Today the New York Times has published the eight trillionth in a series of stories of about “the kids” and “the end of dating.” Older, married people LOVE to speculate about thinner, unmarried people having sex, so this is a perennial topic that has appeared in American media every ten weeks since 1854, which saw Potter’s Culture, Literature and Gardening publish “Are overly loose corsets ruining women for childbearing? Old white men on the East Coast graciously give their opinions.”
Today’s dramatically-titled piece, The End of Courtship laments how gosh-darn confusing these gadgets have made the otherwise-oh-so-clear process of sexual mating and lifelong partnership formation.
“MAYBE it was because they had met on OkCupid. But when the dark-eyed musician with artfully disheveled hair asked Shani Silver, a social media and blog manager in Philadelphia, out on a “date” Friday night, she was expecting at least a drink, one on one.
“The word ‘date’ should almost be stricken from the dictionary,” Ms. Silver said. Dating culture has evolved to a cycle of text messages, each one requiring the code-breaking skills of a cold war spy to interpret.”
Oh those crazy guys and their confusing text messages! How did we ever end up in this historically unprecedented situation of mixed messages between people who are of childbearing age and potential sexual compatibility?
Newsflash: things are BETTER THAN EVER when it comes to dating
Can I save everybody a lot of time that might be spent reading these stories about the lamentation of single city dwellers? The common value in all these stories is the complete lack of historical perspective or interpersonal understanding. (Other than that, they’re just awesome.) So let’s get some things straight.
By way of bona fides, let me just remind you where I’m coming from: I am 39 years old. I have been married for seven years. I have two children and now live in the suburbs. I was a single city-dweller until age 32, having had several long-term relationships since age eighteen. In the “off season” between serial monogamy, I attempted to sleep with as many women as possible, with predictably mixed results.
Speaking on behalf of my generation, it was a great time. It was also a confusing nightmare. Women were crazy. Men were emotionally-confused nutjobs. (I myself am a lunatic, for example.) There were painfully traditional dates at restaurants, hookups at discos, friends of friends, coworkers and myriad other unadvisable situations. Many of my friends are married, some are divorced, some are still looking and a few never cared for the mating ritual one way or the other.
The above history forms my biases as to why it is NOT the end of dating and people should stop wasting keystrokes and eyestrain on this topic. Because dating is going just fine compared with years past. Consider that…
Courtship has always sucked
These articles are so off base because they pretend as if mating in the modern era is supposed to be like some crappy Hollywood Rom-Com, but without the depth and dramatic tension. Read some history. From Helen of Troy on up, gettin’ busy has always been a complex issue, and back in the day, people used to end up dead for it. Forget King Agamemnon, skip up to the 19th century. Listen to the sea shanties about sailors and the girls they left behind. CHECK OUT THE LYRICS. My old band Whisky Before Breakfast sang an old folk song called “Willie Taylor,” in which a sailor knocks up a girl and abandons her, so she tracks him down across the sea and murders him. Not blows off his texts from now on, shoots him dead.
Listen to the bluegrass classic “Pretty Polly,” which is about a man who’s trying to get some cheap pre-marital sex out of the woman he’s courting. He doesn’t want to get married, so he takes her out in the woods AND SHOOTS HER IN THE CHEST. Not totally uploads nasty photos to Facebook – shoots her and buries her in a ditch.
OK, those are extreme examples you say? Well let’s remember what the word courtship means to begin with – you are allowed in the same room as a member of the opposite sex – most likely chosen by your parents – and you are able to have uncomfortable conversations in the presence of your entire family before quickly deciding whether this will be your sole sexual partner before one of you dies from childbirth or cholera. OMG, so much fun!!!
Look, I know that there are some chuckleheads on Chemistry.com and J-Date, but you the past was not a dater’s paradise, because…
Dating meant pregnancy and or death
Listen here, footloose and fancy-free members of Gen Y, lemme mansplain you what it was like to come into the age of sexuality as a member of Gen X. Just at the exact moment that certain hormones began to be released into our bloodstream that led to thoughts such as, “Golly gosh, Heather sure does look nice in those jeans…hmm…curvy…” The news broke in and said HEY EVERYBODY GUESS WHAT! THAT GAY CANCER AIDS THING IS NOW IN HETEROSEXUAL PEOPLE, AND WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT ITS LIMITS ARE. IF YOU HAVE SEX, MAYBE YOUR PENIS WILL EXPLODE AND YOU WILL DIE. AND JUST DO NOT HAVE A VAGINA IF YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU. OK?
Oh, that was just awesome at age thirteen, let me tell you. So much better than some confusing text messages and “hookup culture,” I’m sure.
Maybe you know somebody’s Dad who has HIV and is on 19 retrovirals and is doing pretty good these days. Awesome, right? Guess what, in 1986, they gave you Tylenol and put your name on a quilt and wished you sayonara. Things are quite a bit less tense these days.
