The End of Courtship
By Alex Williams, New York Times, January 11, 2013
Instead of dinner-and-a-movie, which seems as obsolete as a rotary phone, they rendezvous over phone texts, Facebook posts, instant messages and other “non-dates” that are leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.
“The new date is ‘hanging out,’ ” said Denise Hewett, 24, an associate television producer in Manhattan, who is currently developing a show about this frustrating new romantic landscape. As one male friend recently told her: “I don’t like to take girls out. I like to have them join in on what I’m doing — going to an event, a concert.” ...
Blame the much-documented rise of the “hookup culture” among young people, characterized by spontaneous, commitment-free (and often, alcohol-fueled) romantic flings. Many students today have never been on a traditional date, said Donna Freitas, who has taught religion and gender studies at Boston University and Hofstra and is the author of the forthcoming book, “The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy.”
Hookups may be fine for college students, but what about after, when they start to build an adult life? The problem is that “young people today don’t know how to get out of hookup culture,” Ms. Freitas said. In interviews with students, many graduating seniors did not know the first thing about the basic mechanics of a traditional date. “They’re wondering, ‘If you like someone, how would you walk up to them? What would you say? What words would you use?’ ” Ms. Freitas said....
Relationship experts point to technology as another factor in the upending of dating culture.
Traditional courtship — picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego (by telephone, rejection stings). Not so with texting, e-mail, Twitter or other forms of “asynchronous communication,” as techies call it. In the context of dating, it removes much of the need for charm; it’s more like dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble.
“I’ve seen men put more effort into finding a movie to watch on Netflix Instant than composing a coherent message to ask a woman out,” said Anna Goldfarb, 34, an author and blogger in Moorestown, N.J. A typical, annoying query is the last-minute: “Is anything fun going on tonight?” More annoying still are the men who simply ping, “Hey” or “ ’sup.”
“What does he think I’m doing?” she said. “I’m going to my friend’s house to drink cheap white wine and watch episodes of ‘Dance Moms’ on demand.”
Online dating services, which have gained mainstream acceptance, reinforce the hyper-casual approach by greatly expanding the number of potential dates. Faced with a never-ending stream of singles to choose from, many feel a sense of “FOMO” (fear of missing out), so they opt for a speed-dating approach — cycle through lots of suitors quickly.
That also means that suitors need to keep dates cheap and casual. A fancy dinner? You’re lucky to get a drink.
“It’s like online job applications, you can target many people simultaneously — it’s like darts on a dart board, eventually one will stick,” said Joshua Sky, 26, a branding coordinator in Manhattan, describing the attitudes of many singles in their 20s. The mass-mailer approach necessitates “cost-cutting, going to bars, meeting for coffee the first time,” he added, “because you only want to invest in a mate you’re going to get more out of.”
If we needed more evidence that we live in a transactional culture, here is a truckload.
"Asynchronous communications" remove most of the risk, both of the person wishing to invite another out, and of the recipient of such an invite. Neither has to "commit" even so much as a couple of hours of conversation face-to-face over a table in a restaurant, for example. As one young woman quoted later in the Williams piece puts it to this effect, I will not accept an invitation, unless he is prepared to make a formal request, a formal commitment and a formal expression of interest in spending time with me.
Economic insecurity, job security, hook-up's in college, and of course, the ubiquitous twitter, facebook etc....rationalizes a refusal to "relate"....and if this is a twenty-something phenomenon, one hopes that, if and when this generation finally decides to "commit" to a life partner, they will find either the appropriate dating service, or a mutual friend who takes the stop of making the introductions.
Trawling for a nibble on a fishing line, when one hopes to land another human being to spend quality time with is about as realistic as planting a quarter in the backyard and expecting a tree of gold leaves that can be converted to gold bars to blossom on that spot. It's never going to happen.
And the men who are participating in this charade are insulting their own confidence and capacity to relate, and the women whose company they seek. To be sure, there will be awkward moments, awkward expressions, and even awkward and inexplicable emotions and that is an important part of the getting-to-know both the self and the other that is essential preparation for a life with a partner.
Refusing to risk those awkward moments is to refuse to risk making mistakes, mistakes that could and would serve as a kind of informal learning curve for these young men.
And women, too, will not escape similar awkward moments should they dip their "toes" into the water of one-to-one conversation, as a integral component in their maturing.
And where are the parents?
Have they left the playing field exclusively to these young men and women whose canvas is still uncluttered with the colours of embarrassment, vulnerability, intimacy and rejection in a private and potentially life-giving and/or crushing experience.