In his recent article in the Sunday, January 13, 2013 edition of the New York Times, Alex Williams reflects on “The End of Courtship.” I've been noticing changes for the past several years in what used to be called dating in my counseling practice in Newport Beach, California. Young women in their college years and 20s particularly report dating changes, but so do people in their 30s and above.
Some of the changes have been facilitated by technology. With text messages, many people slide into lazy habits of not making definite plans, or avoiding rejection by not calling and inviting the other person for a specific date/time/place/activity. Text messaging to “see what the other person is doing,” and/or inviting them via text message tomeet up and “hang out” with you and your friends at the last minute is very common. It may be convenient, but it just doesn't make you feel special. As Williams reports, many young women report that invitations for dates have been reduced to the level of a last-minute text message Friday night reading “Hey,” or “sup.” What's a girl supposed to do with that? Hopefully, nothing.
Text messages can make it difficult to discern the tone or nuances. It takes very little effort. It often doesn't feel very personal, like a phone call can be. As people get more enmeshed in habitual texting, it can seem “safer” than real, live conversations where you have to respond right away, and can't take your time to wordsmith a response.
Hanging out and hooking up randomly are common with many college-age adults, with alcohol-induced random romantic pairings that mean nothing. I find this sad, and always urge the young adults I work to set their own standards, no matter what everybody else may be doing. Sex is not a sport, and making physical intimacy mean nothing is a huge mistake.
Online dating has changed the dating landscape as well. Some people get overwhelmed with the candy store mentality of choices, and are frantically dating multiple people at a time to the point of confusion, needing notes, and feeling stressed by it. It's similar to an online job application blitz, throwing lots of inquiry emails out there and seeing what sticks. In the age of Google-ing someone before the first meeting, the initial in-person conversation also changes when they already have gathered details about you from the dating or social networking sites.
Donna Frietas, who teaches Religion and Women's Studies at Boston University and Hofstra, has a soon to be released book I look forward to reading, entitled The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy. The decline of courtship and shift to a hookup mentality is not progress as far as emotional intimacy, the art of getting to know someone over time, or one-to-one conversation is concerned. Most things that are valuable in life are not instant, and putting some effort and intentionality into dating is still attractive.
There are other societal shifts happening concurrently, including more longevity for most of us, and a prolonged “adultesence” into the mid-to late 20s with the age of first marriage happening later than in generations past. This could be changing the courtship dynamics, where no one wants to get too serious too soon.
Regardless, I still prefer that we all develop good social skills, call others rather than text whenever possible, and have the courage to risk rejection and create real intimacy. Women also need to know that they can ask for behaviors they prefer, and hold to their own personal standards. Texting may be useful for quick information, like the fact that you may be 5 minutes late, but it isn't a medium for developing a relationship. Online dating can be a good way to meet someone, but real relationships have to occur in real time. Email or texting are not good modes to work through relationship challenges. Some things will always be better in person or in conversation that isn't preplanned or cleverly crafted.