Shedding binaries, breaking taboos, and more – love and sex looked different in a year full of big events and changes.
The way we think about sex and love is constantly changing, influenced by cultural, political, and global events.
This year was no exception. Much of that power was concentrated online, particularly in communities run by and for people who identify as LGBTQIA+. Meanwhile, the ripple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic’s self-reflection continued to shake the wider dating world, resulting in more intentional practises. People considered who they wanted to date and how they wanted to go about it.
In 2022, this meant that more people openly rejected gender and attraction binaries. For better or worse, we saw people relying even more on the internet to find potential partners. And daters became more vocal about trying out different types of relationships, ranging from solo polyamory to platonic life partnerships.
People are moving away from long-held binaries
Binaries have long defined relationships, gender, and sexuality in Western culture. A couple is either dating or not; a person is either attracted to women or men; a person is either a woman or a man. However, over the last few years, these binaries have become less entrenched as more people examine their sexual orientations and gender identities in new ways. This was especially noticeable in 2022.
In terms of sexual orientation, many people no longer consider a person’s gender when looking for a partner; this is especially true for many millennials and Gen Zers navigating intimate relationships. For some, it has even reached the “bottom of the list.” In terms of what they want in a partner. This is especially true for people who identify as queer or pansexual, which means their romantic and/or sexual desires are not based on gender.
As 23-year-old, London-based Ella Deregowska put it, identifying as pansexual has allowed her to “fluidly move and accept each attraction I feel without feeling like I need to reconsider my identity or label in order to explain it”. Experts believe that increased acceptance of non-binary attractions is due, in part, to increased representation in popular media, ranging from television shows like Canada’s Schitt’s Creek, in which Dan Levy plays the pansexual David Rose, to celebrities like Janelle Monae, who have identified as pansexual.
This year has seen a shift away from binaries in more than just sexual orientation. More young people (and celebrities) are moving away from using binaries to describe their gender. Many people can express themselves more authentically when they identify as non-binary or gender fluid. because that expression may not fit into a single black-and-white category. “One day I wake up and feel more feminine, and maybe I want to wear a crop top and put earrings on. “And then there are times when I’m like, I need my [chest] binder [to hide my breasts],” Carla Hernando, 26, of Barcelona, says.
Despite the fact that more people are breaking down sexual and gender binaries, dating can still be difficult for those who identify as non-binary. Not all parts of society have caught up with the movement away from binary gender norms, from dating apps enforcing gender binaries to partners pushing non-binary daters into gendered roles.
We’re increasingly challenging relationship taboos and traditions
This year, young daters’ relationships have increasingly defied established norms.
By purposefully entering into’situationships,’ Gen Z has embraced the grey area of dating. These connections meet needs for close companionship, intimacy, and sex, but they aren’t always based on long-term relationship goals, instead existing somewhere between a relationship and a casual hook-up. Gen Zers believe that “the situationship, for whatever reason, works for right now,” according to Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan in the United States who studies these types of relationships. And for the time being, “I’m not going to worry about having something that’s ‘going somewhere'”.
Overall, there is more acceptance of many types of nontraditional relationships. TikTok has been flooded with ethical non-monogamy, often in the form of polyamorous relationships, in which more than two committed romantic and sexual partners cohabit. Then there are open relationships, which can range from partners hooking up with other couples to those who have separate relationships with others outside of their primary relationship. There are also polyamorous people who prefer to live alone, adopting a’solo polyamorous’ lifestyle in which they live alone but engage in multiple, committed relationships. Others prefer to live with platonic partners, forming long-term relationships, and even purchasing homes and planning their futures with close friends rather than lovers.
Despite this, many relationship taboos and myths have persisted and are likely to persist. Single shaming, for example, has been going strong since the beginning of the pandemic, when a survey conducted by dating service Match revealed that 52% of UK-based single adults had experienced shaming for their (lack of) relationship status. People continue to judge Leonardo DiCaprio and his friends for their wide age disparities. Meanwhile, myths like “opposites attract” persist, despite the fact that they frequently do not.
Breaking up is hard to do – and Covid-19 and the economy make it harder
The increased comfort with various methods of dating hasn’t made break-ups any easier. Many couples who flourished under Covid-19 restrictions felt this acutely in 2022; having started dating in ‘couple bubbles’ during lockdowns, many are struggling to adapt to relationships under more normal circumstances. Some couples who thrive in solitude don’t fare well in the real world.
Nonetheless, by 2022, we’ve seen solutions for couples on the verge of divorce. From the United Kingdom to Canada, “life-changing” divorce coaches can assist married couples in navigating the mental health challenges of their divorces. These coaches represent a shift in the normalisation of both seeking therapeutic help during times of great stress and divorce in general. “Divorce is no longer viewed as a flaw in one’s character or a failure in one’s own life,” says Yasmine Saad, clinical psychologist and founder of Madison Park Psychological Services in New York City. Hiring a divorce coach, therefore, is as natural as “wanting financial advice before investing your money”.
Couples who want to go the distance can take a gap year, which is a long break that does not mean the end of their relationship. Relationship therapists report seeing more of this in the aftermath of the pandemic, as couples who have felt cooped up together for a few years want to explore life on their own without breaking up.
However, for couples who are determined to divorce, the recent economic downturn has trapped some in joint living situations. Living alone nowadays isn’t cheap, and neither is buying an ex-partner out of their share of a joint home. “I knew that I would never be able to afford to buy property again,” says Chantal Tucker, 37, who co-owns a London property with her ex-partner. “And the prospect of living in London indefinitely was becoming increasingly unappealing.”
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