Too Busy for Meaningful Relationships


The first time I saw this video, it seemed clear to me that the reason behind the decrease in meaningful relationships in Japan was the changing gender roles. I had the impression that the current bi-gender system that has been around for thousands of years had a purpose. For a long time I believed that the expression “opposites attract” also has a societal significance: that the social constructs of male-ness and female-ness were beneficial for society. In other words, two parents responsible for opposite roles in a family were a necessary part of a healthy family structure. While this may or may not be true, I believe I have come to find a deeper understanding of the economic/social drivers for changing gender roles, and it all revolves around one thing: We are becoming too busy for meaningful relationships. 

During the four or, in my case, five years that students are in college, I think it’s pretty common to experience a transition from having lots of free time, to having seemingly no free time by senior year. I remember taking a class my first-year where we recorded all of our daily activities throughout a week, down to every half-hour. We used this as a template to maximize our efficiency and be more productive workers. Looking back at this as the framework lifestyle that college life teaches students to embrace for their future careers, I am not surprised that this system pushes students to become machines in a way. We are competing so fiercely to just stay on top, or get on top, that we all lose. We act like machines trying to maximize output, forgetting about the things that matter in life. I digress.

What does “being too busy” do to our relationships with friends? family? significant others? Simply, we are too overworked to maintain those relationships. We start to become selective when deciding whether to spend time with friends. Have you ever decided not to go out because you had a test the following day? I would imagine that everyone has sacrificed time that they could spend cultivating healthy meaningful relationships so that they could stay afloat in the demands that work, college, etc. has. Worklife has invaded our personal lives with the onset of texting, phone calls, and email. Many try to put friends first, but at some point we have to admit that convenience plays a part in our lives that have been forced to maximum efficiency.

Further, we can understand the changing gender roles by understanding that the working class, despite having better techonology than ever before, has not seen a similar decrease in hours in the work week. The increase in need for both parents to work instead of having a stay at home parent, has put an added stress on those trying to financially maintain a family while spending time with family. Children learn a young age through experience or directly taught by their parents of the difficulties of raising a family without the financial support. We propogate the idea of prioritizing work over relationships by words like, “Get a college education and a good job before you settle down” “You can go out tonight if you have all your work done”. Obviously, I don’t disagree with these notions or I wouldn’t be studying at Bucknell. But I can also see the paradox of this age that the Dalai Lama explains.

dalai_lama_quote

Do I think that America is headed towards the Japanese lifestyle seen in the video? I agree that our culture is different and perhaps we hold relationships as higher priority than in Japan. However, I think that the seemingly unstoppable invisible hand will force us to begin sacrificing whatever we do not hold closest. It’s a force that pushes us to become more and more efficient without taking into account whether that is what people actually need. So yes, I think that most of the western world is next in line for a similarly disturbing future (dystopia).

I don’t mean to come off as pessimistic in this post, and am actually very hopeful considering the increase in exposure that we have put to these issues recently. Understanding and admitting that this is a problem and that there are negative consequences behind our actions today is the first way to initiate a change.

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8 thoughts on “Too Busy for Meaningful Relationships”

  1. Your post reminded me of an article I read in the NYT called Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too. I’ll just share this quote: “These women said they saw building their résumés, not finding boyfriends (never mind husbands), as their main job at Penn. They envisioned their 20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through all those transitions was hard for many to imagine. Almost universally, the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early 30s.”
    Busy, collegiate women are changing how the game works by devaluing the importance of relationships, but still seeking the benefits that come from a hook-up. The invisible hand will force us to shed the external shell of a ‘relationship’ from the hook-up experience.

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    1. Thanks Liz! I read the NYT article. I found it interesting how Kate and I both use economics as a way of understanding social trade-offs. We all seem to be in agreement of the way that things seem to be heading, and I also think it’s great that women are beginning to build stronger careers for themselves. I think this eases the load that seems to be bearing down on society. The questions that I am still left with after this blog post are, (Since it seems we are on a path to get busier and NEED more convenience in our personal lives) “Do we have to stay on this path towards more work?” and “Is shedding the “shell of a relationship” what we collectively want?”

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  2. Very much enjoyed how you tied your day-to-day decisions into the theme of the article. I’m curious-what do you think are the forces that drive this cultural change of becoming more impersonal in pretty much all of the western world?

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    1. Thanks Vlad! I think there are a lot of reasons that people will blame but they all have a common denominator. We can blame technology and how it disconnects our interactions, but we are the ones who choose to abuse it. We could blame changing gender roles and how men and women spend less time on each other, but that doesn’t explain why. I see a lot of these problems stemming from their roots in our current economic system. Because we try to maximize profits, we have to encourage maximum spending, which in turn creates a need to maximize users attachment to product as well as maximizing productivity at work.
      I’m all for getting the most out of life, but sometimes I think we made a wrong turn at some point.

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  3. Matt, I am also saddening to hear that the relationship is dying. I also don’t think it is possible for humans to function without feeling some sort of emotional attachment to someone, romantic or not. You point out that college students do not have time for relationships. Humans are social creatures. One will not survive college if all they do is work. Yes they may think hook-ups are ‘convenient’, but these are also due to college students being young, immature, and not ready for relationships. I know plenty of people who make efforts to go out and hang with friends despite their busy schedules. They may not have significant others, but if it something they wanted they would make the time. There is another factor at play here.

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    1. Kendall, I agree that we need emotional attachment, which is why the sort of lifestyle we are seeing now can be so harmful to our emotional and psychological health. Maslow believed that we have to satisfy our health and safety needs before addressing our need for emotional attachment. The sad part is that many times college and work can put people into the position where they could lose their career and sense of security if they don’t make sacrifices in other places.

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  4. is Dali Llama someone you find inspiring about these topics?

    The David Orr article from last week is relevant here. Two of the causes of the crisis- our evolution and the reliance of growth economics. You are in some ways saying we need to collectively re-prioritize relationships. In the evolutionary part, Orr was saying we evolved to live in smaller then big society social structures that relied on trust to operate and that we should figure out how to recreate those. Secondly, if we can figure out how to better measure and promote happiness or well-being, instead of simply wealth, we might start to see policies and institutions geared toward this view of well-being.

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