What is “Dating” in the 21st-Century?

date clip artSingle ladies and gents: When was the last time you went on a date?

How did you know that was actually a date?

Dating has been on my mind a lot lately, both as a writer and a person who is trying to date. What does it look like for two people to actually date in 21st century America?
Over at Fuck Men, Get Moscato, MT writes about the way our generation has changed the dating game, from the guy initiating, wearing a suit, and picking up the tab, to two people who just casually get together. She posits that maybe this isn’t a bad thing, that:

we need to adjust our expectations of “dates” to the less appealing sounding “hanging out.” While it does suck that we probably won’t get to experience dates the same way our parents did, it’s exciting to be part of a new era of dating that fits our generation better. It’s sad to see a tradition like traditional dating thrown out the window but in our ever-changing world, modernizing our love lives and dating standards can only help us attain a new level of happiness and satisfaction. Casual hang outs are much better suited to modern society than dinner at an Italian restaurant where you’re forced to eat way less than you actually want to (which was the worst part of the few dates I’ve been on) and to feel the pressure of society’s idea of a perfect first date.”

Thought-provoking, to say the least. While I do think it’s cool to be part of a cultural shift, it’s frustrating to be a part of the this in-between generation, where many of us were still raised to expect the very kind of date that none of us (or at least, none of the single ladies I know) seem to be getting.

At the same time, The Fickle Heartbeat recently shared TMah‘s story of discussing women’s one-night stands and the double standard that seems to exist wherein men are (often) applauded for their casual sexual encounters, but women are derided for doing the very same thing. Women enjoy sex, and we shouldn’t feel bad about getting it, even if we aren’t in a committed relationship, as long as it’s happening in a safe and healthy way.

So, I’ve been pondering this as I think about my life. I’m pretty open about my romantic and sexual experiences, even comfortably discussing them with my parents (for better or worse). Recently, a friend asked my about my date with the Unexpected Italian (as in: “How was your date?”) and my response was “We just hung out at my house and watched TV.” I’m not sure if I saw that night as a date before hand, or even immediately after. But if you take FMGMoscato’s words to heart, then wasn’t it definitely a date?

Girl asks Guy to watch TV; Guy comes to Girl’s house; Girl buys pizza and wine = Date.

date gif

Perfect first date or what?!

If I think about it, I do like the whole hang out scenario better. I dislike the work-up that comes with going out on a “date-date” as my friends and I often end up referring to them.

The last one I remember was my senior year of high school. It was a guy I had met through an ex and then “reconnected” with via Facebook. He picked me up at my house, helped me into his truck (I was on crutches), and we went to dinner and a movie. I don’t think we kissed goodnight. In general, the night was unmemorable other than fretting over what I would wear (which, let’s be honest, I do on a daily basis, regardless of whether I’m seeing a guy I’m into or not). There was something worse about this, though. Between attempting to plan my day so that I would be ready at just the right time (early, but not too early), the weirdness when I opened the garage door (my preferred method of leaving my parents’ house) and he was standing, outside of his truck, a la a horrible lifetime movie I once saw, the realization that I was really not attracted to him and that I wanted to get home without any awkwardness.

While I agree that the fast-paced technological lifestyle we mostly live gives us the opportunity to have a different culture of dating, it can also reinforce the sense of pressure around traditional dating.

Image from Suburban Events, via Pinterest

I’ve also seen ones that include “first kiss.” These signs of “love life milestones” are sweet and make for some fun decor at the wedding, but they also reinforce a traditional trajectory for relationships that so many common relationships today may not follow.

Let’s take my long-term commitment to The Grad School Boyfriend as an example. We had been pretty good friends and hung out on-on-one many times before we started dating, some of which occurred while he was still in a relationship with another girl. These were totally platonic hang outs, by the way. We even went grocery shopping together (something I thought was quirky and cute but totally stopped happening not long after we started dating). This would be the trajectory of our relationship: just friends, first kiss, first date. I don’t even remember when these actually happened; nor do I actually remember when we first exchanged “I love yous.”

