Simply put, modern love is love—and/or the search for love—in an age of over-self-awareness. This is love in an age of social media, mindfulness, personal development podcasts, therapy, and life coaching. This is love in an age of egalitarianism and political correctness. And this is love after those who have loved before us, and all the lessons that have been passed on to us about what love is, what it is not, and how to do it “right.” As if there is such a thing.
This hyper-consciousness has created a paradigm that we now expect more from our intimate relationships than ever before. And yet, we are apparently more blind than ever to how those same expectations have become proverbial minefields for all of us. Let’s hope we can find a way to hold each other’s hands while we travel through such difficult terrain.
What are some of these expectations? Just go to any wedding today – or look at any Instagram posts about weddings – and listen to the vows being spoken and the promises made. These are promises to be “best friends forever, soul mates, passionate lovers, confidants, loving parents of unborn children, even each other’s therapists. These are promises made with the expectation of being everything to the other, and even with infidelity being estimated to be found in 75% of modern relationships, the expectation to be “one and only” for each other abounds. One of the great ironies of modern love seems to be the continued attempt to love within the constructs of traditional monogamy while being self-aware enough to know that traditional monogamy has failed us all in one form or another.
In addition, modern couples are burdened with cultural expectations of maintaining at least some level of modern “wakefulness”. These expectations can be especially difficult to navigate. Women and women are currently expected to work as if they had no family and be a mother/wife at the same time as if they had no career. Men and masks are expected to shed the snakeskin of toxic masculinity, becoming instantly present, sensitive and loving father/husbands, and yet often silently castrated by society if they cannot be the main breadwinners. Same-sex couples are not exempt from these expectations and are further burdened by the struggle to even exist in the eyes of the law, let alone overcome the promises and traps of modern love.
For the silent generation and early baby boomers, loving and being loved in return, providing for their family, and hopefully dying of natural causes was considered by most to be a great success in life and love. Psychiatry and personal development were far out of fashion, and divorce was “just not an option” for most. People stayed together for the better, and in many cases for the worse. The next generation divorced – a lot. And now we are all trying to collect and decompose into pieces.
Modern love is ironic, because for many of us the collective consciousness is still very strongly programmed that love and marriage is one of the pinnacles of a successful life. Yet truly happy, long-term relationships remain elusive. We’re constantly talking to clients in their 30s and 40s who haven’t yet found “the one” and, while by many standards have great, successful lives, careers and friends, still feel like they’re not “successful.” It.”
This is not all to paint a bleak or hopeless picture—in fact, our intent is just the opposite. The promises of modern love are actually quite real. We can be happier and more satisfied in our intimate relationships than ever before. We can write beautiful new love stories for ourselves and as an example for our children. It is possible and even probable, but only if we write a new scenario. It is the willingness to ask the real questions that are needed to succeed in this new world order, and to have the difficult and vulnerable conversations that underlie it all. Then what is possible opens up to us in a way that we may never have imagined.
Here are some of those questions:
How do we learn from some of the flaws in social constructions, such as strict monogamy or traditional gender roles, and forge new paths for ourselves and our partners?
How do we set and manage the expectations of our partners versus the expectation and need for them to be everything to us?
How do we keep love, sex, and passion alive when we all have to wear the hats of mom/dad, breadwinners, best friends, roommates, etc. at the same time?
How can we thrive in an age where we are all constantly bombarded with images of other couples living happily ever after on their social media feeds without falling into the pattern of comparison and competition?
How can we talk about all of this with our eyes, minds, and hearts wide open, and not get very excited about it all?
This whole column is about it. You can expect weekly answers from us to questions like these, but more importantly, YOUR questions. With 28 years of collective experience coaching singles and couples between the two of us, we are here to serve you. What hurts you in the field of love and dating? What questions do you have about love or finding love in today’s world? Ask us. Let’s go to.
Sally and Zach Maxwell, owners of Max-Well Coaching, have a combined nearly three decades of coaching experience and two decades of marriage.