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.
2 years ago