Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dating in the New Millenium

I've been thinking a lot, especially over the past 24 hours or so, about this concept of "dating." It's kind of old-fashioned, isn't it? I've talked with my closest friends about this notion of "dating," and the refrain of these conversations was, "we don't like dating," or "oh god, I don't know if you can call what I have done or do dating." At first, I was inclined to think that the reasons that I and my friends have such a hard time with this concept was because we're easy. Not easy easy, but easy in an easy-like-sunday-morning-happy-feminist-I'm-not-going-to-buy-into-some-sort-of-idea-that-I'm-chattle-and-thus-should-increase-my-market-value-by-saying-no-to-sex way. Easy in an I-don't-believe-in-books-like- The Rules - way.

But as I've thought about it more, it occurs to me that maybe the reason that we're all so uncomfortable with the idea of dating - and why I'm experiencing the radical insecurity that I'm experiencing right now - is because "dating" hadn't really been a part of my interactions with the opposite sex prior to this foray into the world of online dating. As I mentioned in passing before, my experience with "dating" was really more one of "hanging out" - you're in a couple with a person, you're "seeing each other," but this is pretty much limited to hanging out together at home (or in a dorm room) or meeting each other out at bars or maybe getting a meal together, but in a very casual sort of a way - or "hooking up" - which, of course, is a relationship based primarily, if not entirely, on sex in the middle of the night after both parties have gone out with their friends earlier in the evening. Now, within both of these categories there are smaller sub-divisions, like being "friends with benefits," or like living together. But really, all of these are on a continuum of casual social interaction that doesn't have the same rituals that "dating" in the formal sense has.

What does this mean? Well, for example, let's consider the forms of entertainment when you're "hanging out" with somebody. There's renting a movie. There's ordering some food. Maybe you meet some mutual friends out at a bar. Or, of course, there's also the ever-popular watching boys playing video games. (How many hours of my life I've wasted doing that, I do not know.) You might go on one, or maybe two, things that resemble "dates," but that is only after you have already made out or hooked up.

See, now with actual dating it's different. "Entertainment" means things like going out to dinner or to a movie or things. Also, you tend to dress up for the other person, and you don't tend to know the other person very well, if at all. You're trying to impress the other person in some way at the exact same time that you are trying to get to know the person. There is a frisson of anticipation surrounding the date, surrounding meeting the person, surrounding whether or when you might kiss or whatever.

With hanging out or hooking up there is no frisson - there is no if only when. If you kissed the first time you "hung out," you might decide that after the retroactive first date is when you'll have sex. Or sex was actually the ice-breaker that made the two of you decide you might go on a date. With this dating business, it's a whole new ballgame. For one, the date didn't begin with sex, and nor can it really end with sex. You don't know each other well enough for that. You're not automatically in a couple, and you shouldn't stop trying to date other people, because unlike with the very, very, instantly monogamous "hanging out" it's expected that you will not be immediately exclusive. (With hanging out, exclusivity is assumed - if you're hanging out with two guys, that makes you a cheater and a slut; with hooking up, there is no exclusivity assumed, but there is also no real relationship beyond sex; with friends with benefits, there is a kind of odd emotional exclusivity, and it doesn't end well when one of the friends tries to have a "real" relationship with somebody other than the other friend.) And you don't know if you'll kiss the person, or even if you'll like the person. You might have one drink with the person and never see the person again. And there is a formal rhythm to this actual dating thing, a dance that each person plays in moving forward and then pulling back, and it's unclear from the outset where it will go.

With the emergence of online dating, actual dating is a normal thing. It wasn't for the first 10 years or so of my dating existence. My training-ground was the land of hooking up and hanging out. I wonder how to do this other thing. It will be interesting to see. And yes, I'm going out with the Catholic tomorrow night. Crap.


StyleyGeek said...

