Love, Relationships & Marriage: How The Genzs Are Subverting These Institutions

Love, Relationships & Marriage: How The Genzs Are Subverting These Institutions

One thing common to all of us born in the late ‘90s is the fact that we are absolutely unwilling to settle for anything less than what we think we deserve. Compromising too much is a big no-no for us. And why shouldn’t it be? We have studied at the best institutions, didn’t have to slug away at a job we didn’t like, got to travel far and wide, whilst having the smartphone bringing the world to our fingertips every day. Life had mostly been our choice!

But, come to the wrong side of your twenties, and you are suddenly expected to take on the responsibility of getting married, and that too without knowing why. Now, we don’t like being told what to do. We also don’t like to take decisions on a whim.

To a generation used to having quick access to almost everything — a one-touch call and response system that satisfies all our needs, be it food, transportation, connectivity, or even sex — the idea of not having something in our control can appear daunting. It’s also true that in a world of social media, it can appear as if there are far greater repercussions to our activities than we would like to deal with. In a fast-changing world, the fear of choosing the wrong option also makes us prone to overthinking.

While our parents and even grandparents who spent the prime of their lives in the 1960s had the resilience to take more risks, marry early, take up more responsibilities and be more fearless in general, we are not. Or that is what this study by psychologists Jean Twenge and Heejung Park says.

The study, which was published in Child Development, on analysing responses by 8.3 million teenagers, given between 1976 and 2016, concluded that teenagers today were less likely to “drive, work for pay, go on dates, have sex or go without their parents.” That is a stark difference from what their parents and grandparents did. Taking fewer risks also mean falling in love less often, or being immensely cagey about it even when doing so.

Homegrown took a survey of 20 individuals belonging to Generation Z, on their idea of love, relationships, and marriage. Individuals (both male and female) from the urban centres of India like Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and other areas took part in the survey. The ages of the participants ranged roughly from 20-25 years.

A Generation Of Ghosts?

In the survey (where 55% identified as female), 60% said that they have ‘ghosted’ someone, 20% said they haven’t, while the rest 20% seemed on the fence about their answers.

  45% said they have been ‘ghosted’ by someone

— Homegrown Survey

Ghosting is a new kind of no-contact where a person whom you’ve been with for a while – whether they be a friend, a partner, or essentially anyone whom you’ve ever cared about – shuts you off and disappears from your life altogether, without any explanation. There is suddenly no phone call, no DM, not even a text. Even though people have pulled off the ‘disappearing act’ since ages (it is not something specific to our generation, or even dating as such), the ways and means in which they did so, were different. In the pre-social media age, if you were dating your neighbour, for example, there was no way you could avoid them while walking down the same street they lived in. The best you could do was look the other way when you see him or her approaching. But, now you are completely wiped from that person’s life, with 10 different apps rejecting you in 10 different ways! Also, who dates their neighbour now, when we have the world potentially a click away?

However, can we attribute ‘ghosting’ to some kind of aversion to taking responsibilities? Or might we instead say that they have the discretion to know what is good for them, and the courage to walk away from what is not? I think it is something in between since we exist in greys, and the good always comes with a little bit of bad. Such a statement needs to be understood in context. No generation has been perfect and has been both lauded and disregarded for its own share of strengths and follies.

The Idea Of Love

50% feel that you should love yourself first, before you love someone else

30% feel that you can learn to love yourself while loving someone else

15% feel that it is not important to love yourself before loving someone else

5% feel that you can love yourself first, but also learn more about self-love while loving someone else and being loved by someone else

— Homegrown Survey

GenZs seem to be idealistic and individualistic and their traits that are a direct product of their environment. It is very evident from the views they hold about love in general. Most of the respondents in the study viewed love essentially as something that is comfortable and kind, something that feels like ‘home’.

“Something which grows organically, with its roots in a strong friendship that gives way to attraction and mutual admiration and respect. It should not be forced. It should not be a result of an expedition where you go looking for it with a torch, it should just happen spontaneously,” says Vanya Sharma from Mumbai, who also feels that “we live in a culture of huge expectations and demands, with very little to actually give to the relationship.”

“Sitting in a room, sharing comfortable silence and to be able to talk about serious shit in life as well as to goof around with each other,” is what love means to Neha Daga from Kolkata.

However, again, love is not as simple as it used to be, right?

Social media has changed almost everything. Has it changed love?

Let’s find out.

Love In The Time Of Social Media

When we try to battle every aspect of our lives instead of taking it for what it is with a sense of calm acceptance, fatigue sets in, making us even more debilitated in striving for what we actually want. The lacuna between what we have and what we want becomes so wide that a sense of defeat sets in. This being the general approach of the GenZs towards life, gets reflected on their idea of ‘love’ too. It (the way we love) is more a reflection of the other realities that we need to contend with on a day-to-day basis, rather than our view on love per se. Therefore, even though the participants in Homegrown’s survey have divergent views on dating, there is a consensus on the fact that the relationship needs to be ‘healthy’ and not pose an obstacle in leading normal, balanced lives.

Having said that, Mayank from Mumbai also believes that there is an unhealthy inclination towards instant gratification, and a tendency to opt-out of relationships if there is no instant connection. The conversation around ‘instant gratification’ brings us to the most significant lack in the 21st century – time. The lack has been amplified further by the presence of social media in our lives, which serves to destroy the very social fabric our lives are based on.

