The end of courtship

Many young people perplexed about how to move from ‘hooking up’ to dating

02/07/2013 12:02 AM

08/08/2014 10:14 AM

Maybe it was because they had met through an online dating service.

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,” she was expecting at least a drink, one on one.

“At 10 p.m., I hadn’t heard from him,” said Silver, 30, who wore her favorite skinny black jeans. Finally, at 10:30, he sent a text message. “Hey, I’m at Pub & Kitchen, want to meet up for a drink or whatever?” he wrote, before adding, “I’m here with a bunch of friends from college.”

Turned off, she fired back a text message, politely declining. But in retrospect, she might have adjusted her expectations.

“The word ‘date’ should almost be stricken from the dictionary,” Silver said.

Dinner at a romantic new bistro? Forget it. Women in their 20s these days are lucky to get a last-minute text to tag along.

Raised in the age of “hookup culture,” millennials — who are reaching an age where they are starting to think about settling down — are subverting the rules of courtship.

Instead of dinner-and-a-movie, which seems as obsolete as a rotary phone, they rendezvous over phone texts, Facebook posts, instant messages and other “non-dates” that are leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“The new date is ‘hanging out,’  ” said Denise Hewett, 24, an associate television producer in Manhattan, who is developing a show about this frustrating new romantic landscape. As one male friend recently told her: “I don’t like to take girls out. I like to have them join in on what I’m doing — going to an event, a concert.”

Blame the much-documented rise of the hookup culture among young people characterized by spontaneous, commitment-free romantic flings. Many students today have never been on a traditional date, said Donna Freitas, author of the forthcoming book, “The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy.”

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,” 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?’ ” Freitas said.

Relationship experts point to technology as another factor in the upending of dating culture.

Traditional courtship — picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego. Not so with texting, e-mail, Twitter or other forms of “asynchronous communication,” as techies call it. In the context of dating, it removes much of the need for charm; it’s more like dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble.

There’s another reason Web-enabled singles are rendering traditional dates obsolete. If the purpose of the first date was to learn about someone’s background, education, politics and cultural tastes, Google and Facebook have taken care of that.

“We’re all Ph.D.s in Internet stalking these days,” said Andrea Lavinthal, an author of the 2005 book “The Hookup Handbook.” “Online research makes the first date feel unnecessary because it creates a false sense of intimacy. You think you know all the important stuff, when in reality, all you know is that they watch ‘Homeland.’ ”

Dodgy economic prospects facing millennials also help torpedo the old, formal dating rituals. Many young people simply cannot afford to invest a fancy dinner or show in someone they may or may not click with.

Many young men these days have no experience in formal dating and feel the need to be faintly ironic about the process — because they are “worried that they might offend women by dating in an old-fashioned way,” said Hanna Rosin, author of the recent book “The End of Men.”

“It’s hard to read a woman exactly right these days,” she added. “You don’t know whether, say, choosing the wine without asking her opinion will meet her yearnings for old-fashioned romance or strike her as boorish and macho.”

Indeed, being too formal too early can send a message that a man is ready to get serious, which few men in their 20s are ready to do, said Lex Edness, a television writer in Los Angeles.

“A lot of men in their 20s are reluctant to take the girl to the French restaurant, or buy them jewelry, because those steps tend to lead to ‘Eventually, we’re going to get married,’ ” Edness, 27, said. In a tight economy, where everyone is grinding away to build a career, most men cannot fathom supporting a family until at least 30 or 35, he said.

“So it’s a lot easier to meet people on an even playing field, in casual dating,” he said. “The stakes are lower.”

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