good news everyone, technology is killing traditional courtship

January 19, 2013

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Perhaps one of the things I love hearing most as a techie about the tools my profession creates for making communication easier and more convenient is how these tools are destroying decent society and are supposedly turning people into hyperactive idiots. Almost invariably, this comes from old fogeys, either in age or at heart, who think their Luddism is the cure for what they see as the ills of the modern world. But what if the social malaise they want to treat so badly is not a problem at all but an outdated practice that needs to change or die off completely? For the past few weeks, a number of big news sites have been lamenting the death of dating and courtship in today’s wired world, blaming online dating, new inequalities between genders, and even texting for the near demise of the traditional courtship ritual your great grandparents would’ve endured, citing fictional characters or those with poor communication skills as examples of its swift demise at the hands of technology and the economy. So, courtship is dead? Terrific, good riddance.

Now, it’s important to point out that the good, old-fashioned dinner-and-a-movie dates are alive and very well, and a lot of married couples still have date nights. Go out on a weekend and you will see plenty of couples holding hands or getting to know each other over dinner with that stiff awkwardness so many people have during the first half an hour of a first date. Where the writers reading dating’s eulogy go way off the rails is by failing to consider that official numbered dates of the looking-for-my-soulmate variety are not the only way men and women enjoy each others’ company anymore and serious relationships can start from casual hook-ups, just hanging out on a regular basis, or just come together by going with the flow. My wife and I had one date in three years and shacked up about a week after we met. The arrangement was supposed to last a few months and you know how that worked out if you paid attention to the previous sentence. She’s still here. We didn’t have to court. We just enjoyed each other’s company after our first date.

This relaxed let’s-see-what-happens attitude seems to be the new face of dating and it removes a lot of pressure from meeting someone new or formally committing to a person until you really, really get to know him or her. One of the biggest reasons I usually avoided dating other Russian immigrants was because the culture is still typically set on traditional courtships and parents are organizing dates and referring potential suitors to their children. From the very first date, you’re under a microscope and everything about you is being evaluated for your potential as a spouse while you’re assured that this is totally not what’s happening at all, you’re just having fun. I was not and I’m guessing it wasn’t fun for her either, especially the post-date parental interrogations that start with "so, what do you think?" Would anyone with the option to avoid all this really want to go through these uncomfortable motions? Dating isn’t solely about finding a spouse anymore, it’s about getting to know people better and seeing what they’re like to be around.

Using a fictional bed-hopper as done by The Atlantic, or collecting quotes about how someone misunderstood a rather vague text doesn’t prove that technology is killing the concept of a date or that there is no dating today any more than a short text instead of a phone call proves that conversation is dead and gone. As helpfully pointed out at Slate, the courtship process usually detailed by those who aren’t aware that society has moved on from the 1890s puts far too much pressure on women to find husbands and reads like a manual on how to be a fake, hollow shell of the person you actually are. Women are encouraged to be perfect little Stepford wives-to-be and whom they marry is secondary as long as they get married, while men are left to navigate a dating world where any warmth or genuine affection are to be treated as warning signs because they’re not lady-like and unsuited for a proper wife. If that’s not a recipe for misery, I really don’t know what is and it’s asinine to think that with today’s options for casual dating and taking things slow and naturally we’d still be living by such backwards, prudish, totalitarian rules.

For all the talk about how technology is making the dating scene confusing and encouraging all those young whippersnappers to consider more dating options and have fun doing it instead of settling down, the old fogeys don’t seem to realize that creating this assembly line of families in their social engineering experiment by outmoded rules is what dehumanizes people while texting and online dating are really putting the choice for how they want to run their love lives back into their hands. Rather than mourning the writhing decay of courtship, we should be celebrating it by picking up a phone and texting that cute guy or girl we recently met "hey there, wanna hang out tonight?" And if he or she replies yes, say what you want to happen. Imagine that. Hanging out with no pressure or expectations with life-long consequences, and getting married when you think you’re ready and it makes sense rather than spend your youth playing a role and trying to find a spouse as the elders impatiently tap their feet and ask why it’s taking so long. What evils has modern technology wrought on the young adults of today, am I right?

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  • TheBrett

    Good post.