All you need is love: Experts on the changing nature of modern romance

All you need is love: Experts on the changing nature of modern romance

A younger generation may be giving Valentine’s Day the cold shoulder, but whatever your age romance (and a listening ear) will turn up the heat in your relationship, experts tell Deirdre Reynolds

CUPID is poised with his bow and arrow as couples everywhere celebrate Valentine’s Day today, the international day of love.

But could it be D-Day for V-Day, with 15% of Gen-Zers (the generation born between 1995 and 2019) not even acknowledging the holiday? Back in the Middle Ages, Saint Valentine famously defied the Roman Empire to perform secret weddings for persecuted Christians. But this era of swiping, ghosting and breadcrumbing may be a bigger threat to the celebration of romance.

According to EduBirdie.com, even a quarter of younger adults who are coupled-up would prefer not to celebrate the romantic day.

Here, Ireland’s leading experts in love look at the importance of romance and reveal how you can make every day February 14.

Frances Kelleher

Dating coach

Frances Kelleher: People have to meet in person to know if they have chemistry. Picture: Don MacMonagle
Frances Kelleher: People have to meet in person to know if they have chemistry. Picture: Don MacMonagle

“Even though the way we’re dating has changed fundamentally, people haven’t changed. People still have to find out if there is chemistry in real life. One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients of all ages is that they’re sick of online dating. They’re disillusioned with swiping, but may not have the confidence to approach someone in the real world,” Kelleher says.

“Another huge problem, nowadays, is that people are overcommunicating online and on phones. So, when you meet the person, there’s nothing left to talk about, because you already know everything about them. My advice to people is simple: stop swiping and start dating.

“Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for meeting online. The minute there’s a connection, though, you have to take it offline. Dating is all about our senses and pheromones play a huge part: the bottom line is, you can’t smell someone online.

“But if for some reason they don’t want to meet, I would be very strong in saying, ‘move on’,” Kelleher says.

“There’s a tonne of people online who are serious about looking for a relationship. There’s also a tonne of people who are bored and looking for entertainment. Online dating can waste years of your life

“Once you’re connecting on more than one level, try and meet the person as fast as you can. Remember that love is a numbers game,” she says.

“Like everything in life, you’re going to be rejected. Some people love coffee, some people love tea; you mightn’t be that person’s cup of tea. You can’t take it personally, Kelleher says.

“My biggest tip is to talk to everybody all the time, even men and women you don’t fancy; just treat them all the same. Talking builds your social skills and puts you out there, so when you’re in the coffee shop and see someone you fancy, you’ll be ready,” Kelleher says.

Looking for love: “Build your confidence any way you can, whether it’s reading a book or enrolling in a course.”

Teresa Bergin

Sex and relationship therapist

Teresa Bergin: Connection between time spent non-sexually and the time spent sexually.
Teresa Bergin: Connection between time spent non-sexually and the time spent sexually.

“Sexual relationships running into difficulty or stalling completely is a very common problem, at the moment. The general assumption would be that it’s mostly older people or people who’ve been married a long time. In actual fact, it can occur anywhere along the span of a relationship,” Bergin says.

“I’m seeing more couples who are four or five years into their relationship running into difficulty and seeking help. It’s a feature of the very busy world we’re living in. Couples are not getting time together and the time they do have might be an hour in the evening watching television.

“They’re not talking, they’re not connecting, their non-sexual intimacy — hugging, kissing, holding hands — has reduced, and this is a problem. People often don’t make that connection between the time that they spend together non-sexually and the time they spend together sexually,” Bergin says.

“But if you don’t have enough non-sexual intimacy — communication or even physical touch — that’s going to have an impact on your sexual relationship.

“We tend to get too caught up in the idea of spontaneity, which would have been a feature of the relationship in its early stages. Very often, sex has to be scheduled, because it’s the only way of maintaining it.

“The first step is to start communicating in a non-blaming way; so picking a good time and opening up a conversation about it, like, ‘I’m noticing we’re not as sexual as we were in the past: what do you think might be happening?’ The next step, is to put aside some time, where they go out or do something small together once a week to bring a freshness into the relationship,” Bergin says.

