A male friend told me the other day over stale sandwiches in a Cambridge tearoom that Sex and the City depressed him. No wonder there – pretty much every man to whom I’ve ever mentioned SATC flies into a rage, or a frenzy of disgust. But on closer inspection, Samuel was not raging. He was contemplating. To him, Sex and the City is really just depressing; it lowers his spirits, not just about the state of TV but that of humankind. Womankind in particular, I suppose.
Don’t worry – I’m not going to keep talking about SATC- I realise I’m the only person left on earth who likes the show (someone last week, aged 60 plus, accused me of being “obsessed” with it – imagine!). But I think his point is worth lingering on. For the thing that depressed him was the pointlessness of their anxieties, dilemmas and quandaries. That is, all those tricky, fad-led etiquettes and norms which they then had to spend their whole time struggling with. Society made a din that couldn’t be ignored: “shag him, ditch him, buy this, don’t do this, do all at once” and so on. But being humans (well, fake humans), the artificiality of these rules created tension. Lots of tension; lots of emotion. To Samuel, this tension between the sexuo-romantic circumlocutions whipped up by Manhattan culture and the characters’ emotional reaction to them was…depressing. Because self-generated and thus so futile. Like: let’s go create millions of fake issues, then worry about them endlessly?
Samuel has a point. Something’s only depressing if it has wider implications – in this case, implications for romantic/sexual culture. So do we create pointless problems in order to spoil our own fun? Certainly, modern relationship- and sex-havers do not act as happily as one might think a bunch of people liberated from rules about chastity, honour and propriety would be. We spend a lot of time being unhappy and expressing unhappiness, for which there is a wide and developed lexicon. So I think what’s “depressing” about SATC stems from some sense that “being the modern woman” (or man) is more like a tricky job than an easy flow of obvious action. In acting the role of ourselves – that is, modern urban liberal sorts (I know how limited this sounds) – we are not sitting back and relaxing, our minds free to concentrate on other things since the sex and relationships side is taken care of. No, we are busy acting – consciously or not – trying to adhere to a matrix of new norms, some fashion-led, some more deep-rooted. We are constantly expending energy trying to decipher rules of our own creation, when really we should be struggling to understand feminist philosophy or jet propulsion or RNA splicing.
An example. With a wide and open playing field for potential partners today, it has become customary to have a “checklist” of traits one looks for. Jezebel did an article the other day based on an actual written-out list by a single woman on the prowl for a partner. It was an entire side of A4 in length. Now, this woman – for all that she was able to express such specificity – did not seem particularly pleased with having to do so. She was single and didn’t want to be. She was not finding her checklist to be particularly helpful, in fact, it was making her more aware of shortcomings in men than perhaps was fair. The guy could be intelligent, successful, kind and good looking, but he might not like dogs. Dismissed. It reminded me of another list – an Excel spreadsheet constructed by a business school graduate friend, who ranked women he was interested in or sleeping with via a sort of algorithmic rating system. To be sure he got exactly what he wanted, you see. The result? Women, it turned out, are not like cars with various trappings that can be obtained through shrewd shopping.
People spend an awful lot of time agonising about their love lives. I’m not suggesting for a second that we regress to traditional roles. But at this point I am compelled to mention a spot of Foucault and a spot of Stephen Heath as I think they’re enlightening on why Sex and the City depressed Samuel and thus why we might feel a bit depressed contemplating dating culture in general. Foucault argued that a huge proliferation of discourses surrounding sexuality took place in the 19th century. So much for Victorian repression – it is just this repression that pushed sex into every single avenue of life and thought (elephant in the room style). Foucault is primarily interested in institutional ways of fostering and festering sex – medical and judicial techniques such as enforced physical examinations of prostitutes and homosexuality laws. But from this follows the idea of the “sexual secret” – that every person is a sexual person, every person has a secret, and every secret is, ultimately, a sexual secret. This is why we talk about sex and sex’s siblings, like relationships, so much. This is why, perhaps, the women of Sex and the City, and those of Girls, and you and me, talk about them so much. The point is, the talking takes on its own life, creating realities as it jabbers on. Talking about things, eg discourse, makes things exist (much late 20th century theory is based on “discursive construction” of various things, including gender). Moving on. Stephen Heath, the prodigal literary, film and sex theorist, wrote a book called The Sexual Fix. In it, he argues that sexuality (implicitly tethered to dating, courtship or relationships) is a thunderously created thing of the last 100 years, cooked up through psychoanalytic and other discourse. The “fix” idea is the most relevant here, perhaps. It is that we can all achieve that perfect authentic self through sexual fulfilment – we can fix ourselves if we fix our sexual-ness. The “sexual fix” is, as per Foucault, really “the self fix” or just “the fix”. Of course we can never actually achieve “the sexual fix” as that would imply that sex’s usage is finite which, Heath argues, in our present culture, it patently isn’t.