But that’s just Gen X – your parents, the Boomers had their own troubles. Yes, yes, they totally lucked out and got to live through the late 60s and 70s, the only period of time in HUMANITY that was After the Pill and yet Before AIDS. (All that and the music was completely amazing, those bastards!) And yes, to hear my 61 year old friends tell it, it was completely, totally out-of-control awesome. And it was only like 14 years. Be jealous, but not too jealous.
Because prior to that, they did their dating BEFORE THE PILL! Jeebus, imagine THAT kind of pressure! You and Mary Jane from up the street have been fooling around for six hours in the back of a giant Buick, and now your mind is complete hormonal mush. If you “go all the way,” you’re looking at a Russian Roulette-type chance of a shotgun wedding in five months. And everybody is marrying their first girlfriends anyhow, leading to what will ultimately become a divorce epidemic in twenty years.
Yeah, the Boomers got a quick taste of sexual freedom for a while, but they had nothing compared to your relative freedom, because…
You can be gay or bisexual or whatever
My dear member of Gen Y’s confusing hookup culture – does it occur to you just how much freedom you have to explore sides of your personality including – if you were so inclined – homosexuality? Are you aware of just how big a deal this was just a few decades ago?
If you’re gay or lesbian or questioning, it’s still not a bed of roses, but for the love of Pete, there are online dating sites specifically for you that don’t involve the police kicking your head in! Look up the Stonewall Riots, where gay men attempting to assemble in a semi-private area for mutual enjoyment got treated to yet another visit from the New York Police Department, where they would be rounded up, beaten up and arrested. The riots were not due to this being an unusual, freakish dereliction of professional behavior from the police. Au contraire, this was somewhat standard police procedure, to “send a message” about immoral behavior and such. “Faggots” were people that you could beat the hell out of with impunity, because after all, it was the worst thing you could possibly be!
There was no Bravo network on TV. There were no openly gay politicians. And there sure as hell wasn’t a website featuring “M4M” or “W4W” or T4Q or T25 or R2D2. There was DON’T BE GAY. AT ALL. FOR ANY REASON. OR WE’LL BEAT YOU UP. IN PUBLIC. OR MAYBE KILL YOU. MERRY CHRISTMAS.
And the fact that you can be gay now is just another factor of the unusual situation in which you find yourself, which is…
You can have any kind of relationship you want
The freedom may be crushing, but part of the confusion you feel is actually a lack of constraints, allowing you to explore yourself and choose whatever type of relationship you want. This is what people for centuries have dreamed of. True, true, the timeworn tradition of having a man demonstrate his economic prowess by arranging A Date at a Restaurant is not really functioning any longer, so that comforting ritual has been taken from you. Unless, as it so happens, you really like guys with straight jobs and love eating at nice restaurants, in which case – go nuts! But things seem so “confusing” now because you are free, and that is very adult and very scary.
You want to get married and have kids? Sure, try that out!
You want to get married and have an open relationship and not have kids? Go nuts.
You want to live legally with a member of the same sex? Yup, have a blast!
Is your dream to just troll Craigslist every night looking for freak after freak who will be willing to have sex with you dressed as a variety of characters from Battlestar Galactica? EGADS – the technology and the social mechanism actually exists for that.
Wait, what’s that you say? It’s too confusing? Nobody knows their part anymore?
Guess what – they never did. And before, nobody liked the part they got, either. Up until very recently, your romantic relationship probably was terminated by death in childbirth. Throughout the period of modernization, the 20th century, mostly we fought our social institutions tooth and nail about what was possible. People wrote, debated, cajoled, demonstrated and sometimes even suffered violence. And now, all those pioneers won. You have freedom. And a cell phone. You can see who you want, booty call whom you please, change your Facebook relationship status at will. You have the terrible burden of total freedom.
At the end of the day, it’s never going to be easy because we as a species are not easy. The basics still apply – it takes women nine months to gestate life and a whole lot of resources to support babies when they arrive. Men can spread their seed far, but they need to stick close to home if their offspring are to thrive. By age 29 or so, a woman’s ovaries are screeching at her at the sound pressure levels of a jet engine. By that same age, men are starting to consider what life with more than one piece of furniture might be like. We all try to hide our weaknesses and tart up our strengths so we might command a partner who can fulfill our dreams. We are frequently duplicitous, usually disappointing, and occasionally full of divinity.
Those are the only hard and fast rules of the game. The rest is up to your imagination – and hopefully your compassion. Even though it might be better than ever in many key aspects of romance, you should have deep respect for the other people in your single life, slogging through endless complexity with the heavy yoke of freedom, just as you are.
Now, have fun out there, and remember the Campsite Rule – leave them better than you found them.