Bullish Life: Is Dating Dead?

Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.

Apparently, dating is dead. Except that I’ve been on hundreds of dates, and so have many of you.

It’s kind of like saying that sushi is dead. I mean, a lot of people don’t eat sushi. But you can still totally get some if you want.

Last week, I wrote Bullish Life: Hanging Out With People In Real Life Is Now Like Herding Cats. Cats That Suck. The in-person meetup is not what it used to be.

And a couple of weeks ago, Bullish Life: When Guys Just Want to Be Friends, I talked about meeting Rebecca Wiegand of WTF is Up With My Love Life? and being horrified at the post-dating world she described (one in which spineless man-boys send you late-night texts and you’re supposed to be grateful for the attention!)

I’ve since followed up with Rebecca and Jessica Massa, author of The Gaggle: How to Find Love in a Post-Dating World, both of whom tell me that my categorization of the post-dating world is unfair. Let’s get right into it.

Rebecca and Jessica, you conducted a funeral for dating. So, you pretty much think it’s dead. But dead for who? Everyone under 30? Urban people under 30? Urban, college-educated people under 30?

Dating is dead for anyone who is trying to find love these days. Whether you’re 18 or 29 or 55, you may go on dates from time to time, but that is now just one very small piece of the puzzle that makes up your love life. So if you’re thinking of your love life only in terms of traditional dating, then you’re shutting your brain and emotions off from the multitude of ambiguous-but-still-exciting romantic possibilities that are actually surrounding you in this post-dating world at all times every day.

Maybe you have a date on Friday night. Great! But we ask, what are you doing the other six days and nights of the week? You’re probably non-dating. And once you stop stressing over dating and start opening your eyes to the post-dating world, you realize that those non-dates are just as rife with romantic possibility as that Friday night “date” is.

People are connecting and failing in love via an extraordinary variety of unexpected and untraditional means these days, all over the country, in every age group.

Okay, so, if dating is kaput, what are people doing instead? What are these “untraditional means”? I’m imagining Harold and Kumar texting you at 10:30pm asking if you want to “hang out,” which at best means an offer of weed in exchange for sex. I think you should ignore those offers (unless you like weed and no-strings-attached sex, in which case, no judgments!) Are you trying to tell me that there are men who don’t want to go on dates (even if you split the expenses) who are actually worth spending time with, or is this as bad as it sounds?

Yes! Absolutely. We as women have to stop judging the quality of men based on whether they’ve asked us on a nice, Rules-approved date or not. In fact, we’ve had the nicest, most wonderful guys tell us that the guy who asks you on the perfect date and wines and dines you like a pro is probably the last guy you actually want to be dating – because, well, he’s a pro.

(Jen here: Okay, I see your point – a guy who’s really, really smooth at dating could be someone to avoid. Or he could just be someone who practices things and improves at them, which I recommend!)

Often that funny guy on your soccer team, or that supportive co-worker, or that friend-of-a-friend who keeps commenting on your Facebook status is at least as good a catch, and at least as “into you,” as that guy who is super forward with his traditional date offers.

Instead of dating, women and men are now exploring the promising connections in their lives by ambiguously cultivating their own gaggle of romantic prospects, crushes and ego boosting entanglements. And yes, guys are living in this same confusing post-dating morass as we girls are, and are experimenting with how to approach and connect with the many types of women who are coming into their lives. When a guy meets a girl who he thinks is out of his league, or forms a solid friendship with the cute girl in his office, or bumps into his old college pal and realizes that she’s gotten really hot, he now has the option of avoiding rejection and testing the waters in any number of ambiguous ways. He might Facebook friend request her, or text her on a Saturday night to see if their groups of friends want to meet up, or send her long, thoughtful emails to establish some common ground. Girls have to realize that these overtures are just as legitimate as dates. Modern men are still great. They’re just a little confused by us modern ladies and are avoiding outright rejection whenever they see that opportunity.

FYI, Harold & Kumar sound like the Super Horny Guys in your gaggle. We recommend NOT hooking up with them – but we think you should enjoy their company and appreciate the fact that they are men who find you attractive!

Ah, here’s a nice place for a link to Bullish Life: Let’s Just All Agree on Some Basic Principles of Sexual Ethics.