Samuel was depressed by Sex and the City because it reminds him of the world in which he lives. It is a world in which the sexual secret and the sexual fix create endless striving and corrective behaviour – checklists, spreadsheets, date post-mortems, angst, divorce. It is analytically laborious to live in such conditions. Is there an easier route, though, when other complaints such as shelter and hunger are taken care of? Or do humans always turn angst when hardship is overcome? I think perhaps we do.
At the Union this week I opined on the whys and wherefores of the “loss” of sexual meaning in today’s world. What I wrote was, in the end, a relatively conservative speech. It came down to a plea for intimacy unmediated by video clips of humping strangers. Porn=ruinous, hypersexuality=bad. I went deep into anti porn arguments, the proof of how porn seeps into our everyday psyches, numbing us and forcing performativity into our bedrooms when we yearn, or I believe somewhere inside of our lizard brains, yearn for some kind of naked authenticity.
I lambasted hypersexuality – as Ariel Levy puts it, the “hypersexual thumping” of our society. I lambasted sex without “meaning”.
But I didn’t define what the right amount of sexuality is, and thus what the right amount of sex might be, when or with whom, nor what the relationship between that right amount and meaning and finally, happiness, might be.
That’s because I honestly don’t know, though I wish I did. Clearly the answer would not be the same for everyone, though what’s right for everyone is never the stuff of personal conviction. And nothing is right for everyone.
So, what I want to know is: would “we” be happier if we only had sex in relationships? Some people do just that, after all. Is casual sex a male-priveliging construct masquerading as liberatory action for women, or is it really a happy outcome of the “sexual revolution” that women can take a quantitative as well as a qualitative approach, or an impulsive one at any rate?
The problem as I see it is on the level of the psyche and the way feelings of guilt, allegiance and desire for devotion (which we feel ought to be reciprocal) have been built into our psyches. Rationally, “each to their own” should be just fine. You should be able to see, date, flirt with, kiss, maybe even sleep with whoever you want. Nobody owns you. And you can do all of that (though modern sexual etiquette tells you all the partners need to know they’re not the only ones). So why the rub, the angst here? Well, we have this terminology – “I’m seeing other people”/”I’m sleeping with other people”/”I am dating other people” as if these are isolated, detachable activities, like rock-climbing or going to the movies. They aren’t, though. To me, the casual simultaneity of the modern dating system seems like a false friend, a fake sell. Because unlike a spot of chess playing in the park with a stranger, each of these flirtations/encounters goes somewhere. They become either wastes of time, disappointments or real attachments. Wastes of time and disappointments are easier to deal with in a way- they’re the (occasionally destructive) detritus of sexual freedom. But when more than one of these things becomes a real, or a potentially real attachment as surely they must, that simultaneity begins to feel evil. The true modern at ease in their skin is meant to pick the favourite and ditch the less promising contender. For those less at ease, that pesky psyche kicks in and begins mewling. Feelings of guilt, fear of disappointing the “loser” or of being disappointed/making the wrong choice, creep in. Put in rational terms, you’ve done nothing wrong. You haven’t explicitly lied and I repeat, you don’t belong to anyone. You have no duty. And yet your mewling psyche is suggesting you might have a sense of duty and so in creep the the feelings of guilt, confusion and fun-spoiling nonetheless. This jarring, between stern psyche and liberal cultural framework, is extremely uncomfortable. Now, if I was using “liberal” here in an ironic or sarcastic way, the case would be closed: ignore the evil credos of modernity, hark back to pre-feminist ideals and off you go with your virtue and moral purity in tact. But that’s not what I’m saying. For I believe that this sexually liberal society is a rational, clever structure, far preferable to what came before in the death-by-childbirth, dowry-wrangling and virginity-for-sale days. It pushes for individualism, self-ownership and not answering to anyone. This is “freedom”, of course. So, by participating in, or working towards, a modern feminist society, one feels rather like one ought to be enacting these manifestations of freedom.
