There's a growing theory that American romance is becoming an All-or-Nothing Institution. Or as I like to think of it, a "Hell Yeah or No" Institution.
We've reached a pivotal moment in the history of courtship, teetering between romantic enlightenment and extinction. A maelstrom researchers are calling The Suffocation Model.
While studies show the average modern relationship is worse than ever before, they also indicate the best relationships are better than history has ever seen.
Gone are the days of institutional romance with its money and status. Gone are the days companionate romance with its detached intimacy and desire. We've entered the era of self-expressive romance.
And we want it all.
We now look to relationships for "Self-Actualization" on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. We expect partners to tickle the depths of our soul, play our trusted sidekick, inspire our journey of personal exploration, and satisfy our lust for novelty, among other things...
"As the idea that a major purpose of our lives is to self-discover and find the best version of ourselves became more prominent, we began to look to marriage to help us accomplish those things." -- Eli Finkel
Or as my friend succinctly summarized, "My best friend with whom I can be totally weird and have sex on a regular basis."
But there's a catch.
If you've read the other two articles in this series on The Fussy Suitor Problem and The Prisoners Dilemma, you know that Generation Y's commitment issues have created an epidemic of disappointing relationships. And this is also at the root of The Suffocation Model.
Research finds that Generation Y expects the more out of relationships than ever before, while also committing less time and energy to the process.
We half-ass our relationships and blow through partners with a fraction of the attention we dedicate to choosing our next Netflix binge. And then we pout when our relationships end and we find ourselves at home... on a Netflix binge.
And herein lies the All-Or-Nothing paradox.
On one hand, self-actualizing relationships require time, labor, and long periods of fidgety eye contact that we're generally unwilling to give. On the other hand, when done right, this self-expressive romantic era is creating the most holistically fulfilling and emotionally intelligent partnerships in romantic history.
We've reached an electrifying and tragic crossroads where relationships can fail harder or soar higher than ever before. So how can Generation Y satisfy their desire for autonomy, novelty, and exploration, while eventually landing on the favorable side of the All-or-Nothing phenomenon?
The answer is a Hell Yeah or No approach.
Entrepreneur Derek Sivers' devised his Hell Yeah or No philosophy to simplify decision-making. The rules are simple: If an opportunity doesn't make him say, "Hell Yeah," then it's a no.
There's no place for sort of interesting, maybe fun, kind of hot, or potentially cool. There's no yes, there's no maybe, there's no "let's stew on this for a few days."
There's only F**k Yes.
And when you find the rare Hell Yeah thing, you commit to it -- sickness or health, bankruptcy or liquidity event, unshaven legs or ballgown, you commit hardcore.
In other words, make your life binary. Don't waste time on the wrong side of The Suffocation Model, but instead hold out for Hell Yeah partners. This strategy means you get to say no - a lot. Unless you have low standards, very few people should be make you say Hell Yeah.
Science says a Hell Yeah partner will have a few markers:
They Make You Less Reactive.
A Hell Yeah partner will make you less - not more - anxious. When neuroscientists delivered an electric shock to women holding their partner's hand, the women in the best relationships (measured by relationship quality) showed a significantly lower neural response to the same level of electricity than women holding the hand of a less satisfying partner.
They're More Than a Passing Addiction
A Hell Yeah partner is not your obsession of the week. Neuroscientists found that staring at pictures of both committed partners and hot-and-heavy-flings will activate the same neural reward centers as cocaine. But only when looking at pictures of a Hell Yeah partner (measured by intensity of love) did brain regions associated with reduced fear and anxiety, and greater pleasure and pain relief activate.
They Pick Up What You're Putting Down
You just get Hell Yeah partners. When neuroscientists showed women videos of their partners where reactions didn't match the emotional label, like a partner smiling on a video labeled "Sad Memory," women with Hell Yeah partners (measured by relationship satisfaction) showed increased neural processing in brain regions rich in mirror neurons than women with less satisfying relationships. Mirror neurons are responsible for empathy, suggesting we're more in tune with our partner's emotional state in a F**k Yes relationship.
You Dig Their Answers to Thirty-Six Questions
There's a good chance you find my neuroscience classification of a Hell Yeah partner esoteric and obnoxious, so I'll offer a pop psychology suggestion as well. Read my ramblings on Falling in Love, Being in Love & Thirty-Six Questions, inspired by the New York Times Op Ed Piece To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. While I don't fully buy into the idea that answering these thirty-six questions will make you fall in love with anyone, I do think it's a good way to kickstart the process. If you can't say with relative confidence that they're a Hell Yeah partner after a few hours answering these questions, they're probably a no.
So find a Hell Yeah partner and go long.
Improve your odds of being the "all" in the All-Or-Nothing Institution by being unapologetically selective. Make commitment in relationships binary: It's no or it's F**k Yes.
And take Siver's advice, "When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say "HELL YEAH!""