Monday, January 14, 2013

Is Courtship Dead?

This weekend I was sent the article posted in the New York Times on January 11, 2013 entitled The End of Courtship. It was a very interesting article, and in it I read a lot of the complaints I hear from at least one client every day as a therapist. The article explores whether “traditional courtship” is dead and many feel that it is. I say that it is not.

The first part of the article discusses “hookup culture” and many people feeling like they can’t get out of it. Additionally, many believe that it is so widespread that it has taken over and “traditional” dating (e.g., a one-on-one date) is never to return. The fact is that hookup culture does exist, but something that is less discussed is the dissatisfaction that some feel as a result of it. Some people find “hooking up” a short-term solution to a long-term desire—to be partnered. I have spoken to both men and women who desire a relationship with a partner who is mutually interested. The more experience I have working with individuals, the more I have come to believe that partnering with another (at some point in time) is an innate desire that exists in all of us. Hookup culture, I believe, can satisfy some of that desire, but the results are short-term. It’s almost similar to a drug- getting “hits” of the drug feel good in the moment, but continued use is required to maintain the high. Overall, I think that it is important to recognize hookup culture for what it is for some—a short-term fix—and also recognizing that there are other options. Seeking other options takes more time and effort.

A Ms. Freitas shared that many young people feel at a loss when thinking about dating, specifically how to initiate a date and what to say on the date. One pointer that I share with clients about dating is to approach it as they would when getting to know any new person. I believe that dating has become to be viewed as something separate from normal social interactions, something more specialized and intimidating. Dating does require putting oneself “out there” and includes the element of attraction, but the idea is to ascertain the goodness of fit between two individuals. Getting to know a person, rather than getting to know the idealized image of a person, is an important task in dating. If you have any friends then you already know how to get to know another person. I describe dating as similar to a job interview—you may want to impress, but you will also want to make sure the job is a good fit for you. In dating, you meet someone who seems promising, but it may time some time to assess if you like the person and the goodness of fit. The “goodness of fit” factor varies from person to person—so having a sense of what you are looking for helps the process (e.g., similar values, good sense of humor, similar goals, similar interests, etc). And keep in mind this may take some time. I encourage people to have a three date minimum as long as nothing egregious happens on the dates.

The next part of the article discussed the impact of technology on dating. The article states that in the past, picking up the phone to call someone to ask for a date required courage and planning, whereas today’s “dating” behaviors may include texts, Facebook messages, twitter messages, and GChat messages. In my opinion, what’s most important in setting up dates is not how it’s done but the details—who, what, where, when, and how to get there. Detailed plans over any medium are fine in my book. People have preferences for how they’d like to be contacted, and I think that’s fine to share with a potential date, but I don’t think that a date set up over text or chat is less official or respectable etc. than a date set up over the phone. In the article some people lament the lack of effort potential dates put into setting up dates. I tell people that a potential date’s behavior can provide insight into his/her enthusiasm about dating, which can provide valuable information to predict the trajectory of the situation. For instance, if a potential date states “let’s get together soon” and does not follow up with a time, he/she may be casual about dating. So, if you want a serious dating situation you may not (likely will not) find it in the casual date-setter-upper. I’d suggest that you spend more energy with a potential date who either gives you available times/days or who suggests a time/day to meet up.

The final part of the article discusses the fact that “traditional dating” can be expensive, especially in our current economic state. My suggestion is to get creative with dating. As previously mentioned, dating is about getting to know another person to assess “goodness of fit”, so the traditional “dinner and a movie” is not the only way to do that. A “date” can take on any form: coffee; lunch; a snack (e.g., cupcakes—one of my favorites); visiting a museum; taking a walk; etc. The goal is to have opportunities to get to know one another. Believing that a certain amount of money must be spent on a “good” date (I’ve heard that the “magic” number is $200) can be limiting, and may be a false indicator of a person’s commitment to dating. 

Overall I agree that the “hookup culture” is present in our society, but I can say with confidence (from experience and talking to people daily) that people still want to “date” and are dating. Hookup culture can be likened to eating fast food when you are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle- it’s all around us and is not very expensive, but both the short and long-term results may not be desirable. Just be aware of what you are actually getting. If it matches up with what you want- great. If not, you may want to begin to explore other options.

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