Pleading with pervasive personal promiscuity

To dump or not to dump?” Had Shakespeare sketched Hamlet in 2003, the charming prince might be seen lightly pulling out a cigarette atop of the Washington Avenue Bridge, puffing not about “being” but about “dumping.” After all, relationship turmoil seeps ever-so-stealthily into our morning tea, leeches on our skin during the day and lurks in insomniac nights.

For the average college student who carries four classes, a 10-hour job and two extracurricular activities, leaping in and out of the dating pool seems an excellent, if not distracting, hobby. Humans enjoy relationships, and young humans with raging hormones enjoy sex. So what is wrong with savoring the carnal feast? A lot.

To begin with, “playing the game” might lead to unsteady relationship patterns in the future. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, younger people – for the first time, in keeping with current trends – face a 40 percent to 50 percent chance of divorce. Most divorces occur after three to five years of marriage, a stark contrast to the traditional life-long partner mentality lodged in people less than a century ago.

Although this shift might be due to whirlwind lifestyles, more liberal views on love, the decreased authority of the church and the little societal pressure against divorce, one cannot help but wonder if it has its roots in “the game.”

My friend once joked she changes boyfriends more often than she changes socks. Chuckling, she explained that it takes time to find qualities she wants in a man. Her argument seems standard. But let me pose an alternative question: Will desirable qualities ever be united in one person? If Bobby is sentimental, then Jimmy is decisive, and Freddy is exhilarating.

According to Robert Epstein, editor in chief of Psychology Today, a common myth in the United States is that there is someone out there who is “just perfect” for us.

This misconception is perpetuated by popular culture in movies such as “Serendipity,” in which John Cusack and Kate Beckinsdale’s characters both dump their respective partners in search of “real love.” The film ends on a familiar “happily ever” Disney note, leaving us craving for such unlikely encounters in our own trouble-wrought relationships.

In truth, every relationship carries with it a unique set of dynamics that are ever-changing. Psychological studies reveal that one can only stay infatuated with his or her partner for a mere three years before essential neuro-chemicals become desensitized or overloaded. After this “high period,” realities of personal differences, financial difficulties and incompatible living styles start to put a strain on the relationship.

Often, this is when we begin to think we have found the wrong partner and start the search for alternatives, only to find that the “new” and “improved” partner isn’t that savior either. And so the cycle of dissatisfaction begins and continues in divorce after divorce.

Casual sexual relations with these partners only confound the situation. Evidence shows that an exclusive sex partner is associated with the lowest rates of negative feelings and the highest rates of positive feelings. Considering this, friends with benefits might not be emotionally beneficial after all.

I do not wish to argue that we should abandon the current dating patterns in exchange for monogamy (sticking to just one dating partner) or that everyone fits into this category; instead, I simply think we ought to ponder the various “western” concepts of love. In many countries such as India, Japan and China, love is regarded as a destination rather than a starting point in a long and arduous process of cultivating compatibility.

I once heard a pointed saying that any relationship is like rubbing two stones together. Only after years of friction will the two rough surfaces start to mold into one piece like jigsaw puzzles. Rather than tossing one stone out after another, perhaps we should start to shape them.

Diana Fu is a sophomore. Her column appears every other Wednesday. She welcomes comments at [email protected]