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    • Lastango

      Good piece! Getting the tryhards to try hard is tough these days. Here’s Kerry Cronin talking about how she made dating a requirement at her course at Boston College:

      There’s a link at the bottom to her video talk.
      I’m willing to buy into the non-traditional forms, but I’ve gotta say it seems a lot like a form of settling… it’s the best we think we can do, the most we’re willing to do, and the fallback when nothing else is happening.
      So, I’m accepting, but I’m not celebrating.

    • Eagle Eye

      Thank you Jen! I have to admit that as someone whose 3+ years into a very happy relationship, I really liked the fact that we dated before we made it official. Although he asked me out first, after that initial date there was asking and planning on both sides which insinuated a level of care and interest in the other person. The fact that we could both plan dates (and all of the parts of our personalities that that implies) I think really added to that vetting process. We’re both type A who need to be with other similarly together, responsible and career driven individuals. Additionally, I would probably fail at ever having a ‘gaggle’ I’m just not social enough to keep one going and I would rather spend that social time with people who I know that I like.

    • http://shevralay.wordpress.com Emily Chapman

      I’m 21, and thinking about it, I think most of the honest-to-god dates that I have been on have been arranged via OKC or Greek life (in that there is a function and we go to it together). But this is also pretty reflective of how a lot of platonic socializing goes on for college kids–I don’t usually go out to do things with my friends, because we are poor and live 20 feet from each other so mostly we just drink in our living rooms and watch movies.

      But for dating partners that I don’t meet through a pre-existing group where there are already norms (so anyone who’s friend-of-friend or beyond), formal dates are still a thing. None of the folks I’ve gone out with from OKC have been older than 25, and no one has thought it’s weird. And certainly once I’m in my mid-20s, I would want more structured date-type things as I begin to look at settling down.

      I don’t care if you start going on out on capital-D dates, but if a boy isn’t going to clearly express his romantic interest and will instead “like” all of my things on Facebook, that’s weird. That’s… a leadup to asking someone out. It’s not the actual going out.

    • ScienceGeek

      I’m not sure. Obviously I can only speak from my own experience, but I had my seven year anniversary on Tuesday and in that entire time, we’ve probably been on less than 20 ‘proper’ dates. But there has never been a lack of effort in our relationship.
      I guess I distrust dates because I know how easy it is to be on your best behaviour, to put on some kind of act. But I didn’t marry his best behaviour, I married the guy who can be pissed off at me, but still recognise the issue as a problem with US, rather than me, and be willing to take his share of fixing things.
      That deep breath to stop us going off the deep end, and the reminder that we’re in this together, for me, that’s the true effort, the real romance, and I think that’s what Jessica and Rebecca were getting at. If you get so caught up in seeing your relationship as a series of events (in the form of dates), there’s a chance you’ll end up blind to what’s happening in your relationship between those dates.
      Thinking about it, maybe it’s like that 20/80 rule you’ve talked about – at this point, we’ve figured out how to meet each others relationship needs, and it’s a habit, something we do without even thinking about it. Although in this case, I think that once you’ve sorted the basics, it’s closer to 20% of the effort, 95% of the result. Every now and then, we run into a bit of a problem, and then we make adjustments and it’s back up to 95% again. Dates of 100% effort and intensity are nice, but almost totally unnecessary. Perhaps because of our circumstances, and our personalities, my husband and I started as we meant to go on.
      The more I think about this, the more fascinating I find it. I’m now itching to talk about this tonight with my husband!

    • Eve

      This is really interesting back-and-forth. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a real date in my life (not counting going out with a person I’m already in a relationship with). Every relationship I’ve been in, including with my now-husband, started with spontaneous making-out on an ambiguous not-date. The idea of traditional dates always freaked me out, and I’ve always known the people I’ve dated in other contexts first (friends, co-workers, etc.). The closest thing to a real date that I’ve ever been on most decidedly did NOT lead to a relationship. All that said, there’s something very cool about traditional, clear-cut dates, and it would be a shame if that custom was lost to antiquity.

      • jamiepeck

        Yeah, I think it would be interesting to get some kind of cold hard statistics on this. I think the pro-ambiguity people do have a confirmation bias, but so does Jen (in the opposite way). I think in the end, you should do what feels appropriate to you in a given situation. The trouble with rules and stats is that it’s impossible for them to apply to everyone.

