How Twentysomethings Shame Each Other Romantically

by Lily Feinn
friends going out for a drink
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When you are pushed into the professional world as a twentysomething, there is a lot of pressure to have everything sorted. You "must": have a good career (or at least a job that may lead to one), be in a good relationship (or dating seriously to find that person), as well as find the time to have new and exciting experiences (so that you are “living to the fullest”). With so much riding on this tumultuous decade, we tend to be highly critical of ourselves and those around us. We project our own fears and concerns on to our friends and lovers, oftentimes judging each other too harshly. But growing up is not a competition.

The shock of entering the “real world” and becoming doubtful of our choices can unfortunately manifest in a quarter life crisis. Everyone wants to feel like they are correctly transitioning from being at school or with their parents into paying-the-bills, working-the-job adulthood. However, it usually ends up being a scary, lonely, and very confusing process with plenty of stress and anxiety. Comparing ourselves unfavorably to our peers only makes it worse, and it’s natural that many use being judge-y as a way to feel better about ourselves. “The most common reason that people shame others is to quell their own feelings of hurt, annoyance, irritation, insecurity or displeasure. The attack is a way to feel empowered by disempowering,” says clinical psychologist Offra Gerstein, Ph.D.

As we move through our 20s, the clock can seem to tick down on finding the right path. One’s romantic life is often observed under a microscope. Depending on who you ask, love and dating in your 20s means different things. You can’t have too many partners or too few, and should either get serious with your S.O. or break up and start fresh. Listening to these conflicting opinions on where you should be romantically will inevitably make you ask each step of the way, “Am I not doing this thing right?”

But no matter what you do in your romantic life, it is good put our critical eye aside. When we are in our 20s we may be outwardly accepting, but secretly are being hella judge-y of each other's dating life. In order to break the chain, let's take some time to reflect on how we judge people's love lives, and what we shame them for.

1. Marrying "Too Early"

People say that your 20s are supposed to be the best time of your life. They encourage you to get out there, date around, have exciting experiences and see what the world has to offer. Common beliefs hold that you “should” be using this decade to find yourself — both establishing an identity as an independent adult and romantically.

The bucket list of experiences that you are “supposed” to have in your 20s goes on and on, and “settling down” isn’t usually on it. Many of our parents got married in their early-mid 20s, bought a house, and started having kids. The Millennial generation is establishing a new norm of getting around to that stuff later. Choosing to live with roommates instead of spouses and prizing career success and personal exploration over a wedding band. The median age for getting married has climbed from 22 years old in 1977 to pushing 30 today.

For those who choose to get married, they can feel like they are part of a select minority. The choice can be isolating and the judgement comes from all around, including friends and the media. The internet is flooded with articles pointing out that divorce rates are highest among those who marry in their early 20s. Families and friends question whether two people not yet established in the adult world can make such an adult decision and successfully support themselves. These judgements help no one. Celebrate don’t hate when your friends get engaged, and trust that only they know what is best for themselves and their relationship.

2. Not Getting Engaged

If you are in a long term relationship, after a few years, people start to bombard you with the question of when they can expect to hear wedding bells. But just because you’ve been with someone for a certain number of years, doesn’t mean that marriage is the next step. Each relationship is different and there is no qualifier for when you have to “take it to the next level.” Our social feeds may be full of pictures of glittering diamonds on manicured fingers accompanied by the words “I said yes!” But marriage is a huge commitment and some may never feel that they want to legally bind themselves to another person. Our society is so wedding focused, you turn on the TV and there is at least one show on about getting married. Just because a couple decides to wait, or that it’s not the right choice, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the relationship, or that it is not a stable and loving one.

3. Being a “Hot Mess”

In the great pursuit of “f**k it and have fun,” a hot mess stands starkly against the idea that you gotta have it all together. It's important to be sex positive, but the term hot mess is inherently judgmental and negative. We need a new descriptive term in our lexicon that reflects positively on the modern female experience.

