Niki Fritz responds to a recent New York Times article, which suggested that dating in the digital age has signaled the end of courtship.
I’ve been an online dater on and off for about two years. When I’m “on,” I tend to date a lot, at least once a week and during hot streaks, two to three dates a week. Not because I’m particularly fabulous or anything, but just because that is what you do when you online date: You date.
To be clear, we are talking real dates involving the necessities like drinks, shows, food, and that awkward little tango over the bill at the end. And sometimes they are bad, rarely they are magical, normally they are the pretty basic three-hour, two-beer gut check.
Given the amount of calories I have consumed over the last year in IPAs on first dates, I was surprised and kind of pissed to hear the New York Times declare an end to dating in last weekend’s magazine edition. The “End of Courtship” article reduced my entire generation into a cohort of dating-incompetent young Americans who only have random rendezvous arranged over a mixture of OKCupid messages, Facebook pokes, and cocktails. The doomsday article outlined how a combination of online dating, hookup culture, cell phone technology, and that pesky little “mancession” has destroyed traditional dating, replacing it with last-minute group hangs and the dreaded hookup.
But to me, the most disturbing part of this column was the assumed gender disparity in online dating—that women are somehow being cheated out of the long-term relationships they all universally and desperately want. Although the article vaguely attempted gender neutrality by using “boyfriend or girlfriend” several times, the point was clear: Women were getting screwed out of the romantic traditional dates they biologically crave.
Take this doozy of a line for example: “Women in their 20s these days are lucky to get a last-minute text to tag along. Raised in the age of so-called ‘hookup culture,’ millennials—who are reaching an age where they are starting to think about settling down—are subverting the rules of courtship.”
The poor hookup culture once again gets blamed for the demise of society. It is crazy to me that people seemed to believe this hookup culture would end somehow when millennials “grew up.” Many millennials, myself included, don’t think the hookup culture is a horrible thing, nor some juvenile state we need to grow out of. Casual sex, while there are certain risks, can be a fun and enjoyable pastime no matter what your age. And women aren’t on the losing side of the hookup culture phenomenon. According to a recent survey, women like the whole hookup arrangement. It lets them have enjoyable sex without the demands of a relationship.
Plus, we millenniums don’t live in an either/or culture where hookups beat out dating. In our world, hookups exist, albeit not always harmoniously, next to traditional dating. Believe it or not, some very happy partnerships have formed from one-night-stands. And sometimes, hooking up passes the time while we’re searching for someone worth deleting our Blender account for. And sometimes hookups are all a girl wants, so leave her and her IUD alone. While hookups are not dating, they are also not the end of dating.
Of course, there are some differences.
Texting, instant messaging, and social media all make it easy to communicate with relatively low risk. As The New York Times pointed out: “Traditional courtship—picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date—required courage, strategic planning, and a considerable investment of ego.”
A “sup?” text message to gauge interest doesn’t take that much investment and risk, but it also doesn’t pay off as well. And the less we deal with rejection, the more difficult it gets to take a lovely romantic risk.
Further complicating the communication change is who should be taking this risk. Traditionally, the pattern was boy meets girl, boy thinks girl is cute, boy gets some chutzpah and asks girl out. And while I think the mancession is crap, it does point to a shift toward an equalizing of men and women’s economic power and in social norms. And often this results in both interested parties claiming the proverbial date ball is in the other’s court.
It is changing and challenging, but it is something we will date and work through. We’ll figure out which steps work for each of us.
So for pete’s sake, New York Times, please stop all this dramatic oversimplification of dating. It pigeonholes us by our gender and our age. It makes us believe something about ourselves that is not true. All these articles do is scare young women into thinking we are in some hopeless, relationship-less era devoid of love and romance. Or that we should be settling for last-minute texts when we want a bouquet of flowers (or that it is wrong to be OK with the last-minute texts and hookups).
And we are not. Both men and women are out there looking for love. We’re out there looking for sex. We’re out there fumbling around with both. What we need to do is ask for exactly what we want from each other and be honest in our response—even if it’s limited to a 140-character tweet.
Niki Fritz is a freelance writer, nonprofit guru, and feministy type Chicago lady. She is the PR Chair for the Chicago Chapter of the National Organization for Women and writes for the RedEye and GapersBlock in the Second City. You can tweet her at @fritzfrack.