Dating at Swat

I’m going to admit something right off the bat: I’ve never dated anyone. Ever. I had crushes and what we call in the Philippines “mutual understandings,” which is basically the familiar situation when two people know they “like like” each other, spend time together like a couple would, but don’t actually make if official that they’re exclusively together. My lack of romantic relationships never bothered me, though. It allowed me more time to focus on myself and my studies, and I think I know myself as an individual better because of it. So, dating and romance aren’t really something to which I commit much of my time. However, last week was different. Valentine’s Day, Ninjagrams, and “Screw Your Roommate” practically forced me to at least think about love in general. Seeing couples give each other extravagant gifts, watching ninjas invade classes to hand out Valentine cards, and trying to match other people’s costumes in Sharples during Screw all made me question “Why do people date, anyway?”

The answer to many people is obvious: romance, love, attraction. I’ve seen it firsthand. Two people will start to develop romantic feelings for another and immediately, based on simple infatuation alone, become a couple. Indeed, that’s how dating is portrayed in teen romance movies and novels, and the couples lives happily ever after — with the exception of Nicholas Sparks novels, of course, which never have happy endings.

Just maybe, though, Nicholas Sparks is onto something when he writes two romantic characters filled with such passion and adoration for each other into infamously sad endings where they don’t end up together in the end.  According to author Helen Chen, more than 85 percent of relationships results in breakups. The statistics for those who don’t break up and end up marrying each other aren’t ideal either. As it turns out here in the U.S., marriages — which are supposed to be the strongest of romantic relationships — end in divorce nearly 50 percent of the time. Second marriages end in divorce 60 percent of the time, and third marriages end in divorce 73 percent of the time. I highly doubt that two people who love or thought they loved each other date or marry with the intent of separation. Why, then, are the numbers so high?

Surrounded by Valentine’s activities and adoring couples at Swat last week, I realized that the reason why so many relationships are unsuccessful may be because people date for the wrong reasons. Like I said before, American culture seems to paint infatuation as the highlight and main reason for romantic relationships, which would be fine if those feelings and emotions lasted forever. The truth is, they don’t. Feelings of infatuation can go away in a matter of a years, months, and even weeks. (The longest infatuation stage I’ve read about is a mere two years.) I think it’s common knowledge that feelings and emotions aren’t permanent, yet for some reason many people seem to think that feelings of romance will be. That’s not to say someone in a romantic relationship will eventually stop loving and caring for their partner; obviously, that’s not true. But the “falling head over heels” feelings that were initially present during the first stages of dating will disappear over time. So it’s big trouble if two people decide to date solely because of those initial feelings of romance and infatuation. Once those feelings disappear, so will the relationship.

For a romantic relationship to last, then, it must be based on things much more permanent than the emotion of infatuation. I think those fundamentals are 1) shared values and 2) commitment to add each other to that set of values. Without these two things, no amount of affection, attraction, or even love can give a couple a long term lasting future. This may be the reason why arranged marriages globally have such high success rates. Arranged marriages in India, for example, are based first and foremost on shared values of the two families. Once this is established, emotion takes second priority. The divorce rate in India is, not surprisingly, only about 1 percent. American culture might make it intuitive to think that despite low divorce rates, the marriage might still be an unhappy one, but that is the opposite of the reality. 74 percent of young women are satisfied with these types of arranged marriages. According to author Dana Adam Shapiro, in America, only 17 percent of marriages are happy, . Dating based on values rather than feelings play a large, if not a determining, role in the long term future of any couple.
I’m not calling for all marriages, or even dates, to be arranged, but I am calling for a change in our understanding of the purposes of dating. There’s nothing wrong feeling infatuation for the person you are dating, but there is something wrong if that is the only thing the relationship is based on. Obviously, I can’t know if this is the case for any couple here at Swat, and even if I did, it’s not my place to judge anyone’s relationship. However, I do think it’s reasonable to be genuinely concerned about my peers and urge caution to anyone who is open to it. I caution this: on days like Valentine’s Day where feelings of attraction and infatuation in a relationship typically surge, especially with all of the Valentine’s day events held at Swat, please don’t use those feelings to then drive the relationship. Mere feelings don’t guarantee a worthwhile future, but it is instead shared values and commitment to those values that move people, communities, and relationships forward.

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