January 14 2013

Is it the "End of Courtship?"

Hadley Heath

The New York Times, in a new article called "The End of Courtship" reports on the frustrating experiences of Millennials, unable to form meaningful relationships in a mix of online dating, hanging out, and hooking up. 

Listen to this sad story:

After an evening when [Lindsay] exchanged flirtatious glances with a bouncer at a Williamsburg nightclub, the bouncer invited her and her friends back to his apartment for whiskey and boxed macaroni and cheese. When she agreed, he gamely hoisted her over his shoulders, and, she recalled, “carried me home, my girlfriends and his bros in tow, where we danced around a tiny apartment to some MGMT and Ratatat remixes.”

She spent the night at the apartment, which kicked off a cycle of weekly hookups, invariably preceded by a Thursday night text message from him saying, ‘hey babe, what are you up to this weekend?” (It petered out after four months.)

It petered out? Yeah, I would hope so. This relationship didn't sound like it was going to become anything serious.  That's fine if that's Lindsay's choice (just to have fun), but we can't seriously expect that flings like this one will turn into successful partnerships.  That's just common sense, right?  It doesn't take a prude to recognize that if keg stands, macaroni and text messages are all he's got time to give you, he's probably not interested in the self-sacrifice required for a loving marriage.

Some experts like  Donna Freitas, who has taught religion and gender studies at Boston University, blame "hookup culture" for the downfall of dating, and therefore marriage-making.

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.

Perhaps I'm oversimplifying the issue...  But is dating really so hard? The "basic mechanics" of a date are not so complicated.  A boy and a girl decide to eat dinner together, or see a movie, right?  Why is this so difficult?  Am I missing something? Of course it requires a little effort, but aren't relationships worth the effort?  Aren't they what so many young singles are craving?  Meaningful relationships?

Another young man quoted in the article celebrated the more casual dating scene, happily saying "the stakes were lower."  This just sounds like laziness.  Translation: "I'm not willing to put myself out there; I'm entitled to one day get married without doing the hard work of finding a good match."

One problem for today's Millennials might be - and forgive me for this but - there are too many choices.  Whereas our parents and grandparents married a hometown sweetheart or college love, today's working Millennials have resorted to the internet as a resource for mate-matching.  But this can create another bad mindset, fueling perfectionism (but not always. Many successful marriages started online). Consider another new article from The Atlantic "A Million First Dates: How Online Dating is Threatening Monogamy," which explains how the constantly available prospect of something new and exciting robs Millennials of "loving the one you're with."

Finally, the Times mentions a legitimate culprit: a bad and changing economy.

Dodgy economic prospects facing millennials also help torpedo the old, formal dating rituals. Faced with a lingering recession, a stagnant job market, and mountains of student debt, many young people — particularly victims of the “mancession” — simply cannot afford to invest a fancy dinner or show in someone they may or may not click with.

Further complicating matters is the changing economic power dynamic between the genders, as reflected by a number of studies in recent years, said Hanna Rosin, author of the recent book “The End of Men.”

A much-publicized study by Reach Advisors, a Boston-based market research group, found that the median income for young, single, childless women is higher than it is for men in many of the country’s biggest cities (though men still dominate the highest-income jobs, according to James Chung, the company’s president).  This may be one reason it is not uncommon to walk into the hottest new West Village bistro on a Saturday night and find five smartly dressed young women dining together — the nearest man the waiter. Income equality, or superiority, for women muddles the old, male-dominated dating structure.

Well, fancy that.  The New York Times has finally realized the so-called "gender gap" in earnings is more complicated than the oft-repeated 77-cents-on-the-dollar statistic.  

But here's a newsflash: A dating structure doesn't have to be male-dominated to have some standards of conduct.  Women (and men) benefit from having expectations for each other, including mutual respect. People can still go on dates, even if they split the check.  The important skill for today's dating Millennials to grasp is telling the difference between a struggling suitor who penny pinches to afford the occasional half-dozen roses, versus the late-night texter who, besides a shared love of whiskey and macaroni, isn't a viable partner.

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