a trend? I don’t think I was the only one of course. I think the wave of more recent immigrants from South and Central America brought on the habit.
Besides kissing, people are hugging more. Notice how people who were just introduced or who work together take pictures now: everyone has their arms around each other. If you look at group pictures from only 20 years ago, people usually stood side by side without touching any body part.
Nowadays, you don’t know who is a couple and who isn’t based on pictures. Hugging and having your arms around someone from the opposite sex was reserved for couples. They say people from Germanic, Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon origin have more issues with public displays of affection. I still think White Americans are not so passionate with their lovers in public, but they seem to have adopted the 2 kisses and the hugging people you hardly know in pictures quite well.
Talking to some Brazilian friends who are in the dating market, we compared notes about dating in Brazil vs. dating in the US, and came to the conclusion that dating in America is much more confusing. In Brazil, once you start going out with someone, there is an implicit understanding that you are a couple. That means you readily tell your family and friends you have a significant other. You keep in touch daily. You see each other also almost daily. You start sharing your friends and activities. You know where you stand. You don’t question the relationship so much: “are we dating?”, “are we serious”? Brazilians also display much more public affection, like holding hands and kissing. It is an affectionate country.
In America, especially with the multitude of options online dating has created, it seems people have become flakier and that often translates into an on and off relationship. Don’t get me wrong: in Brazil, online dating is also popular, but the essence of what couplehood means remains the same as before. That is, once you start a romance, you don’t look for others. You see each other almost on a daily basis and starting behaving as a couple.
In the US nowadays it seems everyone is looking for the bigger better deal. You go out with someone but you don’t show much commitment. You have “back up” plans. The guy or girl you call on Sundays when you are bored, because your Friday and Saturday nights are reserved for searching for the BBD (bigger better deal). You keep your back up plan happy with a few dates far and between and a few phone calls. You keep your backups a bit hidden since you don’t want your social circles to think you are a couple. God forbid a BBD shows up in a party and you are with the back up!
If it doesn’t work out with your partner in Brazil, you end things properly. In America, many people are acting so passive agressively nowadays that they seem unable to break things up with someone or tell them right in the beginning they are not interested in the other romantically. So relationships drag in that sea of doubt. People forget their manners and disrespect each other by not answering the phone, text or emails. Again, they are so unsure of what they want while they leave you hanging, just in case it doesn’t work with the BBD…
Our society has made us believe that we deserve perfection. Nobody wants to work in a relationship anymore nor put up with normal issues people have. Men want women who look perfect like the photoshopped world they grew up seeing. Women dream of Don Draper types without the womanizing. Selfishness and materialism has subverted the family values we once had and that are still strong in countries like Brazil.
Brazil has a lower divorce rate than America. Families stay together for longer (most kids only leave home when they get married), and people tend to live near their families. This family atmosphere also makes couples take their relationship more seriously. Once you both meet each other’s family, the pressure to stay together is stronger.
This lack of commitment and constant search for the perfect companion (or soul mate like many like to call) is one of the strongest reasons for this lack of commitment we are seeing in the American dating scene. Couple that with all the supermarket choices of online dating, the “I want it now” mentality of high speed internet/life that has produced instant gratification, the easy access to porn (which banalizes sex) and the disintegration of the nuclear family and you can understand why so many people are complaining about the dating world nowadays.
Two tools that were inexistent decades ago were social media sites and dating sites. There are many social sciences dissertations studying the impact of these two relatively new phenomena in personal relationships. When we talk about romantic relationships, some observations can be made:
1) Conflicts can be created between couples, for example: friending exes, complimenting the picture of someone of the opposite sex, talking through private messages and venting about your partner can all bring problems.
2) Dating sites have reduced romance to selecting the ripest and most colorful fruit in the street market, only to throw it aside when you find another fruit you like better. Changing partners has become extremely easy at the click of a button. Problems with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Get your profile up. Problems in your marriage? Find someone new quickly online.
3) Why take the time to get to know and court someone you like when you can be going out with many men or women at the same time?
4) If you need sex, you can easily find someone who will sleep with you on the first date, or you can go to a casual encounters website.
5) You choose people based on certain criteria (height, education, looks, etc.) and may overlook people who you could really have a loving relationship with.
6) Because of the sheer number of people who you are in contact with, you treat them not as people with feelings but as numbers. Basic respect is lost.
7) Instant chemistry is expected on a first date, and when that doesn’t happen, one goes on a new date instead of letting the cycle of falling in love happen naturally. Think of the relationships you had in the past: how many were really love at first sight?
8) Facebook and other social media sites produce expectation on each side of the couple. One expects the other to showcase their love and to change their status. When that doesn’t happen, frustration ensues.
9) Seeing your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend on a dating site right after a break up is very devastating.
10) You no longer hold on to your relationship and try to make it work, because there is a world of potential dates out there. That can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances.
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