Dating Is Dead: Long Live Whatever-We-Call-It-Now!

Dating Is Dead: Long Live Whatever-We-Call-It-Now! July 6, 2015

I recently came upon a post by Marshall Segal on John Piper’s blog. It began:

Dating is dead.

So says the media. Girls, stop expecting guys to make any formal attempt at winning your affections. Don’t sit around waiting for a boy to make you a priority, communicate his intentions, or even call you on the phone. Exclusivity and intentionality are ancient rituals, things of the past, and misplaced hopes.

I beg to differ. It’s not that this new line of thinking is necessarily untrue today, or that it’s not the current and corrupt trend of our culture. It’s wrong. One of our most precious pursuits, that of a life-long partner for all of life, is tragically being relegated to tweets, texts, and Facebook pokes, to ambiguous flirtation and fooling around. It’s wrong.

I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend recently. Like me, my friend is coming out of evangelical homeschool purity culture. She’s in college now and has recently gained her first boyfriend. Anyway, we were talking about dating and about her efforts to figure out how to go about it, the conventions of it and so forth, when I told her this:

Another thing is that I think our generation is moving away from formal dating and toward just sort of falling into it. That’s how it seemed to work when I was an undergrad at least. Two people share a friend group, spend time together, text or message, eat together on campus (in a non-dating way), and eventually one of them says “hey, maybe we should try being ‘together’?”

I do not promise to be an expert on modern dating mores in any way shape or form, but Segal is correct that there has been talk in the media about the death of dating, and I think there’s something to that—though I disagree with Segal’s conclusion.

Sean and I met as undergrads. We found ourselves part of the same friend group, and over time we got to know each other. We hung out, generally in a group setting, and really hit it off. We started hanging out just the two of us, getting breakfast together or studying together in the residence hall lounge. We also instant messaged each other, a lot. We really enjoyed each other’s company! There was definite chemistry, but we were too clueless or too socially inept to see it and make a move. Eventually, some of our friends stepped in and played matchmaker, but they really didn’t have to do much.

Then our relationship fell into courtship hell for six months until I resuscitated it by pulling the plug on my parents’ attempts to smother me, but that’s another story and has everything to do with the patriarchal evangelical homeschool world of my youth and nothing at all to do with the modern dating scene.

Anyway, I saw this same basic pattern repeated over and over again with my college friends. The line between being friends and dating was blurry, and friendship often fed naturally into being a couple. I don’t think I ever heard a friend or acquaintance say someone had “asked them out.” The whole fancy date thing you see in movies or TV shows? Yeah, that didn’t happen either. It was so much less formal and so much more comfortable than everything I’d been given to expect.

Curious, I did some googling and found this by Christian college president Dan Boone:

My role on university campuses for the past 30 years has given me a front row seat for the movie titled Dating. Relationships between college students have become so nebulous that the defining question on campus is, “Is this a date?”

I owe my understanding of the cultural shift in dating to Dr. Scott Stanley. He visited Trevecca Nazarene University in the fall of 2014 and lectured on the topic “Sliding vs. Deciding.” Dr. Stanley is a research psychologist and professor at the University of Denver and is a recognized specialist on cohabitation (living together without being married). His assumption is that dating builds the necessary foundation skills for commitment in marriage and that the demise of dating has left us sliding into relationships rather than deciding about relationships.

Okay, not only is what both Segal and Boone are saying bullshit, I’m also actually surprised they’re saying this as Christians. Perhaps this is because I grew up in a home and a community influenced by Joshua Harris, who taught that young people should get to know each other in group settings before pairing off. Perhaps this is because I have lived through exactly the kind of dating Segal and Boone are describing and think it head and shoulders above their beloved fancy-date ask-the-girl-out ideal. Just. So. Much. Bullshit.

Boone adds this later in his article:

Now, breakup is hard because there was no commitment to break up from. Since you hang out with the same friends, does one of you leave the island? Do you unfriend the other person or berate them on Facebook? Do you stalk what the other is doing on social media? Is there even anything to return that symbolically says this is over?

Um. Not really.

Okay, funny story! Sean was dating another girl, whom we’ll call Katie, when I first got to know him. We were all a part of the same friend group, remember. Anyway, he broke up with her a couple months later and they both stayed in the friend group without a problem. A couple of months after this, Sean and I started dating. I initially held a grudge against Katie because I’d been raised to think people give away a piece of their heart to every person they date, leaving them less whole. As I gradually began to realize this was bullshit, my feelings of anger toward Katie disappeared. And guess who I went ring shopping with when Sean and I were talking about getting engaged? Katie. Yes, you read that right.

In fact, both Sean and I still talk to Katie regularly. Katie invited us to her own wedding a couple of years ago (she married another guy in our friend group), and none of us saw any of it as awkward at all.

Yes, breakups can be hard. Yes, breakups are sometimes extremely messy. But you know what? Sometimes breakups are really not a huge deal. It happens. People move on. Such is life.

And perhaps that is why Segal and Boone are displeased with this new form of dating—perhaps my casual attitude toward breakups would shock them and make them see me as flippant toward divorce. I can’t get on board with this, because I actually think this new way of dating makes for stronger relationships than the more formal procedure of the past. (I’m also not completely sure this is as new as Segal and Boone think it is, but we’ll let that slide because I’m feeling nice.)

I married Sean because he and I had formed a strong partnership and camaraderie that I didn’t want to lose. So far two other couples who met through our friend group have also married, and for much the same reason—they sort of clicked and worked together well as a couple. The problem with more formal dating is that you feel the need to be on your best behavior, to put up a front and a mask. We didn’t feel that pressure, because we were just friends. We were already people we let our hair down around, even before we started dating each other. We didn’t feel the need to put up a facade. We didn’t have to be fake.

And that, quite simply, is why I find Segal and Boone’s concerns so laughable.

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