Whatever Happened to “Going Steady”?

Have millennials' gadgets paved the way for dating woes and hook-ups?

Posted Aug 09, 2012

In today’s digital age of ever rapid technological growth and advancement, it seems we can’t ever move quite fast enough. Today’s newest gadget is quickly replaced and rendered obsolete by a shinier, faster, more efficient model, that has you asking, “why didn’t they think of that sooner?”

As much as we’ve advanced in some ways, in others we’re still stuck. We may have moved backwards altogether, or wound up scratching our heads confounded. If you have not quite figured out what I’m talking about yet, it’s romantic relationships. Because you see, it is far easier to speak in the theoretical, draw out far-flung allusions, and do just about anything but directly address the concern. At least to be true to genuine millennial style, that is how it would have to be.  

Millennials have grown up typically getting what they want, how they want it, and in prime time. Control is a key word that provides more comfort than concern to them. This may in part explain their utter frustrations when coming upon brick walls and rubble in the dating landscape. It is interesting to note that millennials have been exposed to greater dating diversity and acceptance of different lifestyles than previous generations. However, they were still brought up by more conservative generations. Just recall the old TGIF television line-up of family friendly viewing. Usually it was boy meet girl. Boy asks girl out. They date. He gives her his letterman jacket or class ring. They “go steady.”  Ok, so maybe that last part was mostly the 1950s, but still. Obviously this was a highly heterosexist scenario that was played out time and again. And yet, in doing extensive relationship therapy, I can’t help but marvel at the simplicity of yesteryears.

Today’s romantic relationships are often perplexing at best. As my therapy clients often struggle with understanding what to make of different relationships, I too find myself struggling beside them trying to make sense of their stories and concerns. The television storyline today looks much different. Boy meets girl (or boy). They text, message, or “talk” (which is apparently some sort of code for not quite in a relationship, but not out of the realm of possibilities either). They may or may not “hook-up” and the definition of this may vary depending on region and other sociocultural factors (for more info on hook-up culture and friends with benefits, see previous article here). Dating may occur, but will more likely be referred to as “hanging out,” although it can be challenging to tell, as it may literally mean just hanging out, but can also mean more. Also important to note is that being “asked out” on a “dinner date” is exceedingly rare among contemporary millennials.

How two individuals may find themselves in an exclusive dating relationship with one another is often the great mystery. Actually, I jest here, but not entirely. The more I ask couples how they came to find themselves in a relationship, the answers vary greatly from “it just kind of happened,” to matters of convenience. As Generation Y is often touted to be that with the highly fragile self-esteem, “fail” is one of their greatest four-letter words. It makes sense then that putting themselves out there to ask someone out can seem terrifying. The harmless equivalent of “hanging out” however, not so much. Often young women will decide to take matters in their own hands and turn the tables of the waiting game altogether. And yet, young men and women alike still seem to find themselves lost in inaction.

As there has been much dialogue about why millennials seem to prefer to “hook-up,” it can actually start to make sense as it may appear to be the easier way to connect. No wonder a generation found the Jamie Foxx song to be so affirming, “Blame it on the goose/Got you feeling loose/Blame it on Patron/Got you in the zone/Blame it on the a a a a a alcohol.” Of course, then even if you should make a mistake it could be blamed on liquid courage and not old-fashioned bad choices, or dare I say stupidity.

Is there hope for millennials? As the marriage age rises, and the dating waters continue to look murky, it may seem hopeless. But what was it that Rihanna said about finding love in a hopeless place? Then again maybe we’re just making it more complicated than it needs to be, not unlike our universal remote control with countless buttons on it. While I sometimes wish I could hand my clients a dating rubric with suggested timelines of when to advance from one stage to another, this only reinforces their controlling tendencies. Though control may feel safe, it may ultimately keep them from embracing the beauty in small bits of spontaneity and seeing where life will take them.

So millennials, here’s the best rough draft of a game plan I can offer you. Put down the phone and the henny, log off Facebook, step into a well-lit location with natural airflow, extend your hand, and introduce yourself with authenticity. Be genuine and be good. Kindness never takes anything away from you. And although it may seem scary, be open to failure because it’s often necessary on the way to our greatest successes.

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