But what precisely do I mean by the “freedom dictates” of our sexually liberal society? (NB these seem applicable mostly to a certain socio-economic class for whim marriage and more traditional structures are not necessary for getting by either socially or economically). I mean the confidence to have non-exclusive relationships, having multiple partners at once on whim and without guilt, being open about this state, ie that one is “seeing other people“, not muddling sex with “signs” of intimacy, that is, being able to do both without one necessarily impinging on or ruining the other, calling one’s constellation of partners ”lovers” and thus evoking some old bohemian notion of free love unfettered by even older notions of guilt and the religious horrors this suggests.
Now here are a few of the inconvenient and contradictory feelings that may arise for people living among these sorts of discourses: a consumer attitude towards men alongside a questing for “the one” who gets it all, ticks all boxes, gets me totally, loves me totally; greedy; stressed; deceitful, dissatisfied, critical, annoyed at potential wastage of opportunities, exploitative, demanding, numb, worried.
Capitalism is another system I basically respect (sorry ’bout that, Marxist friends). Consumerism is its handmaiden. Indeed, much has been written about the relationship between capitalism, consumerism and romance. But what has not been satisfactorily resolved to my knowledge is our society’s elision of consumption/gain/accrual of resources with the consumption/gain/accrual of bed post notches/relationships/dates. At this point I volunteer myself as your classic greedy person. I am full of appetites. I want more. I want everything – the problem is that “everything” is, literally, everything. It’s chocolate, it’s fun, it’s holidays, it’s romance, it’s experience, it’s this kind of night out and that kind of night out; it’s conversations, ideas-sharing, and I want more youth. But sticking with economic capitalism, if I have enough money, I can buy the goods I want. All of them. Affluence brings the luxury not of choice but of *not* having to choose. In fact, the particular form of satedness that comes from having lots of everything, that is, the satedness of gluttony.
So what happens when gluttony – the fair and just desserts (as it were) of capitalist enterprise – seeps into emotions, sex, love, and the trappings of all three? When men become pawns in a game (as women for centuries have been for men) of power and validation? When you want more of them, when you get more of them (as nobody’s stopping you), and on and on? Utter confusion. Dark stirrings. A sense of wrong-ness. If you are entirely unfettered, or “monogamish” as America’s GGG (Good, Giving, Game) community of modern relationship-havers calls it, then how can you not feel that the main event, the partner figure, is holding you back from other opportunities? That the other opportunities, since you’re permitting yourself to have them, don’t ruin your time with your main event? And what if it’s true – that you ARE being held back?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. I suspect wisdom is the field in which the answer lies. It does seem to me, though, that if our Puritanical (or is it our Marxist) psyches moan loudly enough, we will be forced to consider that more is not always more. At least when it comes to what we want the most: more.
