This is the first in a three-part series regarding the romantic failings I have observed in my generation. The key word there is "observed." I could be wrong, and I could be projecting, but based on what I've seen in my own relationships and those of people I've been close to, these are the ways I think many of us are similarly damaged, and while I don't know what we should do about it, I think discussing it is a good place to start.
Nobody dances any more.
For generations, in times when physical contact – especially between men and women – was more of a taboo, dancing was used as a surrogate for other, more intimate physical experiences. Until the sexual revolutions of the 60s, merely holding hands was a social expression of romantic exclusivity among couples. Our grandparents didn’t believe in casual hookups. When discussing sexuality was regarded as perversion, dancing was the next closest thing people had that allowed them to come together and explore the magic of touch, learning all those subtle things about one another that we can't express verbally. It was one of the only social activities available at the time, through which people could symbolically unite – in as close to a sexual manner as they dared in those days – and experience each other as parts of a greater whole.
Millennials don’t do that so much. I suppose we still dance, but generally, everyone’s dance is more an expression of their individuality. We don’t dance with one another, so much as we just sort of dance near one another, alone. The closest we come to what was once thought of as dancing is the behavior you see in clubs, where what people are doing can best be described as dancing at one another; the grinding gyration a much less subtle foreshadowing of the participants’ eventual intentions.
But if you look at it another way, all we do these days is "dance." Our every interaction has developed a suggestion of a deeper ulterior meaning. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d bet one of the big reasons people my age prefer texting (especially when feeling out new romantic potential) is that it leaves a certain ambiguity that face to face conversation doesn’t. Our conversations and interactions are all swaddled in layers of pop-culture references, turns of phrase, analogies, and representational truths. Simple social interaction has become a dance.
I don’t know if this happened because as humans, we need some degree of obfuscation of our intent to feel comfortable going out on a limb. Maybe it’s just a side-effect of the technological disconnect I keep hearing about. That’s not what bothers me.
What bothers me is that, much like music, dancing was a unique and specific form of nonverbal interpersonal communication. You could communicate things, in a dance, that cannot be said with words – things that are either too multifaceted, too esoteric, or that leave people too personally vulnerable to express plainly. The way you can say “I love you” a thousand times, but it will never quite resonate the way it does with the right single kiss, through dancing, you could once explore a whole range of more subtle emotions with someone you weren’t necessarily ready to kiss.
And now we gloss over that very important part of courtship. In fact, we seem to gloss over courtship itself, most of the time. Most of my failed romantic expeditions in the last decade, and most of the ones I’ve watched my friends struggle with all come back to the specific (if not simple) issue of people not knowing each other well enough before making an emotional commitment. The “dealbreakers” that come up a month or two into a relationship are often subtle personality traits that either should have been spotted earlier, or inconsequential surprises that get blown out of proportion. Maybe one waltz wouldn’t fix that. But if after 5, you noticed that your partner never lets you lead, it may get you thinking earlier about whether you really see eye to eye on life in general.
I don’t dance. It feels silly and vulnerable. I lose control at rock shows that move me, but like I said earlier, that’s an isolated expression of my interaction with the music, not the necessarily the people I'm surrounded by.
But I wish I did, because I bet it would be less lonely.