Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Some Perils of Modern Dating
I think a lot of people – regardless of gender – forget how different online dating and "blind" dating in general are from what most of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents did in the recent past. Go back further than three generations, and you'll find even more differences when it comes to dating and courtship. What folks think of as ingrained social conventions are truths are products of modern, industrial society - and there has always been some flux in what is considered "normal" and "proper."
Going on a date with someone in the recent past often meant being tied to an intricate set of social connections. You were probably connected through peers. The parents of both daters sometimes knew each other. Perhaps you were both part of the same religious/spiritual community. Lived in the same neighborhood. Regularly attended events in the same locale over a long period of time. In other words, the odds were that the two of you were not total strangers.
Given that, there was a stronger sense of urgency around treating the other person well on a date, even if nothing came of it. Because if you didn’t, it could quickly burn your reputation. This, coupled with the fact that men were the breadwinners and were expected to be in control of relationships, brought about a lot of what is considered chivalrous behavior. With rigid gender roles in all facets of life came a set of reliable, but also limiting and often oppressive intimate relationship cultural norms. Some of which linger today.
Certainly, plenty of people still experience these kinds of social webs when dating. But with online dating and other forms that bring strangers together, the dynamic is different because there isn't a social network to consider. You can literally meet dozens of people over the course of a year that you see once or twice, and then never again. The shopping mentality of it makes it easy enough for people to ramp up their list of desired traits and behaviors, and also ramp up their level of rejection for anything that "doesn't fit" the dream. Even when those things are quite minor and not direct, reliable indicators of someone who could be a quality long term partner. In addition, some folks take the fairly anonymous quality of stranger dating as an opportunity to let their worst out. Fits of anger. Litanies of criticism and judgments. Pressuring for sex. Using dates for upgraded, expensive meals and entertainment.
Unfortunately, sharing dating horror stories and publicly ranting about all the things people dislike about each other is quite common these days as well. Indeed, all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse to locate a blog or dating comment board filled with people who will gladly reinforce how awful dating is in general, and how much of an asshole or bitch your last date or partner was.
The seeking of a like-minded tribe online (or amongst friends who only know you) has mostly replaced the social circle of people who know the other person, and can offer some more accurate, specific back story about them. While there is a certain freedom in much of modern dating that wasn't present in the past, it also can be a pretty lonely place. Meeting people you know next to nothing about. Having to rely mostly on generalized dating advice from other strangers you'll probably never meet, and the sometimes not helpful, or overly biased advice of friends and/or family.
In the end, it always comes back to your gut feelings, the connection you feel, and the level of trust you develop with another person. It's always vital to open yourself up to learning more about relationships and about yourself - your needs and also the places where you need to grow.
But I can't help but notice that a lot of what people consider good dating advice these days is little more than grasping for straws.
We live in muddy times. And I think this requires people to let go of a lot of assumptions and expectations.
At the end of the day, especially with online dating and blind dating, going on a single date with someone only gives you a tiny slice of information. Unless someone is totally off, it really is mostly a gut decision whether or not you decide to go out again. How much can you truly know about a stranger after a few hours together? And how much can they know about you?
The muddiness of modern dating is calling for all of us to be a bit more kind and open to possibilities. To turn people down with more grace. To give people that are a little rough around the edges another shot. And to let go of the fairy tales so many of us have been force fed by the popular media.