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Here’s Why You’re Struggling In Relationships, According to Science

A behavioral scientist explains how your detachment style could be affecting your love life.

shayes17/ Getty Images
shayes17/ Getty Images

More and more of our digital dating world keeps coming up with new terms for bad dating behavior. Thought it was just happening to millennials? Think again. My Happiness Hypothesis study found that it is happening across the globe to both men and women for millennials and GenX.

Dating apps are creating a paradox effect in dating: it’s giving off the illusion of many choices while making it harder to find viable options.

For the Happiness Hypothesis Study, I conducted in-depth interviews with men and women, ranging from ages 28-73, that are active online dating app users and found that:

  • 80% reported it being easier to ghost, bench, gaslight or breadcrumb because of the lack of communication and face-to-face interaction
  • 80% of millennials reported having experienced ghosting, benching, gaslighting or breadcrumbing firsthand
  • 50% of GenXers reported having experienced ghosting, benching, gaslighting or breadcrumbing firsthand
  • 45% reported the average length of dates in between ghosting someone was 8
  • 50% reported an average of at least 3 months before reaching out again to the person they ghosted

While you waited for a response and wondered why you weren’t worthy a response, the other person had about 8 dates. We’re treating people like we do our social media streams. The shiniest object is what we stop at, then move onto the next shiny object. This approach to people and relationships is creating a paradox effect. It is also creating a deeper dependence on what I call, “vanity validation”, the one you portray on your social networks and the true you, for some, creates a double consciousness. Your lauded self on social media is constantly seeking more validation through electronic likes, not life.

Dealing with this as normative relationship behavior begins to erode hope for a partner and begins a cycle of lowered expectations.

Is technology driving dating, sex and emotion? Are dating patterns just an extension of how we behave on social networks? We’re connecting, not committing. We are only broadcasting the positive aspects of our lives on social media-the highlight reels. If we only broadcast the “look at me”, are we able to deal with the side of rejection, detachment, and non-commitment? In life, you don’t always only get highlight reels. Who is by your side when the non-highlight reel moments occur in life? The drama queen? Baby daddy? Your favorite social stalker? The truth is that dating has become even more irrational.

As a Behavioral Scientist, what amazes me is the hypersensitivity we all seem to have about almost all aspects of life EXCEPT relationships. Isn’t it interesting that we stand up against bullying, shaming, or political un-correctness; but with people we have interest in we act with total disregard? Is it technology that’s driving our behavior or that we are to attached to our devices and are cognitively evolving?

After reviewing my data, I found some correlations that corresponded to styles of behavior. Detachment. That’s what is driving the behavior.

So, I developed what I call, the Detachment Styles theory. Afterall, it is their detachment to outcomes that is making people behave the way they do.

Sick of showing up for a date that you think is not even going to work out? Ghost. You want to avoid confrontation with another human being? Ghost. You found the person somewhat compatible but now don’t? Ghost. Sick of your job? Ghost? Think the job is going to suck after the interview is set up? Ghost. Want to avoid anything that might have the slightest potential of triggering something within you? Ghost.

The Four Distinct Detachment Styles*

Ambivalent. This style often rationalizes themselves out of opportunities often. They don’t want to put in any additional effort into a relationship because they predict the outcome will be negative. They also avoid confrontation and will abruptly leave situations without forewarning.

Dismissive. This style often replaces their desires with some other compensatory behavior. They have a fear of faulty decision making and they don’t trust themselves emotionally.

Secure-stable. This style seeks security and stability in their environment and they adapt to changes in their environment with ease. They proceed with caution because they often have patterns and cycles of dating the same types.

Displaced. They attach to their digital world and persona as a source of support and human interaction. Their sense of self is dependent on their digital selves that seek “vanity validation”. They’re fulfilled by the world that they have created and do not necessarily derive happiness by being around people physically.

*All rights reserved. No part of this theory may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the author.

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