It’s the end of the dating world as we know it (and I feel fine)

by GK on January 18, 2013 · 2 comments

We seem to love us an apocalypse — even a fake one. There’s a good reason why the Mayans got way more publicity in 2012 than, say, the Aztecs. So it is with sex and relationships in America.

My Twitter feed has been chock full of authors predicting the end times, whether it’s the end of monogamy, the end of courtship or the end of sex. Even, gasp, the end of men! (Will that make me a zombie? Cuz that would be cool.)

end of the worldTechnology, online dating and men’s wandering penises are especially getting blamed for our descent from the heaven of wedded monogamy into an infernal fire of hookup culture where we’ll ostensibly all be getting laid in dumpsters like alley cats. All that’s missing is some Carmina Burana playing in the background.

I’m disappointed that such high-minded publications as the Atlantic and New York Times are pushing this kind of Chicken Little hyperbole, and I’ll get into the details shortly. But times are changing, and these dating-trend-du-jour articles do at least start a conversation about where we’re at. Let’s look at some of the narratives:

Narrative No. 1: Internet dating is threatening monogamy

I’ll give the Atlantic credit for at least trying to cover up the stink from Dan Slater’s half-baked fart about online dating. They’ve since posted some very sensible follow-ups from other writers on this relevant, complex issue. I’ve enjoyed reading them.

I’m no cheerleader for online dating, and I’ve documented its limitations. I disliked the assembly-line effect it had on my own dating life and I’ve since abandoned it for my old-fashioned pickup roots. But the suggestion that monogamous relationships are threatened because meeting people online is so exciting? Let’s back away from that dating-industry hogwash.

It always helps in times of crisis to look at the facts. There is zero hard evidence to show that existing relationships are falling apart more in the online dating era. In fact, Census data show that our country’s divorce rate has steadily decreased before and since online dating.

The marriage rate is also down, but the factors at play — female empowerment, male underachievement, a bad economy, common sense — are almost too many to count.

Focusing on our football-loving, intimacy-avoiding Jacob character, Slater’s article ignores the legions of singles who seek love online in spite of what a joyless, time-consuming exercise it is. I know people who have left or want to leave San Francisco, specifically because after much online effort they’re dissatisfied with the dating pool here and think they’d have better chances at commitment elsewhere.

But I have also found successful anecdotes from online dating. I’ve been to weddings and witnessed serious relationships that were made possible by it. Former students of mine have told me of their fiancees or girlfriends.

We’re irrational like that — there are good biological and financial reasons to avoid monogamous cohabitation, but we seek it out anyway because it’s the best flawed system our society has. Despite its paradox of choice and many fruitless first dates, online dating won’t change that.

Narrative No. 2: Dating and courtship are dying at the hands of technology and hookup culture

Some more anecdote-driven, dartboard sociology was authored by the New York Times last week when it suggested the end of courtship among young singles. This is not to be confused with a New York Observer article from 2011 that declared technology was eliminating young people’s desire to hook up. Make up your mind, New York!

There’s another contradiction with the Times article: technology is supposedly eliminating the official date, but what about the rise of online dating? The word is right in there! Yes, there are fewer steak dinners right away, but in this economy that’s an antiquated expectation. (And drinks aren’t exactly cheap, either.) In fact, we’re dating more than ever. Maybe too much, even.

There’s plenty of data to show that these supposedly hookup-crazed 20-somethings are not getting laid so much (oral sex, but not intercourse), and when they are it’s usually with a committed partner. You’d think the Times would have referred to some of that.

I’m not sure what golden age of courtship we’re supposed to be getting back to here. Is it “Downton Abbey”-era arranged marriages? Is it the “Mad Men” repressed housewife years? The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s, when people thought condoms were yucky?

Who knows. Yes, courtship is changing as it always will change — men and women aren’t segregated in work and play the way they used to be, so of course they’re more casual around each other. But I don’t think we need to call the coroner yet. We might, however, considering calling the personal trainer. Which is essentially what I’ve been as a coach.

I’ll paraphrase what I said on Twitter earlier this week: tech doesn’t kill courtship. Courtship dies when people expect tech to do all the work. This is a problem with some people, especially in big cities like mine, but one that can be addressed by working out those neglected social-skills muscles and showing a little offline vulnerability.

Narrative No. 3: Men want lots of sex partners and are preying on women for casual sex

This last one hits the closest to home for me because of the work I’ve done, and I’m going to save it for my next post. Stay tuned.


1 J January 18, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Been longing for a new post. This is a great blog, keep up the good work! :)

2 GK January 18, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Thank you, J! It has been a long time, but it’s good to be back in the saddle again. :)

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