“For couples where sex hasn’t occured in quite some time, it would be best if they took the emphasis off sex and they were physically and sensually intimate, but weren’t expecting sex. Things like having a shower together, or a massage that doesn’t need to end in sex, gives them an opportunity to get past the awkwardness and reconnect.”

Straight talking: “Sex can be an awkward topic: talk about it in the way that you talk about work or the mortgage.”

Owen Connolly

Marriage and family therapist

Owen Connolly: Men and women communicate differently.
Owen Connolly: Men and women communicate differently.

“In the 40 years since I started in practice, lots of things have changed. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the comment, ‘He never listens’.

“We know about the difference between the brain function of a male and female. A woman typically has the capacity for 36,000 words per day, whereas a man is restricted to around 15,000.

“Her commentary often is focused on how she feels — ‘I feel this’ — whereas he wants to come up with solutions — ‘Well, if you feel like that, why don’t you do this’ — and that creates real problems. We’ve got to get men to actually listen to the emotional content of what a woman is saying. When a woman says, ‘I feel you don’t care about me anymore’, he hears it as, ‘You don’t care about me anymore’; he doesn’t understand that’s a feeling she’s expressing.

“The big thing with guys is to listen empathetically. One of the things I teach men to do is to feedback, ‘Do you mean this?’ or ‘I heard it this way’. Once you get into that type of conversation with one another, you can bring about resolutions very quickly.

“Men often think very defensively, so they assume that the woman is having a go at them. Their first reaction is to defend their position. Women also need to be able to understand how to present their case. For example, by starting, ‘I just want to say how I feel’.

“Other things she might say include: ‘I need to explain how I feel. I’m not looking for you to tell me what to do, I just want you to listen’. It’s a matter of understanding how you’re both made and really learning to listen to one another.”

Golden rule: “Listen carefully before responding.”

Mateo Saina

First Dates Ireland maitre d’

Mateo Saina: ‘First Dates’ restaurant one of those rare places where you can go to have a proper date.
Mateo Saina: ‘First Dates’ restaurant one of those rare places where you can go to have a proper date.

“One of the trickiest questions I get asked is whether I can tell straight away if the couples on First Dates are going to click or not. It’s pretty hard to figure out, because your first impression might be, ‘Wow, I think he’s going to fancy her’ or ‘I think she’s going to fancy him’. Then, the conversation starts and everything goes down the drain.

“People always say that the most important thing on a first date is to just ‘be yourself’. But I also think it’s nice to put a bit of effort in, so that the other person can see that you actually tried to impress them. Don’t arrive straight after the gym, for example.

“From time to time on First Dates, we see guys bring a little gift for their date. It’s a pretty hard thing for men to do, because you have to walk through the city with that bunch of flowers or box of chocolates, so everybody knows what you’re doing. I respect that.

“Although it doesn’t happen as often, occasionally women have brought a gift for their date, too. Just recently, one lady brought homemade cookies for her date, which I thought was lovely. That little bit of effort really makes the difference.

“When people come through the door of the First Dates restaurant, they’re often a bit nervous. My job is to put them at ease. When I’m walking them over to the bar to meet their date, we always have a good laugh. It’s never on TV, because I’m usually talking some nonsense.

“If they ask me for tips, I tell them to crack a joke or ask their date some questions about themselves. If I see a couple mirroring each other’s body language or sharing dessert, I know things are going well.

“On First Dates, there’s often a debate over who pays the bill. In the past, it was never a discussion — it would be offensive to the guy if the girl offered. Now, it’s different: it’s more balanced. Personally, I’m old-fashioned, and think the guy should pay the bill. Even if I don’t like the girl, I would pay the bill.

“First Dates Ireland is in its fifth season now. Definitely, it feels like the show has become one of those rare places where you can go to have a proper date. It’s not the new generation of swipe left, swipe right, go for a quick drink, and then, hopefully, have sex. It’s a reflection of what dating used to be, and how it should be done.”

How to make every day Valentine’s Day: “Flowers, chocolates and lingerie”.

First Dates Ireland, RTÉ 2, Thursday night at 9.30pm

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