The overarching presence of social media in our lives is one of the many reasons why we, as a generation are riddled with a cognitive overload of unhealthy proportions. There is literally clutter all around – on our phones, our tables, on our to-do-lists etc. It is probably the reason why GenZs are often called “the tired generation”. Often adding to the woes of our already cluttered life is the provocative power of social media, which allures us with the illusory glimpse of what our peers are doing. ‘Doomscrolling’ on our tabs has become a regular feature of our lives. So, we also need to take into account the intersectional role that technology plays in our lives, and how its effects spill over in our love lives. If you don’t feel like going for anything ‘serious’, rather opting for more casual relationships after a long day of work behind your laptop, could you just blame it on yourself? There are more societal forces that are at play in this scenario than one could imagine. Instant gratification might be a choice in certain cases, but in others, it might just be a compulsion.

Mayank, therefore, believes that “figuring ourselves out whilst exposing ourselves to instant gratification might actually lead to healthier relationships in the long run, than mindless adherence to arbitrary social bullshit – something our parents’ generation was complicit in doing.”

No Strings Attached

Another psychological and societal factor that contributes to our fascination with ‘instant gratification’ aka ‘casual sex’ and ‘casual emotional attachment’ (something you can opt-out of any time) is the ready availability of dating apps. Just like Zomato, Swiggy, Uber and other ‘essential’ services, Tinder, Grindr, Bumble etc. overwhelm us with potential dating matches in the blink of an eye. Sex is just one click away. It is a sharp departure from that of previous generations when both men and women needed to wait until after the courtship period to even consider making any sexual advances towards each other.

Vismaya from Mumbai disproves of ‘casual dating, and says that he doesn’t really understand it. Talking about the current dating scene, he says that “reaping all the benefits of dating without actually dating” is something that he struggles to come to terms with.

Contrarily, however, Gauri from Delhi looks upon casual dating in more positive terms, wherein “.... We don’t compromise on our values and tend to put importance in our well being as well. We think about ourselves. We question.”

The implication is that casual relationships make way for autonomy and stronger connections with oneself, building a sort of agency that is hard to attain once you are in a ‘serious’ relationship, as we call it. But, can we always have agency while going through the vicissitudes of life? That is something we need to ponder on.

The Marriage Story

Coming onto the question of marriage among GenZs (another aspect explored in our survey), one significant concept that comes to the fore is the idea of the institution as a social construct, carrying with it, a chequered history of misogyny and discrimination. Down the ages, especially in South Asian societies, marriages have seldom been anything more than a calculative transaction in the guise of love. Women were looked upon as commodities, who could be bought and sold with dowry, so that they could perform household chores and provide free sexual gratification to their husbands. The GenZs are questioning, “Where is love in all this?”

Someone from Hyderabad says, “It is absurd the kind of power a piece of paper wields over a relationship! It is an obsolete construct, from where we should instead shift our focus to companionship.”

Neha Daga from Kolkata, says, “Marriage is overrated. Commitment is not. If you trust someone enough, you can be committed to him or her. Even though I might end up having kids someday, I don’t mind adopting either.”

The overall trend of the responses regarding marriage shows that it is not something that is a must-do for GenZs. Rather, they look at it as something that they might or might not want to get involved in, depending on a variety of factors. An interesting observation shows that even though most of them want to get married or at least desire companionship in their lives, very few want to have kids. In the cases they do, they feel that adoption is a better alternative. Many are concerned about having to bring a child into this world which is already over-populated, as well as on the verge of a climate catastrophe. Environmentalism seems to be at the forefront of dialogues around reproduction, among the GenZs.

All these conversations, however, boil down to the idea of ‘love’, and how it is perceived by/among this age group.

Poisonous Love

In their quest for the perfect kind of ‘love’, however, GenZs agree that they often end up hurting and getting hurt. An overwhelming majority of people (60%) in the survey said that they have ghosted someone, while 45% said that they have been ghosted.

Coming to the topic of toxicity in relationships, Aanchal Reddy from Hyderabad says, “A relationship can become toxic when you don’t feel good about yourself, and your partner doesn’t respect you and vice versa.”

“Lack of personal space”, “gaslighting conversations”, “refraining from addressing issues of concern”, “resisting personal growth”, “never taking accountability for actions” etc. are few of the many things that Lakshya from Hyderabad, feels mark a toxic relationship.

Similarly, Vismaya from Mumbai believes that a relationship becomes toxic when “you forget to love yourself and live for yourself, and your life becomes incomplete without the other person.”

“When your life revolves around your significant other, insecurity and jealousy are the inevitable consequences,” he concludes.

An emphasis on clear communication and self-love are seen as two of the most pertinent ways of eliminating toxicity in relationships, by most of the responders.

‘Love’ doesn’t exist in isolation. Instead, it is instead dependent on a whole gamut of other social and cultural factors that shape identity and ultimately create our opinions and inclinations. Institutions of love, marriage, relationships are, at the end of the day, situated in the larger fabric of society and are not the fabrication of one single person. Attitudes of GenZs towards romantic relationships, marriage, and childbirth intersect with a lot of other factors like technology, geography, environmentalism, health etc. There is no “one size fits all”.

Just as there are good and bad sides to the same coin, there are both good and bad sides to the GenZs, and one should view their attitudes and ideologies in context, rather than studying them in isolation. Rather than straitjacketing them into what the older generation thought as ideal, one should view them as people doing the best they can, with what they have.

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