The Arrival of ‘Generation Can’t Commit’
We spend all our energy and efforts on living and on loving ourselves, so that in the end we are too exhausted to love anyone else.
The Arrival of ‘Generation Can’t Commit’By Ching-hua Tsai
[Editor’s Note: the Chinese edition of the German bestseller “Generation beziehungsunfähig“ (Generation Can’t Commit) by blogger/columnist Michael Nast, whose texts have been included in the French middle school curriculum, was published in Taiwan in August. While the book starts out depicting the feelings of love of young Germans, it also portrays a common image of youth around the globe: They pursue self-realization; they are fashionable, smart and international, yet they are unwilling to part with their youth. Though they have cherished dreams, they are unable to turn their dreams into reality.
In 2016, Ching-hua Tsai, a columnist of an opinion channel of the CommonWealth magazine website, recommended Nast’s book to Taiwanese readers in an article titled “The Generation that Can’t Sustain Relationships – We fall in love with someone, but don’t know how to be in love with them.” (Link in Chinese) The following article is Tsai’s recommendation prefacing the Chinese version of Nast’s book.
In recent years, dating websites have become extremely popular in Germany. The advertisements for one of the websites in particular caught my eye. In the ads, attractive male and female actors declare how lucky they are to have found their other half. The advertisements always end with the tagline: Every 11 minutes a single person falls in love via this website.
Statistics show that online dating platforms in Germany presently generate annual revenue above 90 million Euros. If the offline matchmaking industry is included, the annual output exceeds 200 million Euros. We could say that the majority is looking for a partner – which also means that people keep losing their better halves. We are so keenly looking for love because we constantly fall out of love.
People fall in love every 11 minutes. If finding love were truly that easy, we wouldn’t have this 200 million Euro [matchmaking] market.
The book “Generation Can’t Commit” portrays this ceaselessly searching generation by asking a key question: Why was the previous generation able to accommodate love in their lives while this generation fails at it?
In such paradoxical times when people are both in love and out of love, this book has remained on the bestseller list for many weeks. Readers grabbed this book to find out whether their partner or they themselves had lost the ability to love another person. Suddenly, talk show programs, cultural columns, and sex and relationship experts began debating why people between the ages of 20 and 30 are not able to commit to and sustain relationships. The book will even be turned into a movie with German actor Matthias Schweighöfer as the male lead.
The book speaks to the spirit of our time – It is becoming more difficult to find a true partner even when people are spending more and more time on dating websites. We want love so desperately, yet we are unable to love.
This Energy-Draining World
This book is not only about feelings but paints the full picture of a peculiar generation - in pursuit of self-realization, they are fashionable, smart and international. They are not willing to part with their youth. Though they have cherished dreams, they are unable to turn their dreams into reality.
In this book, Berlin, where the author lives, is the capital of this generation. However, not every German identifies with such a Berlin-centered world. Some book reviewers note that they despise this kind of metropolitan writing that sees Germany through a Berlin lens.
Yet readers do not necessarily need to identify with Germany or this generation to understand this book; they don’t even need to have visited Berlin to be able to read about this world. The author describes how each and every individual is doing something in this city without achieving anything. Everyone is leading a vagrant life in coffee shops; everyone is engrossed in endless planning. After reading a few sections, I feel this could as well be a book about Taiwan if only “Berlin” were replaced by “Taipei”. Didn’t we all use to have friends who were as detestable or adorable as those in the book? Haven’t we all experienced confusion and uncertainty about what to do or say in similar emotional circumstances or in difficult jobs or other life situations?
Regardless of whether we are in Berlin or Taipei, the life of this generation is completely different from that of the previous generation. We are urban nomads, we work like slaves, we are forced to answer Line messages from our bosses in the middle of the night, we earn salaries that don’t leave any hope for a new, better life, we are forced to live at Hotel Mama, we spend one third or even half of our monthly salaries to buy an Apple laptop or the latest mobile phone. We spend all our energy and efforts on living and on loving ourselves, so that in the end we are too exhausted to love anyone else.
Love and Pain are Two Sides of the Same Coin
When Nast went on a book tour in Germany, the majority of the audience were women. He said this is an era where women do not trust men anymore, and women want to know why they keep getting disappointed in love. Are men really all such jerks? However, Nast said, the key issue is probably not that all men are jerks, but that they don’t know how to not be jerks.
In his book, Nast quotes Byung Chul Han, a German philosopher of Korean descent, in an attempt to pinpoint possible answers as to why we are all jerks. Han noted in a media interview that ‘smoothness’ characterizes our times. Brazilian waxing, the design of Apple products and our smartphones sport smooth surfaces that defy injury (in another book he talks more vocally about smoothness, porn movies and their correlation with this era). Han points out that the same applies to love. When it comes to love, we seek smoothness to avoid being hurt. Love requires strong commitment, but we avoid such strong commitment because it will lead to [emotional] injury.
Love is not like the fair smooth skin in the porn movie camera’s eye; it has rough and hurtful patches. Love and pain are two sides of the same coin, but we all want only the love side.
This ‘smooth generation’ seeks to perfect themselves; they look for the perfect job, pursue the perfect life, the perfect love, the perfect selfie. They hope that everything is smooth and beautiful because they cannot tolerate cracks, the state of hurting.
Therefore, they pick a road that is easier to travel but will never lead to their destination. The German verb “trauen” can be used in a passive sense “sich trauen lassen,” which means to get married but also in an active voice “sich trauen,” which means to dare to do something. This also reveals the secret to leaving behind the "can't commit” state. What it takes is courage, the courage to accept imperfection, the courage to part with smoothness, the courage to be heart-broken.
Translated from the Chinese article by Susanne Ganz
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