“Is dating dead?”
Sounds morbid, but that’s the question posed by a recent, controversial New York Times article which argues that dating as we’ve known it has, well, passed on. I tried the same question on two of my female, single-but-dating coworkers. Their responses were immediate: “Oh, yeah.”
Alex Williams, the author of the Times article, charges online dating, hookup culture, and unmitigated interpersonal connectivity with bringing about the “the end of courtship” — and the social rules that were supposedly part and parcel with it.
But dating is not dead. And the question of its continued existence is really a stand-in for a much bigger issue, one that my coworkers and I soon found ourselves discussing: Why is modern dating seemingly devoid of mutual respect? And does that count as “death” to courtship as we knew it?
Modern Technologies and the "End" of Romance
People are definitely still going on dates. In fact, each month, 25 million people seek out dates through online dating services. This figure alone (or a night out on any urban bar scene) is testament that dating is in fact alive and kicking. That said, the ways we date have certainly changed from the ways we used to, and that's to be expected. As human cultures and technologies evolve, so too will human relationships. What we are witnessing is not necessarily the death of romance but the diminishment of a certain kind of human interaction which evolved for a specific sociocultural context. Indeed, some writers hail the end of outdated modes of courtship as a positive sign, demonstrative of a more nuanced and inclusive dating arena as well as the expansion of women’s rights.
But other writers (Williams included) lament the loss of traditional dating, blaming modern communications technologies (such as Facebook, Gchats, and texting) for ruining romance. These technologies, the thinking goes, allow for constant connectivity without the need for direct interaction and without social context, which can create needless conflicts (e.g., Facebook-stalking a date can lead to finding pictures of them looking flirty with someone else, which can lead to feelings of insecurity and anger, and so on). Said conflicts, in addition to easy access to online dating sites, make it easier for us to leave current partners instead of putting in the work required of any relationship. Indeed, communications technologies have the potential to breed disrespect for each other’s time, privacy, and personal worth throughout all stages of a dating relationship — as anyone who’s been broken up with via text message can attest.
All that being said, it’s not especially helpful to generalize an entire generation, as Williams does, as helpless victims of modern technologies and the “hookup culture” they supposedly promote. Indeed, this line of thinking discredits the power that we, as individuals and as a collective generation, have to define dating and our interpersonal relationships. We would do well to spend less time bemoaning text messaging and Facebook chats as the death knell of dating and more time clarifying the fact that we are not victims of these technologies. Modern technologies haven’t restricted the ways we communicate with potential romantic partners; instead, we restrict ourselves when we choose to rely on said technologies to the exclusion of all other means of communication (e.g., good old-fashioned love letters, long talks on the beach, etc.). And we restrict ourselves even further when we allow technological platforms to change or eliminate the human aspects of our relationships, even when they take place online. Technology is what we make of it.
The question, therefore, is not whether communications technologies have killed off romance or respect in our modern dating culture, but whether we will allow them to. Text messages and Gchats are not inherently devoid of consideration for the person being texted or Gchatted; it is the human-generated content of said messages that connotes either respect or the lack thereof. A person can, for example, feel just as valued over a candlelit dinner as they can feel disrespected; we can’t really attribute these feelings to the “dinner” itself. Ultimately, “romance” and “dating” mean different things to different people, and relationships are always case-specific. As a culture and as individuals, we would do ourselves a great service by breaking away from the idea that “dating” should carry with it a fixed set of rules — because in reality, the kinds of dates we go on and the technologies we use to plan those dates matter less than the way we treat the person there with us, and allow ourselves to be treated. Indeed, these choices are the best means we have of creating a culture of mutual respect.
Is “dating” dead? Should it be? Share your thoughts in the comments below or get in touch with the author on Twitter @LauraNewc.