Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Let Us Celebrate the End of Dating!

Smart phones and Facebook have made dating obsolete.

A New York Times article by Alex Williams has hit a home run in identifying how modern technology has changed us all. The olden days of the 1980s when a man would call a woman up on a primitive rotary phone attached to a wall and ask her out on a formal date to be held some days later at a restaurant or movie house are over. Williams quotes one Millennial who complained, "Dating culture has evolved to a cycle of text messages...It's one step below a date, and one step above a high five."

Alex Williams observed that  in the age of text messaging, Facebook and instant messaging, young women  are given seconds notice to get together, and  not for a one-on-one date but to "hang out", meaning a low pressure  invitation to join a man with what he is already doing often with a mixed group of people.

We have made it clear that the current culture of "hooking up", meaning casual sex without commitment, is not going to lead women to their goal of an intelligent, long-term, committed relationship that may someday lead to marriage. But the extinction of dating may be a good development.

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Courtship in the 1800s America involved a man and a women spending time together at home, chaperoned and subject to parental veto. By the dawn of the 20th century books and plays describe an era when couples first began "dating" away from home and unchaperoned. By the 1950s American youth culture practiced a new way of determining male compatibility for future brides in co-equal marriages through the custom of "going steady." Dates were used to demonstrate that the man could satisfy his partner's romantic needs.

Unfortunately this dating culture emphasized physical attraction and charm and inhibited candor and openness. Growing numbers of young men, largely instructed by their ignorant peers and heavily influenced by the media of film, music and television, learned to cheat the dating system. If contemporary courtship success in dating was based on sexual attraction and suitability as lovers, then pretending to be emotionally compatible would greatly increase the chances of positive short term dating results. In a media drenched society that emphasized living for the moment, bad boys and deceivers became the big winners in the dating system. The  sincere men who were candidates to be stolid, monogamous good providers were denigrated as "square bears from nowhere", "uncool" and undesireable. The results of the dating culture were unstable marriages, a 50% divorce rate and  many  men and women in 2013 believing it is foolish to invest the time, emotional capital, legal entanglements and money to ever get married.

 Instead of bemoaning the death of dating, we should realize that there are definite benefits to the historical development of the new technology moving the new generation out of the mutated dating system into a more spontaneous courtship. Use this new fad  of  being asked to "hang out" in a group activity as a great opportunity to determine in a low pressure atmosphere if you have anything in common. It's good to take the time to get to know the friends and family of someone you are interested in because they tell you what they are really like, warts and all. If you have trouble getting along with their friends and family, consider it a blessing that you found out before you are committed to spending all your weekends, leisure time and vacations with them. If you ask someone to hang out and they aren't enjoying your friends or family or the activity you really care about passionately, that's a good sign you should remain as friends.

When talking at the group activity, use it as an opportunity to risk confrontation. By that we mean let the person you are interested in go out on a limb on a subject and, instead of mimicking their taste or views, tell them you don't agree with them (if you really don't). Watch their reaction. That will give you more insight into what they would be like as a life partner than anything else you could do. Do they clam up? Fume? Sulk? Turn red-faced and raise their voice? Do they seek compromise? Do they accept conflict, respect your views and go on? Or do they freeze you out? This is what you want to determine before any emotional commitment is made. A healthy relationship deals with conflict and accepts differences. 

"Hanging out" is a healthy development because it goes against the tendency for couples to isolate from the world. Your relationship should be just as enjoyable in social situations as in a romantic candle-lit bistro. It should also be strong enough to sustain itself once the initial passion wanes. Instead of decrying the end of dating, let us celebrate it!

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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