So you read the NYT piece The End of Courtship, and it’s hitting a nerve: OMG! Dating is dead! I knew it! I’ll never find anyone!
If your next step was going to be to email me the article with a series of exasperated question marks, don’t bother, because a dozen people already beat you to it.
Courtship, as your mother, your grandmother, and ancient Aunt Ida knows it, is over. That’s true. Dating, however, is not. Relationships are not over. Just because people connect with each other in new, informal, and sometimes hard-to-read ways does not mean human interaction, connection, and intimacy is done.
It has, however, changed. These terms we use, “courtship” (and really, when was the last time you used that one define what you were doing, ever), “dating,” “hanging out” are words that once referenced one thing and now reference another. Language is a fluid, evolving thing; words are overhead bins whose contents have shifted during flight. In this case, during the flight from 1955, where our ideas about how things should be have been stuck for some time, and I still don’t know why. Moving on.
Dating, by the way, didn’t just stop dead in its tracks yesterday. Let me tell you, even in the ’90s when I was an undergrad at Boston College, dating was laughable. There was no “dating.” I think I went on two dates during my four years. One with a guy whom I suspected was a time traveler from 1940s France who wore a trenchcoat, carried a briefcase, smoked 100s, and read the paper waiting for class to start. The other was a gangly-limbed Italian from Long Island who drove us all the way to Newbury St. to go to T.G.I. Fridays, where I worried that the chicken skewers were a little on the pricey side. And that is it.
Dating isn’t “gone”–it’s become de-ghettoized. It’s no longer this separate, isolated part of your life. This is a good thing: there are more opportunities than ever to connect with people period. And where there’s connection, there’s usually flirting.
I’m so fucking tired of everyone blaming Facebook and texting for, well, for just about everything. Yes, our interactions are ubiquitous, seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and can be confusing, mysterious, layered. But our connectivity enables far more possibilities than it obstructs.
As far as the “how do we go from hang out to more serious?” If you’re half-seeing a guy or girl who just keeps inviting you to tag along (which is actually a great, low-pressure way to get to know someone), and it never moves beyond that, it’s because you’re going along with it and wishing things were different. (Tip: this is a lousy way to live your life, let alone your love life.)
We’re not facing a crisis wherein digital communications has killed love. We’re redefining the ways, means, and purpose of courtship. One that requires that we think about and ask for what we want. And lest you say, “But the dudes are just using us, waaaah,” then maybe it’s about time you stop giving in to the lowest common denominator and choose something better. That’s on you. You don’t get to blame “the culture” and do nothing about it.
If there’s one big plus to this more casual approach to dating, it’s that you can get to know different people and what you’re like around them, as opposed to diving from one serious relationship into another. You can actually try different connections on, and even let yourself be surprised for a change.
As a Gen-X woman who’s dated her share of millennials, I don’t buy for a hot second that they’re incapable of connection or real, intentional relationships. What you really need to call into question are your own ideas about how a relationship should go or how other people should behave. What stories do you let dictate what you do or want and with whom? Why do you feel you should be on a marriage track and that everyone should hurry up and make that happen? Clinging to the idea that you’re supposed to be dating in a certain way, or that everyone else should, is, it seems, just as silly as clinging to the word courtship itself.