    • Renee Simkich

      I think that dating is alive and well, but the way we get to know someone has just changed. Instead of casual dating and one on one, in person interaction we are facebook messaging and text messaging before we ever meet in person. Keeping true to what is important in whom you are looking to date is more important than ever. Who Date is an app for the IPhone that is a fun way to be honest about who you are dating or ‘pre-dating’ with online encounters.

    • jamiepeck

      I think you’re both right and both wrong. Online dating never worked for me, because I found the trappings of it unbearably forced and awkward. (Of course, this might not have mattered if I’d actually met someone I liked on there, but I couldn’t deal with it for long enough to do that.)
      But I still wanted to meet someone. I think it’s only common sense that the best way to do that (for a non-online-dater) is to have a lot of friends and interests. Which most people have anyway. (“The gaggle.”) Meeting someone in a non-traditional setting is a good way to, well, meet someone. I wouldn’t marry someone I hadn’t slept with, and I wouldn’t go on a date with someone whose presence I had not first enjoyed in an informal setting, because ugh. I think it’s really, really hard to tell what someone is actually going to be like just over email, because great writers can be annoying people and vice versa.
      So over the course of being social in a way that feels natural to me, I met my dude through friends and I ran into him at parties and talked to him a few times and it was nice. One time, he asked me for my number and he called me up and asked me to hang out one on one (which is generally understood as a date, I think?) and we hung out a lot and got to know each other and had some sex and eventually, decided we were ready to put a label on it. And now he is my boyfriend.
      I met him the “new” (I don’t know if this is actually new?) way, but then went on a date the “old” way. I think there’s room for all of it.

      • Eagle Eye

        I mean, that’s more or less what happened in my relationship. We met through mutual friends, hit it off at a party or two and then he asked for my number and we went on a date. To answer your question above, we didn’t talk about our romantic goals on our first date, we mostly just used that time to hang out and get to know one another. It just so happened that we liked hanging out and so we kept on doing it. We didn’t really talk about labels for another 3 mos or so? Idk, I guess nothing felt particularly awkward since if it had in any way I probably wouldn’t be writing this post on our couch? I guess?

    • jamiepeck

      Another question: if you are not on an online date, how do you talk about your romantic goals on a first date without being horribly awkward and weird and desperate-seeming? I was never, ever able to do this. Maybe split the difference and do it when you’ve known someone for a little while but before you’ve had sex?

      • http://twitter.com/TrippAdvice LA Dating Coach

        I wouldn’t do this on a first date at all unless it comes up naturally. Save it for the later on when you both are more comfortable. No?

    • jamiepeck

      PS, I could write a whole post wrestling with why I react so negatively to perceived artifice. It just sets my teeth on edge. I am intensely repelled by theater people, Burning Man people, and anyone else who seems like they’re performing all the time. (Not judging; just not for me.) Maybe I am a hipster asshole (possible!), but the aversion is visceral and not something I’ve been able to change. I do think there’s a happy medium between rubbing your dick on people and being super fake until you don’t even know who you are anymore. I think both ends of the spectrum are pretty unhealthy.

      • ScienceGeek

        I have a similar reaction, especially in relationships, both romantic and platonic. It’s not so much fakeness that freaks me out (as Jen said, we all ‘fake’ basic good manners), but the knowledge that it’s short term. You can’t keep an act up forever, and in my experience, some ‘performers’ get so caught up in their act that they’ll abandon you rather than it.
        I see it this way: we’re required to maintain a ‘professional’ attitude at work but when was the last time you heard of somebody staying in the same job at the same company for their entire life? We spend our lives looking for a work environment that ‘fits’ us, and so much of that is a desire to NOT spend 8-12 hours of our day behaving like somebody we are not.
        So if somebody is maintaining a persona very different to their own, eventually, they’re going to get weary and quit the friendship/relationship. Personally, when I sense an act, I try to back away. These people aren’t evil, and they’re usually excellent acquaintances/casual friends/co-workers. Also, by keeping your distance, when/if they ever DO decide to stop ‘performing’, the adjustment won’t be so difficult.