What Is the "Bare Minimum" and Why Are Millennials Tired of It?
How millennial women are shattering modern dating and relationship culture... one breakup at a time.
Paul Dolan, behavioral scientist, researcher, and happiness expert at the London School of Economics, identified single women with no children as the happiest subgroup of people based on longitudinal research following data from the American Time Use Survey, which compared levels of pleasure and unhappiness among adults who are unmarried, married, or previously married. What does that mean, exactly? Women are realizing they are better off single.
With this new awareness, cis-/het- women are making conscious choices about who they settle down with, which led to my favorite article to date published by Psychology Today, titled “What's Behind the Rise of Lonely, Single Men,” written by… drumroll, please… a man himself. Dr. Greg Matos, PsyD, is an author, psychologist, and United States veteran. He served as a Lieutenant Commander of the Marine Corps and Navy for over a decade. With regard to relationships, Dr. Matos suggested that men address skill deficits in order to meet their partners’ expectations. His words, not mine (I swear).
Society has evolved dramatically since the post-WWII era, which transformed relationship dynamics. Historically, men were viewed as physical and financial providers, while women managed household and caretaking duties. Today’s generations of working women have less time to manage households, let alone children, and rely on their partners for assistance; however, the modern-day male role has not evolved to meet these new expectations. Insert: skill deficits, as per Dr. Matos.
The product of these skill deficits equates to the “bare minimum,” or the baseline of effort needed to effectively sustain a healthy relationship. This is a polite way of saying men contribute very little to the emotional and cognitive foundations of their relationships. As a result, women are tired.
Identification of the bare minimum—respect, quality time, communication, and conflict resolution, among other qualities—led to waves of raw conversation about modern dating and relationship norms. One conversation in particular centers around equity between male and female counterparts. Research shows that women carry the bulk of household and emotional responsibility in a relationship. New developments around the “mental load” suggest women also carry the bulk of cognitive responsibility.
From planning family birthday presents, to restocking the fridge, soothing upset children, and shopping for the one specific brand of food that the family’s dairy-, beef-, and soy-free dog can eat, women are doing it all. They are single-handedly managing households with little to no gain. In fact, middle-aged married women are at an elevated risk of both mental and physical conditions, as described by Wendy Patrick, J.D., Ph.D., a career prosecutor and behavioral analyst. Married women are quite literally suffering in the nuclear household.
In fact, a recent Instagram trend highlighted tens of thousands of women who felt they needed to leave childcare instructions for their husbands before leaving their homes—either for a few days, or just a few hours. Why is this happening? Why do so many men require instructions to care for their own children?
Most millennials watched these relationship dynamics play out in their own childhood homes. In my clinical work with adults in their 20s and 30s, the average client describes their family system in one of two ways: divorced, or two parents who stayed together in a loveless marriage “for the kids” while mom regularly “melted down” and dad was “emotionally distant.” The clients who came from a nuclear family all recalled their mother contributing most to their household in terms of childcare and emotional labor, regardless of whether or not mom was employed (though most were).
Conversations about mental health erupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprising, considering people across multiple generations were finally forced to sit alone with their thoughts for the first time since the rise of modern technology. The sudden prioritization of mental health on a societal scale led to a significant drive—possibly the largest since the women’s suffrage movement—to deconstruct “traditional” gender roles and their impact on the family system, which led to the aforementioned discussions about male skill deficits, the bare minimum, and the mental load.
So… what do strong and empowered cis-/het- women do when they are tired of carrying the burden of the physical, emotional, and cognitive loads combined? They set it down and pursue new partners who meet their expectations.
Millennial women finally said “no” to patriarchal norms. They’ve realized they are better off alone than with a partner who neither notices nor appreciates their contributions to the relationship. In fact, recent demographic reports for popular dating app, Tinder, revealed 75% of users identified as male. It is safe to assume the man below is probably one of them.
Dating and relationship norms have evolved to weed out bitter and oppressive men like Mike. Topics that were once taboo to discuss with prospective partners are confronted before agreeing to a first date. A man’s desire for children, interest in commitment, and preferred core values are now topics that women approach with confidence. The “cool girls” are gone, boys.
Some women, though, are struggling to keep up. Many want to participate in this new wave of consciousness, but feel trapped within patterns of “dating the wrong people” and “pursuing emotionally unavailable partners.” If this sounds familiar, I encourage you to work with a dating and relationship therapist (or coach) who can help you build awareness around these patterns and replace them with more preferred behaviors. You can start here.
Regardless of how modern dating trends continue to develop, one element is likely to remain: women desire partners, not a providers. Thank you, quarantine! The sudden focus on mental health that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic forced women to unpack decades of generational trauma stemming from unhealthy relationship dynamics and outdated societal norms. We call these brave souls cycle breakers.
Men, this is your chance to transform entire generations through healthy relationship dynamics. Want support? Get started here.
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