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Credit: Insia Haque

“I’m in love with you, and the obvious next step for us is marriage, but I just don’t think I can be in a long-term committed relationship right now, so I have to end it.”

I have spent the last month hearing about what seemed like break up after break up. Virtually all of the relationships in question seemed to end with one party saying something similar to the above quote, despite being years away from anything that even looks like marriage. If this reasoning reads like cognitive dissonance, that’s good because it should. However, just because it seems illogical doesn't mean it isn’t happening. So why are people ending budding happy relationships with their partners over a commitment that isn’t even on the near horizon? The answer? High-stakes dating. 

High-stakes dating could be described as the immense pressure and expectations put on relationships; whether those be emotional, physical, or long-term goal-oriented that often act as a barrier to entry for a more casual approach to dating. At face value, this seems to be the antithesis of “hookup culture,” but in fact, I’d argue it is an externality of it.

The direct consequences of hookup culture, at this point, have been fairly well examined. Sexual and emotional unfulfillment, loneliness, superficiality, risk of assault, the list goes on. While this helps us to acknowledge the dangers of treating relationships as transactional, particularly sexually, it does not address the impact that this type of romantic environment — if it can be called romantic at all — has on those who do date. 

For some young people, relationships that lead to commitment are products of very casual hookups. The few people who do start dating after multiple months of “seeing each other” often do so with very high stakes. Under the logic of hookup culture, you must really like someone in order to commit to them both emotionally and physically, so why would you date to get to know one another when you can just sleep together with no stakes? 

I vividly recall one of my friend’s boyfriends saying that when he asked her to be his girlfriend, he did so because “he was sure he wanted to marry her.” While that is very romantic, and I am very happy for them, I was under the impression that that was what asking someone to be your fiancé meant. Since when did “dating” require people to be confident that they were going to get married?

With “busyness” being cited as a common reason why people don’t date, it doesn’t seem all that surprising that relationships would come with these incredibly high stakes. In a world that tells us investment isn’t necessary to get sex or emotional gratification, spending time with someone better have a good ROI —  something Penn students know all too much about

High-stakes dating has not only made relationships feel overwhelming and grave, but it has also set unrealistic standards for what emotions should look and feel like when you are interested in someone. The media is notorious for this, with head-over-heels, anxiety-ridden, take-your-breath-away romances being the norm. What the “love at first sight” trope fails to depict is that in real life, those feelings are better indications of a toxic relationship than one that has healthily evolved as a product of getting to know someone over time. 

This phenomenon creates an iteration of the earlier line that looks something like: “You’re the first person I could see myself building a life with, but I just don’t think I have enough feelings to continue investing in this relationship.”

Throwing away a relationship with someone you are so compatible with seems almost absurd when 75% of people who are single say it is because it is somewhat or very difficult to find people to date. But in a culture that says dating is only worth the time and energy if your feelings meet the threshold of a Nicholas Sparks romantic drama after a month or so, it is unsurprising that it is so commonplace to see relationships end after just a few months.

The barrier to entry of perceived feelings can often stop people from being open to asking someone out in the first place. More than once I have heard someone say “I need to figure out my feelings” before they initiated a first date. This seems counterintuitive to the entire procedure of dating in the first place, which should be to get to know someone in a romantic context and determine if you have feelings for them. 

To be clear, I am not advocating for dating without intention. It seems silly and a true waste of time to date someone for a prolonged period if you could never imagine a world in which you end up together. However, overwhelming our relationships with concerns about the threshold of feelings we should experience, and what logistical roadblocks we might face to marriage five years down the line, is only serving to prevent us from the emotional investment that will create the type of relationships that end in successful marriages. 

Strong, meaningful, and lasting relationships need to be cultivated; they don’t just spontaneously occur. They require growing with your partner through multiple stages of life and building the tools at each hurdle to conquer the next. How can you expect to feel ready to be married to someone when you haven’t even been together outside of college? 

In reality, this high-stakes dating culture has created a deeply risk-averse pool of potential mates. People are afraid to jump into relationships if they aren’t certain of their feelings and afraid to stay in them if they can’t be sure they won’t be hurt or waste their time. However, with 50% of marriages ending in divorce, it might be time to start leaning into the uncertainty and taking the risk that the thing that feels right might just be right and worth working at. 

As we move into October, which is the most popular month to get married out of the year, let us think about bringing back the dating of our parents and grandparents' generations. Take someone out to get to know them, allow your feelings to develop over time, and stop worrying about the next thing before you get there. The gamble of love is one worth taking, but let's make it easier to take a risk and lower the stakes of playing your hand. 

LEXI BOCCUZZI is a College senior studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Stamford, Conn. Her email is