I found that really interesting. Down here on this side of the planet, people pretty much assume that "dating" is how Americans always go about the romance/sex thing (thanks, movies and television, you've steered us wrong again). So most people I know assume that there's a cultural divide, where You Lot do "dating", while We Lot do "hanging out", (and I guess everyone gets the options of "hooking up" and "friends with benefits"). The dating thing only happens here in the context of blind dates/internet dating, and even that is a recent import. The big difference, as you say, is the assumptions about monogamy that go along with "hanging out" but not "dating" (which tends to cause a lot of culture shock among people new to the internet dating/blind date game who find out their date from Saturday night was *shock* seen at dinner with another woman on Sunday).

It's really interesting to see that all these potential relationship modes happen Over There as well.

Jill said...

Yeah, I'm amazed - I was SURE Americans dated just like in the movies and in the online dating. And that it was only here in Norway, Europe etc that we just "hang out". Thanks for clearing that up!

And ooh, good luck with the Catholic!

Masterfraud said...

Hey Dr. C, this makes me a little sad with all its truth. My training ground was much the same, and I wouldn't know how to go about 'Dating' at all. As a graduate student, my peers are either married or complete pricks -sometimes both (sans one, whom I have a baby-crush on, and yet nothing will happen, because we are in the same department, despite the fact that we are having dinner and going to a movie tonight). I need to go outside my bubble, but how? I am freaked out about internet dating, and I can't wait to see how your experience goes with it. Keep us posted with the Catholic!!! Hope you have a wonderful time...

Anonymous said...

I think what you say is true for most. my experience is similar--at my college there was a lot of hanging out, hanging out in groups, hanging out alone, evolving from interested and seeing each other into something exclusive.

but we were also weird and I'm mostly telling you this story because it's weird. We had a tred toward "courting" (people actually used that word) going on, which is kind of popular among conservative christians at the moment. The stated intention at the very beginning of the relationship was marriage, meaning the point of every interaction was to test whether a marriage was mutually desirable and if the pair could be compatible. a series of dates (including meeting the parents) and other such would ensue. the relationship was immediately exclusive. This all was supposed to take place without a physical relationship or at the least lack of physical contact was an ideal. some delayed all physical contact beyond hugging until the engagement. others wouldn't kiss until engagement. Others didn't kiss until marriage.

weird, huh?

PowerProf said...

You have nailed it -- completely. Dating is an unusual beast -- and I'm just starting to realize the difference. Hard to get used to, huh?

chris said...

This post reminds me of Vince Vaughn's commentary on dating in the 21st C. in the movie Wedding Crashers. The scene i'm refering to takes place in his office when his secretary delivers to him a sleeping bag; it's pretty early in the movie. I about pee my pants every time i watch that scene...or the entire movie for that matter.

Btw, i think i'm in like with your blog. Keep us updated on the Catholic.

Dr. Crazy said...

You are very sweet for being in like with my blog :)

Of course I'll keep you updated on the Catholic. Tragically, I've fallen into Meanie-to-Catholic mode over the past couple of days because I'm freaked out about the Date. I'm sure it'll be fine once I meet him, if I don't scare him away before tonight with all of my meanness.

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, and re: the other comments.

the idea of courting freaks me out.

And yes, this new "dating" thing is a strange beast indeed. Speaking of which, I really need to write some stupid letters to my other suitors so as not to put all of my eggs in one basket :)

helenesch said...

Your description of hanging out and not really ever "dating" describes my experience too. But I was in school (undergrad or grad) all my life until getting my academic job fairly recently. Do you think it's different for folks who are actually out of school and in the "real world" beginning in their mid-20's? At least a few of my friends who are now in their mid-30's "dated" for a while before the internet dating thing was a possibility. I remember them describing this as very strange, since it isn't at all how it worked when they were in college.

In other words, would our experiences be different if we weren't academics...? After all, it's harder to meet people who are smart and interesting once you're out of school (at least that's been my experience).

dianne_lone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dianne_lone said...

Internet dating is the best way to find prospective dates nowadays... Its accessible for most people. I am registered in webdate*com, a site that allows me to express myself freely and find prospective dates. My friends also tried the site.. and they say, it has improved their social life. Same goes for me too!