Before the age of 18, I observed eight loved ones go through divorces. In essence, I started college with more examples of why relationships didn’t work than why they did work. Yet, finding a partner was always important to me.
The actual dating experience was hard and lonely for me (more details about what that was like here). But, once past the initial dating phase, I found that each time I met a [potentially] suitable mate, I would quickly assemble a list of reasons why the relationship wouldn’t work rather than why it would. I turned to friends and family for advice, but that wasn’t enough since they were often biased towards my perspective. I tapped into other resources - therapy, The Gottman Institute, influencers, and random tidbits I came across on Reddit - but I struggled with how to go from dating to figuring out if someone was right for me in the long-term.
There was no rubric, no guide, no go-to resource to troubleshoot, ask questions, get advice. And yet Warren Buffet asserts that this, who you choose to marry, is the most important decision in life. That decision on who you choose affects you emotionally, physically, financially…literally how you spend your time on this planet.
Feeling lost, in 2018, I created an anonymous Instagram account to process dating and figuring out if someone was right for the long-term. I asked loved ones to follow. They cheered along and soon strangers did too. That account equipped me with a third-party, unbiased perspective that changed everything. It was the space I craved to process my experience when I wanted to and on my terms. The community was along for the ride - to provide objective feedback, share their experiences, and wave a foam finger when I needed it.
When I declared I met someone who seemed too good to be true on the IG account, I received DMs saying, “Don’t overthink it,” when I was indeed overthinking it. When I said I was trying to figure out if this was the long-term relationship that led to marriage, I asked the community what they would ask (or wished they had asked), in addition to Googling “questions to ask before getting married”.
One person dove in with suggestions on how to plan a fun weekend retreat around the topic of “spending our lives together” so we could unpack it as a couple. At first, I felt awkward about investing so much into the decision, but then I thought about how much effort goes into new launches or even annual planning at work. Why wouldn’t I do that for my life? And then, when I got engaged, someone said, “I’m thrilled now you can focus on problem-solving life and building a great relationship with this person.”
I went into my new marriage with less of the rose-colored, Hollywood romance perspective, and a better understanding of what people mean when they say “marriage is work”. All of this helped me feel like I “did my homework”, and I am better equipped to savor the fun parts and better handle the constant reinvestment in partnership because of this community.
My hope is for everyone to feel supported the way I was, which is why I launched Meet The Otter, a virtual community and (group) coaching experience for dating and relationships backed by behavioral science. Given that partnership is the most important decision of one’s life and yet we have the least amount of information to make this decision, we decided to study it. Over two years, we spoke to executives at Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, and HowAboutWe, connected with mental health professionals, and surveyed 1K+ members of our community. Here’s what we learned:
- The first example matters. The first example of romantic partnership we’re exposed to is our first impression. In our community, 56.9% of people revealed that their first example of a romantic partnership was not a healthy dynamic. When dating, the default is to compare the current dating experience to that first example to identify patterns. It takes self-awareness and in-depth exposure to new relationships to train the brain to look for other patterns.
- Inspiration can come from other places. Since the first relationship impression wasn’t a healthy experience for the majority, we asked where they found inspiring examples. Most stemmed from friends (38%), parents (25%), other relatives (12%), followed by examples found in articles and research (11%).
- Having a place to process is important but there is no perfect place. The most common destination to process dating or relationship challenges is with friends, according to 96.3% of respondents. However, this outlet was not without limitations. A few common concerns included, “a lack of objectivity” with friends or “a desire to have a neutral, non-judgmental third party who doesn’t know you but understands your relationship status”.
- There is fear around commitment. According to Pew Research, 38% of millennials grew up in a single-parent home. It is likely this experience cultivates some fear around a marriage not working out - 60% of our community fears divorce, 23% sometimes fear it, and 17% definitely do not fear it.
- We need a dedicated place to talk about this part of our lives. According to our community, 95.1% of people wish they had a place to talk about dating and relationships outside of close friends and family. That third-party perspective, removed from one’s day-to-day personal life, can be a place to process dating and relationship journeys. Through community interviews, we learned that people often relied on work colleagues to be that third-party perspective and destination to process, which many people lost during the pandemic and a mostly remote work experience persists. Pre-pandemic 61% of our community had a ‘work spouse’ and relied on them for dating or relationship advice. Today 83% miss having a work spouse and a space to talk about their journeys.
How are you caring for this part of your life? If you’re interested in long-term partnership, how are you going about making this most important decision?