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Why dating is becoming an elusive affair

 Why dating is becoming an elusive affair (Photo: iStock)

Last week, I had an interesting conversation with a lady who has been in “the market” for quite some time. My question to her was simple: why are many young people today unable to commit to lasting relationships?

She stopped short of making me swear not to use her real name lest I extend her ‘heartbreak’ further. So let us call her Aisha. And she is in her mid-30s. Her story mirrors her current situation.

“Once upon a time, before the mobile phone redefined communication, humans dated,” she began. “It was real love. A boy met a girl, usually at Kenya Cinema in Nairobi after a phone call via the telephone booth. They went out with the little he had and before long there was a wedding.”

Aisha was metaphorically talking about her parents who taught her all she knows about love and the patience to wait for one’s heartthrob. Aisha has been seeing a man that she hoped would have the enduring qualities she saw in her father. But true love keeps eluding her, ebbing away faster than those electricity tokens.

Does she still believe in love?

“Yes. I see it with my parents who, while they may irritate each other on occasion, stick it out. They are calm, happy and okay. They raised us in a happy home,” she says, blaming today’s flagging commitments on overreliance on social media.

“Our parents used post office boxes to communicate. That meant there was no way a boy or a girl would date multiple individuals. Today, people are in a relationship just by clicking on social media thus creating illusions that there are many options. But social media cannot create lasting relationships,” she says.

Anyone below 35 years of age was born and brought up in a highly digital world where the cell phone replaced that odd-looking phone booth. Where the quick text message has replaced the handwritten letter that would take weeks to get to the recipient, and oftentimes delivered to some nondescript location.

The fast-paced technological age has taken with it the romantic flare that made men kings and women queens. Today’s relationship is a little more than a mere whisper in the game of love. Technology has redefined the dating game for millennials, and any other generation after that.

“Dating has never been simple, but the digital age has made it more complicated than ever,” states the American marketing solutions firm, MDG. “Rather than going out on traditional dates, millennials are much more inclined to text potential love interests. They have grown up in a digital world of technological connections and endless options.”

The “endless options” include the freedom to move out of a relationship as soon as undue expectations are unmet, with pressure from social media doing little to stave off such expectations in the era of instant gratification.

Janet Wambui, a stall operator in downtown Nairobi, is in a serious relationship with a man she intends to marry. Her friends are rooting for her but she faces pressure from some of the well-to-do friends who keep tagging her whenever they take an exotic holiday.

“You will see someone doing something for his lover, for example, trips. You have been happy with your man but the moment your friend is taken on that trip, you are like, ‘Why can’t my man do it’? And there is pressure thereafter,” she says.

Wambui has to keep checking her pressure point, lest the air seeps out and their relationship implodes. She has resisted calls from some of her friends to get “a serious man” who can take her places and hopes things will not fall apart, and that the centre will hold. 

“People don’t want to grow with the person they say they love but want to know what they are getting out of the relationship. It could be the pockets or looks, not just because you like the person. Relationships are becoming more like commercial transactions,” she says.  

While the fast-paced modern life may be to blame for the fleeting relationships, men have their reasons for abandoning the cause midstream.

John Ougo, a computer geek in the city and who has been in and out of love several times sums his three reasons for abandoning the cause midstream, but all boil down to the often-touted phrase “trust issues”.

“It is the fear of losing freedom, fear of rejection and fear of commitment. What if I commit then she turns out to be the wrong person? I have been hurt before and I fear a repeat of the same,” says Ougo.

Still, Ougo wants to get on the boat again but the fear of capsizing overcomes him.

Interestingly, while some men fear committing to a relationship, they still want to enjoy casual flings with members of the opposite sex. They approach the matter the same way one approaches a campfire: Get around and get warm but not too close to burn yourself.

“I am still in my studies,” says Duncan Musyimi. “I don’t mind being a friend as long as there is no pressure for a long-term commitment. We still have time.”

Still, some believe that a relationship must work and will never abandon ship at the slightest hint of a leak.

Faith Mwende*, a media practitioner is in a happy marital relationship, and though she admits it is not all rosy, she will not leave her man for ‘flimsy’ reasons, including infidelity. She will only draw the line where physical violence is concerned “as you do not know where that will end up”.

“My man has gone out with another lady, so what? I can’t leave him because of cheating but will try and understand why he cheated. The last thing I would think of is to confront the other woman,” says Mwende, whose words might be music in the ears of many men.

In an era where there is a distorted view of the roles of men and women in a relationship, Mwende holds to the traditional role of a woman being a homemaker and the man being the provider.

“Submission does not mean that I am weak. I am happy in my role as a woman. It is a dignified one and my man knows it. This thing of endless competition between the sexes is stupid,” she says.

Aisha concurs with Mwende’s thoughts about the role of both genders in a relationship. She blames what she calls ‘relationship gurus’ who are nothing but spoilers out to ruin the party for those in a happy relationship.

“You will find them in radio talk shows and online forums,” Aisha says. “They never seem to have anything good to say about either gender. They will question why a man is doing or buying something nice to a woman who will eventually leave him. They fret at the instincts of a woman to nurture, the way our mothers took care of our fathers. To them, a woman is a gold digger. Romance is dead, they say.”

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