It is a generation that sees intimacy as a faint concept, dissolved on the edges and lacking in depth.
The hook-up culture, global research shows, is at an all-time low; young people today go on fewer dates and have less intimacy. Screen time, anxiety and social media haven’t helped matters either, by significantly curtailing actual interactions with potential mates.
Millennials frown upon commitment, and, sometimes, hedge their bet by having multiple partners. Love is expressed purely “on need,” with anyone and often casually. They also fall out of love as quickly as they fall in it. Anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher calls it “slow love.”
So, what is love to the average millennial? Has its expression shifted over time? Is this generation rewriting rules of love and courtship?
BDLife had a candid, no-holds-barred chat with millennials to understand love, intimacy and affection from their perspective.
MUTHONI NGUGI, 24, BUSINESSWOMAN
“Love is the desire to see someone happy and flourishing,” Muthoni says.
To her, no one would make their partner happy. Love, she says, has its limits.
“Happiness comes from within. You can’t love when you’re unhappy,” she adds.
“Love, or luv, means to listen, understand and validate. You must learn how to quiet your own mind to understand your partner and validate what they say for a happy union,” she says.
Is it possible to love more than one person? Muthoni doesn’t think so.
“When love is pure and genuine, it runs so deep that it occupies your entire being. Lust though leaves space for more than one person,” she argues.
Her family, she says, has influenced her view of love.
“Love begins at home. If you weren’t loved at home, then you wouldn’t know how it is like to be loved or to love someone else,” she says.
Should love have obligations? Muthoni thinks love can’t be complete without obligations. “You must be your partner’s biggest cheerleader, listen to them and understand them. Love isn’t about proving points and ability to provide but how much validation you give to your partner,” she says, arguing that love should be exclusive.
Her expectations from her partner? Effort, affirmations and exclusivity, she replies.
To Muthoni, both men and women are guilty of feeling entitled in any way “although every person is deserves faithfulness, honesty, communication and effort to make things work.”
“This is healthy entitlement mentality,” she says, noting, “but to regard privileges as rights is to miss the point.”
On investing in love, Muthoni says one has to do their best, show up, and be a better version of themselves.
“Work on yourself to be able to contribute to the other person’s growth. I’ve invested on intimacy and openness more than sex in my relationship,” she says.
On sex, she says: “It could just be a physical attraction rather than an emotional connection. Most people don’t get the difference.”
A slack in faithfulness, broken communication and effort is a red flag to her.
“I expect my partner to tell me where he’s at all times, what he’s doing and with whom. It’s an expression of open communication between us. If either of us isn’t willing to disclose such information, then it raises suspicion on our motives.”
As a businesswoman, Muthoni has some money, but she says it is a sensitive subject that sucks life out of otherwise vibrant relationships.
“I’m not sure where to start. I’d rather not discuss it,” she says.
EDDY ASHIOYA, 26, JOURNALIST
“Love is a social construct that exists to remind people that they have the ability to tolerate others for life,” Eddy says.
“If you can put up with how someone chews or snores for the rest of your life, then you love that person,” he says tittering naughtily.
Nowadays, it is trendy to be involved with multiple partners, and, curiously, having one partner is considered old-school. Eddy though has a different view.
“Is it possible to love only one person? Of course it is. You just need to invest your all in them,” he says.
His experiences have taught him that it’s possible to love someone from a distance.
Obligations, he says, are what differentiate love and a liking for someone.
“I may like you today but not tomorrow. I could just stop liking you. Once you love someone, there’s never going back; you love them for life,” he says.
So, what expectations does he have when he gets into a relationship?
“The person must declare their love to me. They owe me that much. I think it’s cool to be that bold,” Eddy says, noting that entitlement shouldn’t exist in the context of a relationship.
“If your partner is entitled in any way, you had better find a better deal. The only investment you should make is giving your heart. Any other thing, and especially money, depends on a person.”
While acknowledging that money should not be the motivation behind love, Eddy says that loving someone “who can pay the bills” is even better.
Time and trust are the biggest investments he has made in any relationship, he says, adding that his partner has paid back by being actively involved in his life for up to 50 per cent because “it’s the essence of love.”
When I ask him about sex, Eddy argues that it is for married couples.
He does admit though that having it doesn’t mean he loves them. “Cooking doesn’t make you a chef, does it? It could just be for the thrill of the moment. Nothing serious.”
STACEY OSORO, 23, STUDENT
I start off by asking her if she has she been heartbroken before, to which she answers no.
“I mostly dump the men I date,” Stacey says laughing. ‘‘This may look selfish, but I do so to guard my heart and to avoid being hurt. I have my amazing elder sisters to thank for this trick.’’
She adds that she walks out of a relationship as soon as she sees a red flag.
“Who wants to be hurt?”
What about sex? Does having sex with someone symbolise love? Not even in the vaguest way, she emphasises.
“Not in this age. There are casual interactions which doesn’t mean you love the person. There are even people in open relationships. You love your partner, alone, but you’re allowed to have other people.”
To her, love is having someone love her “despite all my demons, to understand and value me without many expectations’’. Someone, she says, who would give the whole world to her if he could.
“The beauty to my beast,” she adds, saying that love can’t be shared. “If you love the first guy, you wouldn’t fall for the second one.” “If you can, chances are you wouldn’t trust one of them.”
However, Stacey argues that one is at liberty to be involved with as many people as they can handle.
“You could pick five people, choose four, date three, love two of them but trust only one of them.”
She says when one is in love, obligations cease to be a burden and become an expression of affection.
“Taking care of each other and checking on each other regularly is a way of demonstrating your appreciation for them. It’s a priceless gesture.”
The only obligations her partner has of her is honest and regular communication. Stacey says no one is entitled to anything in a relationship.
In her view, a relationship should be a partnership and “not a business” where partners share goodies and the bills equally.
“If you’re in a relationship where you’re the sole provider, you just might be living through an exploitation scheme,” Stacey argues.
Romantic gestures, she observes, are usually the small authentic deeds rather than grand impressions “that sometimes have ulterior motives” or are meant to prove a point.
“Today’s relationships are an extreme sport!” she says: “Love requires a lot of work and commitment. It’s, however, worth the effort.”