"In Moscow, everything happens so fast, especially relationships," a French top-notch businessman complained to me over our recent lunch together. We were comparing Paris and Moscow’s love and dating scenes, and my vis-à-vis wasn't giving the latter the most complimentary marks. In Paris, he insisted, people tend to take things slower, treat relationships more seriously and make sure they have found the right person before they get steady. Meanwhile, les parisiens of both sexes are generally okay being on their own, my friend observed. "And in Russia, there’s a much more rushed and consumerist approach to how people get together," he said.
At first I was offended, but the word "consumerist" stuck in my mind. After a bit of thinking, I realized my French friend might be right. Consumerism is the zeitgeist of our era, and I don’t only mean the compulsive itch to acquire material things. In today’s world, we are what we own and there’s not much we can change about it unless we choose life in a convent. But with the nearly dissipated social and biological pressure to settle down for good, I think many of us tend to consume and accumulate relationships as well. We test-drive relationships and often speed carelessly knowing we are not really committing. We don't risk taking full responsibility. And even if we do, there's no obligation to get married and to stay married today. There’s a free entrance and a free exit. Relationships have become scarily easy.
It also seems to me that while searching for Mr. Right, a growing number of women end up settling for less. They opt for Mr. Right Now just to avoid being single. A girlfriend of mine, a 32-year-old public relations specialist, has been seeing this man for over a year. They live separately, in their own apartments on different sides of town, and see each other on weekends. My friend, who has long been dreaming of a family and kids, says she’d marry her man tomorrow had he popped the question. Still, she says she doesn’t want to pressure him as it might scare him away. "He might not be ready yet," she said. "It’s so difficult to find your special person nowadays and there aren't too many decent guys around, so I am willing to wait." I am only curious how long she’s going to wait for this man to want the full-time commitment – the guy is already in this 40s.
Gone are the days when a man was to propose in order to be with a woman. They are probably gone for good: there wasn’t much joy and freedom in the arranged or accidental pregnancy-caused unions. Now we can pick and choose, find out what we really want and ultimately be happy. Except that I meet an awful lot of really lonely people these days, including the ones whose Facebook status reads "in relationship." Psychologists agree with me: they say many choose to go for the "demo-versions" of relationships out of insecurity and mere fear of being alone.
An old friend of mine, a 33-year-old TV journalist, recently told me about a coworker he liked. He had asked her out the old-fashioned way, on Wednesday, to go on a date on Friday. And he did it in person, not through Facebook, or a text-message. He had already thought of his favorite restaurant he wanted to take her to. "Why don’t we just go to your place or mine and have sex," the girl replied. My friend was appalled and dropped the idea altogether. "It just wasn’t appealing for me like this," he said. "I wanted to get to know her first."
I am not sure what exactly drove this girl – a ravenous sexual appetite or she simply wasn't interested in dating my friend but somehow didn’t mind sleeping with him right away. Anyhow, I believe that deep down she and other "fast-forward" relationship consumers are looking for love and dream of finding The One. Actually, we are looking for love more now than we had ever been in the history of humanity when love was not a constituent of marriage and people had much lower expectations and drastically fewer choices. And perhaps my generation is a bit lost as there are no matchmakers around we can trust except for the social networks with myriads of (only virtually) available people. Don't get me wrong: I am not nostalgic for the days when people were set up or had to marry simply because it was time. My parents got married after they had known each other for only two months. They said they fell in love. Perhaps they had also met at that moment when they were both ready, and the times, of course, were very different back then. I guess today, it just takes longer for us to get ready. And relationship accessibility is not helping us much to grow up.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenti i Facty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.