And when The Grad School Boyfriend and I were really serious and thought we’d spend the rest of our lives together, this really wigged me out. We once had an argument about how we could never tell his family about our first kiss because it happened in his bed, in his bedroom, before we were even dating (and they were, well, horribly conservative). And, is this really even important? No. But my obsession with Pinterest made me so self-conscious about my non-traditional relationship milestones.

The Grad School Boyfriend and I simply weren’t cut out for each other. But if he had been the guy I wanted to marry, shouldn’t that be more important than having a traditional first date-first-kiss-first-I<3-you-engagement-wedding? I would hope so.

From my time spent watching Millionaire Matchmaker, I know that my desires and expectations about dating can influence what happens in my love life as much as anything else. I feel like there’s definitely some truth to her theory that if you want a commitment, you will find that commitment. If you know what you want, you are more likely to find someone who wants the same thing.

But I’ve recently found some information that totally complicates this. I recently came across the 2013 Ask Men’s “Great Male Survey” (is there a 2014 version out? Or will that come later? I don’t know). There’s a lot of interesting insight into men (or at least the kind of men who take this survey) available, but what stood out to me was the following chart:

Who Should Pay on a Date?

Fifty-one percent of men from the US think a man should pay on a date. This seems significant to me because in the last five years or so, I’ve rarely been asked on a date. I am almost exclusively asked to “hang out” and that mostly means “going dutch.”

I don’t have problems with hanging out, going dutch, dating, or taking turns or whatever. If it works for two people, I think that’s fine. But I have to wonder if guys feel pressured to pay for that traditional first date and then ultimately just don’t do that kind of date for various reasons (including, but not limited to, the shitty economy and more-often-than-not lack of disposable income for people in my age bracket).

What does this all add up to? I don’t know. Fewer people are doing traditional dating, at least early in the relationship. The woman I know who has the most dates is my married best friend. They try to have one date night a week, and sometimes this means getting dressed up and going out and sometimes it means Netflix and grilled burgers and broccoli. They’ve dated for something like ten years, been married for almost two, and I know they did not follow a traditional relationship path.

The point here, I think, is that 21st century dating is less restricted than the kinds of dating most of our parents did. We can either embrace and work with this change, or we can fight it and look for others who feel the same way we do. Whatever we choose, we need to make a conscious decision on what we think dating is. Only then will we have an idea of what we want and actually be able to find that.


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4 thoughts on “What is “Dating” in the 21st-Century?

  1. Becca says:

    Interesting post! Until fairly recently I still went on relatively traditional dates – I’d dress up and go somewhere pretentious and try terribly hard to make a good impression on a guy who would usually want to pay for everything (even when I offered to split)!
    I sort of enjoyed the charade but it never led to a lasting relationship; I normally ended up dating guys for a while but trying to keep up the pretence grew tiring and we inevitably realized we weren’t actually what each other wanted.

    I met someone very recently, he had to drive 2 hours to come down to see me as we’re a fair distance apart. What did we do? We grabbed a KFC then hung out at my house… None of our friends could believe it, it was the most low-key hang-out imaginable. But suddenly, with the attention off the art gallery, the museum or whatever I’d normally do… all there was, was us. Was our conversation, was our connection. And it was all just so genuine and natural, I felt like I’d known him forever and there was none of the usual pressure to act like someone I’m just… not.

    He’s coming back tomorrow, we haven’t even made concrete plans as to what we’re doing. We don’t really need to. I realized that if the connection is there then what you do or where you go doesn’t actually matter at all 🙂

    Incidentally, his input on this approach is:

    “I feel like, realistically – everyone wants to be 3 months into a relationship, right? Just, at the start. Just skip the needless make sure you pronounce sh*t right, kill the “On the phone voice”, just be at the stage where you can literally watch TV, and do couple stuff without the smoke and mirrors. That’s what people are looking for.
    On my YACHT, which I rented for this date
    I’ll play you the viola”


    • That sounds wonderful! And I think you’re onto something about missing the distractions of the traditional first-date approach. Without other things to do, you have to really interact with the people you’re with. And that’s definitely not a bad thing. And yes–most of us do want to get to that comfort mark. So why wait to get there if we don’t have to?

  2. lovetmah says:

    I love this Zadie – the more we’re prepared to discuss, question and challenge out preconceived notions of sexuality the more we grow and evolve. x

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