So this is the speech I gave last night at the Cambridge union in support of this proposition. I will warn you now that there is some STRONG LANGUAGE in here- part for the topic, really. What did I realise in writing this speech? I really am a second-waver (feminism). I know. Old school. Also: please remember it’s a little exaggerated- I can’t possibly think sex has lost all meaning for everyone all the time etc etc – this was something people in the chamber quibbled over. But oh well – you can’t take things too literally in life. Look forward to your views…
A year or so ago I interviewed a group of women for my book about being a single female in the West today. In particular, I was interested in the effects of strings-free sex on women. My interviewees’ responses were instructive. Let’s start with Susan, 28. Sex – having lots of it – was her MO. As she told me, in terms of Sex and the City, she wishes she was Carrie but she’s more Samantha. To fulfil this persona, she doesn’t “personalise things”. “I am sensitive,” she clarified, “but I have a thicker skin when it comes to guys, because nothing has ever happened like I want it to and I learned that sex doesn’t make a guy like you. So I just keep going anyway, I have a slim figure and long brown hair so it’s easy to get them to sleep with me – I guess I’m not sure why I do it,” she added. I was curious about what this thicker skin “when it comes to guys” meant exactly. Susan clarified. “With sex, I don’t need to see their face. I don’t really want to see their face. It’s too…much.” I asked Millie, 24, if she could enjoy sex with someone she doesn’t like. “Depends on the sex,” she said. Then there was Mona, 29. Mona – beautifully groomed, intelligent, highly flirtatious – also fulfilled her duty as a modern single woman by giving sex the old college try. It wasn’t the numbers of men she slept with that caught my attention, but the anxiety and pleasurelessness with which she discussed her sex life. In the first place, Mona could not begin to rate the experience as a success if she failed to make the man come. In fact, his orgasm was to be obtained in any way possible – blow jobs that made her skull ache, enthusiastic performances and positioning, studied submissiveness – anything to, in her words, “get the job done”. When the job was done, did she then enjoy herself? “Sometimes,” she said. “But not really. It’s hard for it not to be a performance.” Did it help when the sex was “meaningful”? I asked. She sniggered. “I wouldn’t remember at this point!”
My argument tonight hinges on my conviction that sex is better when it involves intimacy beyond the thrusting of polished genitals and the expert use of luxe toys – and meaningless, and thus pointless, when it lacks that intimacy. I will argue that sex has been denatured, denuded, sanitised and commodified into a series of exchanges that are motivated more by the grim acquisitiveness of the umpteenth metallic orgasm than by anything like proper chemistry between two people. The engorgement of the global sex industry and the more general flood of sexual imperative flowing around us has turned copulation into a never-ending performance – a performance that’s all about short-term consumer satisfaction and display, rather than emotional or even intellectual eroticism. When Mona told me she couldn’t not perform, she spoke for the hordes of women today trying but failing to assume the powerful role in the sexual landscape of booty calls, fuckbuddy relationships and strings-free hook-ups. So much sex, so many tiring calculations, so little proper pleasure – and no, I don’t think a stash of Coco de Mer’s most expensive wooden cock rings or jade-engraved dildos in the bedside table is the missing ingredient, here.
I’m going to take my argument up a notch. Sex has not just lost its meaning. That would make it a neutral act. Sex has become something else, something with a negative energy. It has mutated into the plaything of strip club impresarios and online editors, who commission a grateful band of young women to go out, shag, and write about it in detail. Sex has morphed into a brand where sterile libidinousness and the agility of fake seduction pays big bucks. In other words, sex has become porn’s Mini Me. Thanks to porn, with its brutish nihilism, a dark energy has oozed into the libidos of millions – even as it helps them come more often. It oozes off popular sites like Gag Factor, Anal Suffering (advertising a new “suffering slut” in “agonizing anal pain every week”), and Fuck the Babysitter. It oozes off gonzo porn, off the spanking, open-handed slapping, and gagging that happen in 88 per cent of hetero-porn scenes. [source: Wosnitzer and Bridges, Aggression and Sexual Behaviour in Best-Selling Pornography, 2007]
I’m aware that any person speaking negatively of porn these days has to face accusations of being sex negative, some kind of hideous out of date fun-ruiner, and hairy in all the wrong places. And, when she identifies as a feminist, she is seen to be letting down the side by viewing all women as helpless romantics unable to orgasm without a diamond on her finger and a house in the ‘burbs. I’ll take that risk. Because porn is massive – worth around $96bn, 13,000 properly produced films released each year, 450m internet pages and a fast rising number of people reporting for porn addiction therapy – women as well as men. With such a tsunami of distended groins throbbing in the ether, it’s no wonder sex has become de-sensitised not just for us, but for the next generation too. How can it not? Boys are commencing their life’s sexual journey with lashings of gonzo on their iphones under the desks at school. And even if you, or they, don’t tune into Gag the Babysitter daily, porn’s message is clear everywhere, in everything from the strip clubs both men and women frequent, to car ads to Superbowl half-time shows. The mainstream displays of perfected female sexual readiness and hot bulging men on billboards, TV ads and elsewhere are merely porn’s more tasteful backdrop.
