Monday, August 1, 2011

The Death of Dating?

Quick – what do you think of when you see the phrase “the dating life of the 20-something woman?”  Did you picture fun Friday and Saturday nights spent at the bar and/or club with fellow single ladies, drinking fruity cocktails and flirting and being flirted with by attractive young guys?  Are there lots of laughing, perfect hair, perfect make-up, and fabulous shoes?

Or did you picture a classy young woman meeting an equally classy young man at a similarly classy establishment – say, a hip coffee shop, or a trendy eco-friendly wine bar?  Chatting animatedly about their interests and funny travel stories?  Parting ways with a kiss on the cheek and a genuine “I’ll call you soon,” but without any sense that anyone will be devastated if said call is never made?

Or did you, instead, picture a frustrated, frazzled young woman sitting at home alone, clicking through endless, and endlessly predictable and unimpressive profiles on a dating website, only to go out the next night with her 20-something friends, most of whom are in relationships, missing the guys they want to flirt with, and getting flirted on and felt up by creepers? 

I’ll give you three guesses as to which scenario most closely resembles my own current experience, and the first two don’t count.  (By the way, I’ve never really understood that expression.  Why give the first two chances if they don’t count?  Why not just offer the one, since the correct answer is, when that expression is used, assumed to be painfully obvious?  But this is irrelevant.)  My point here is not to bemoan my current lack of a love life.  That is a topic best saved for late-night, alcohol-fueled conversations with my best friends, preferably held behind closed doors, and it is far too unproductive and unimaginative, and consequently has no place here.  My point here is rather to point to what to I’ve recently observed, both among my friends and my own perception and experience, of the Death of Dating.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I know what “dating” really is.  The definition I have, at least at this point in my life, is that it is the practice of going out on dates, possibly but not necessarily with more than one person concurrently, without the commitment of being in a relationship, of being “boyfriend and girlfriend.”  This last part is crucial.  My beloved Cosmo (yes, this hyper-intellectual radical feminist has a subscription to Cosmopolitan; it’s called a GUILTY pleasure for a reason) will occasionally print quizzes or advice columns on determining when or if you and the guy you’re “seeing” (a common synonym for “dating”) are ready for a commitment.  This is, perhaps, what confuses me the most: in many of these columns, some degree of monogamy while “dating” is implied – what, then, is implicit in “commitment” that is not necessarily involved in “dating”?   In addition to these quizzes, Cosmo has, for as long as I can remember (so no more than six years) run two parts to the horoscope.  These parts are now called “Dating Tip” and “Love Advice,” though I remember them, in recent memory, as being called something closer to “If you’re single” and “If you’re attached.”  That is, they have different news for you about what days this month are going to be steamy, based on your relationship status.  I always found this a little bizarre.  I’m well aware of how bogus astrology is to begin with, but this practice seems to undermine the “science” even more; I sincerely doubt that your “stars” know and/or care whether or not you’re single.  But to bring myself back (or at least closer) to my topic, the new titles confuse me (possibly) even more.  Why are dating tips and love advice mutually exclusive?  Am I supposed to take from this that dating does not involve love?  Is dating merely a sexual behavior?  If that’s so, maybe I’m a little rash in proclaiming the Death of Dating.  After all, I know quite a few friends and acquaintances who have or have in recent memory had one or more persons they were sleeping with, but not in a relationship with.  But I’m not sure I’d call that dating, since, as far as I know, few or no actual dates take place in these situations.

So far, my interpretations of my experience/observation and media messages are that the only two options for someone longing to escape singledom are either to engage in a purely sexual association with someone, or to enter a long-term relationship.  If this is so, I have to say, I’m more than a little disappointed, and not just because “dating,” whatever it is, sounds like it could be fun, but because all of the movies, TV shows, and magazines tell me it’s what I should be doing.  Heck, even my mother tells me I should be dating.  When I told a friend about my original intentions for this blog post, she commented, “What are you, Carrie?” referring, of course, to Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City.”  I can’t really think of a better illustration of the first two examples I gave of young women dating at the beginning of the post than the HBO show.  To be sure, “Sex and the City” often gave a “warts-and-all” depiction of dating, but it was definitely a show about “dating” more than anything else.  “Dating,” all the images of women my age are telling me, is what I’m supposed to be doing, yet not only do I seem to be struggling to either define or succeed at it, but I don’t have any clear examples of it among my own friends.  “Dating” increasingly seems to me like some magical thing that only exists outside of my reality.

I’m not sure why this is.  I have a few hypotheses.  It’s possible none of them is right; it’s possible the truth lies in some combination of them; it’s also possible that this is all so painfully obviously explained, that you all stopped reading five paragraphs ago.  Anyway, here are my hypotheses explaining the Death of Dating, or rather my experience of said Death:

1.) Dating is not, in fact, dead.  I am merely incapable of either noticing or doing it.  This is entirely possible.

2.) Dating is dead, or at least on the way out, because the young women of my generation are looking for commitment and long-term relationships sooner, for whatever reason(s), and are therefore skipping the dating step of it all.  This hypothesis is bolstered by the recent (within the past year) inclusion in Cosmo (I swear – this is the last time I’ll reference it; in this post, that is) of a column called “For Keeps,” meant for and to discuss the issues relevant to married (or otherwise seriously committed) young women.

3.) The Death of Dating is not as wide-spread as I think, although it exists in my social circles, possibly as a result of my fellow hyper-intellectuals rejecting dating for some reason, or possibly simply because grad students don’t have time to date multiple people.  This last supposition may sound like a joke.  It’s not.

4.) Dating is not dead, because it was never alive to begin with, but was, in fact, a make-believe wonderful thing that only ever existed in romantic comedies, “Sex and the City,” and Cosmo.

So what are your thoughts?  What is “dating?”  Is it dead?  If so, why?  If not, and you know how to do it, a comment with detailed instructions would be greatly appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. (Here from Feministe's SSPS)

    I think my definition of dating is similar to yours, about "the practice of going out on dates, possibly but not necessarily with more than one person concurrently, without the commitment of being in a relationship". (It should be noted that my experience of dating is quite similar to yours, although as a guy I seem not to get felt up by so many creepy people, though it has happened once or twice!)

    I think that definition has within it the answer of why "dating tip" is different from "love advice". It's because "love" in Cosmo-speak (as far as I can determine this from having perused some of my sister's girlie magazines while we were growing up) refers to the "relationship" bit, while dating is obviously the bit you do to find out if you want a relationship. So the "dating tips" are how to get from "dating" to "love", and the "love advice" is "what to do now you've got your man". It seems to me that, while love might play a part in dating, especially towards the end of dating and moving towards relationship, while you're still seeking and have not yet committed, it seems not quite right to talk about dating and love being the same thing.

    I think dating has kind of taken a mortal wound thanks to internet dating and the difficulty of meeting new people offline these days, but is not actually dead yet.