4. Sleeping Around “Too Much”

The liberal beliefs of those in their 20s might not always be in-line with their personal judgements. Millennials are actually on the whole highly judgmental of promiscuity, points out a 2010 article published in Slate. Author Jessica Grose calls millennials “Generation Scold” — a conventional, and even traditional generation.

Yes, we fight against slut-shaming constantly, trying to stop the insidious flow of criticism thrown at women (or men) for their real or imagined sexual activity. But when we confront someone who enjoys getting busy frequently, judgmental gossip usually ensues. It's important to remember there is no “correct” amount of sexual partners.

5. Not Wanting To Date

Yes, the 20s are usually a time of exploration, but it doesn’t have to be a time of romantic exploration. Alarmists say “If you wait too long, all the good ones will be taken!” Or “What if you decide that you want to have a baby in your 30s? What will you do?”

There is no hourglass running down on finding love. Nobody should be forced to date because people say that’s what they “should” be doing. Just because all your friends are on Tinder doesn’t mean you have to join.

Relationships can take away from a person’s focus, whether it’s on their career or hobbies. Not every fairytale has to end with a kiss. Some of them end with a girl having some quality alone time on the couch in her sweatpants about to watch that show she’s been dying to see.

6. Having Kids

Many people in their 20s today are waiting to start families. At 26 years, the average age for American women to have her first child has reached a high. According to the CDC 2013 statistics report, it has increased by 3.3 years since 1980. Most mothers are still under the age of 35, but births for women in their 20s and teens are dropping, says Business Insider.

Many factors attribute to this trend including women wanting to first meet career goals, be in the perfect relationship, have enough adventures, and feel financially secure. This growing trend means more judgement is being lobbed at those who choose to start a family while in their 20s. Questioning whether someone is mature enough or established enough to have a kid is just another way of shaming them — at the end of the day, it is their decision.

7. Being “A Prude”

Even in high school, being dubbed a virgin or a prude was essentially social blacklisting. Peers may have judged you as afraid for not wanting to experiment. But just because Millennials popularized hook up culture and are more comfortable that past generations with the idea of casual sex, doesn’t mean everyone is getting down all the time and with copious partners. Social scientists believe that people in their 20s are more likely to have premarital sex today because people are waiting longer to get married. Wanting to wait till you’re in a committed relationship to have sex may seem like a wacky idea in today’s “swipe right” culture, but there is nothing wrong with protecting your emotions and your body. It is just as bad to judge someone for not having sex as for having too much of it.

8. Wanting A Boyfriend or Girlfriend Too Badly

While people may judge their peers for not being in a steady relationship, you can also catch flack for wanting to be in a relationship too badly. There is a wrongheaded idea out there that if you want a boyfriend, then you must not be happy as an independent woman. The idea that you should work on "finding yourself" and the right someone will come along is bulls**t. You can also be completely satisfied with yourself and feel ready for a partner — it doesn't always have to be about looking for a missing piece or someone to complete you.

9. How They Spend Time With Their S.O.

So too much TV and take out is a bad thing now?

10. How Much They Fight With Their Partner

If you've witnessed a couple having some problems at a dinner party, it may make you feel super grateful for your stable relationship. But before high fiving your S.O., remember we all fight, whether in public or in private. Even the most perfect couples in the world have disagreements. Even Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard. Sigh.

11. Their Use of Dating Apps

It seems almost everyone in their 20s is on some combo of dating apps. Some are seriously searching for an S.O., while others just want a random hookup, and the remaining 10 percent just like to swipe left and right. Everyone has their own belief how to best utilize dating apps, how many a person should have, and which are best for what purposes. But just because someone found a bf on Tinder, doesn't mean that works for everyone.

12. Whether Or Not They've Been In Love

There is no secret and no time limit. Feeling like it "should have happened by now" is useless, and don't let anyone make you feel that way.

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