Perhaps I’m being dramatic, you say. After all, people can compartmentalise – can separate real life sex from porn. But I would have to disagree. Because porn is in our brains and in our bodies – not just on our screens. I don’t know if anyone here remembers Duke University student Karen Owen, a prime example of how pornographic norms can be internalised to the detriment of sexual meaning, not to mention mental and physical wellbeing. In 2010 her “fuck list” went viral – this was a powerpoint presentation that ranked every member of the Duke lacrosse team that she slept with. What was notable about the fuck list was how awful the sex sounded – on every level. Mostly the guys would take her home when she was too wasted to resist, often she’d pass out. But when she didn’t, her analysis of their body parts was razor-sharp. It’s as if she carried a protractor and ruler with her to get accurate readings of their penises. Sex seemed partly about dimensions for Karen. The other part was about roughness. She described liking the bruises she often had the next day, of being barely able to walk – hard and fast was her watchword. The rougher they were with her, the more she felt it was a success. There was no mention of pleasure in any of her powerpoint slides, however – scorn for her ravagers was the main point. People loved it – Owen was hailed as a true woman of her era.
Another example of porn’s reach into “real life”. I was at a party the other month – a wedding party, in fact. A lawyer, a guy I remember from a few years ago being clear-eyed and upbeat, cornered me drunkenly. He wanted to tell me how he broke up with his long-term girlfriend and several after her because he stopped feeling anything. In particular, the sex. “I got bored of her pussy,” he told me. “And the next one’s”. I asked him why he thought that had happened. “Porn,” he said. “Porn has ruined sex for me,” he said, nearly in tears, his beer sloshing dangerously. This sorry encounter brought to my mind a bit of wisdom the feminist Naomi Wolf wrote in a New York Magazine article a little while back. It was a write-up of various interviews she had conducted with young men and women on college campuses about what porn had done for their relationships. “Mostly, when I ask about loneliness, a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young men and young women alike,” wrote Wolf. “They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness. What they don’t know is how to get out, how to find each other again erotically, face-to-face.” And that is because it is unbelievably hard to undo porn’s work. As one woman I know put it: “I had to spend years undoing the work of the video clips my partner’s had in his head for a decade.”
Now, a debate about sexual meaninglessness would not be complete without some mention of pubic hair. And here I offer you this tidbit from porn scholar Gail Dines’s book Pornland. Dines is reporting on a lecture she gave to some students at “a large West Coast university” in spring 2008. The female students spoke openly about how they preferred a totally hairless pubic area because it made them feel “clean”, “well groomed” and “hot”. Fine. But when the conversation turned to their boyfriends’ preferences, things got distinctly less hot. Dines recalls that “the excitement in the room gave way to a subdued discussion of how some boyfriends had even refused to have sex with non-waxed girlfriends, saying they ‘looked gross’.” That’s right – gross. One student gave his girlfriend a waxing kit for Valentine’s Day (I hope none of you have done this) while another was overheard sneering to a friend about his girlfriend’s “hairy beaver”. When sexual appeal is about waxed vaginas above all else, I think it starts to become pretty clear that sex has lost a good deal, if not all, of its meaning.
To conclude, the hypersexuality of modern culture does not mean we’ve been sexually liberated. On the contrary, it is creating an ever-bigger void where the real thing, the human exchange of something other than just fluids, is meant to be. Without doubt, I’d rather be numbly hypersexual than stigmatised or restricted in my choices. I wouldn’t undo the sexual revolution. But we can do better. We should be carving out a sexual landscape in which it is considered neither uncool, regressive, anti-feminist nor Tory to value meaningful sex and to NOT value meaningless sex. Otherwise, we can look forward to a world of Karen Owen-style shagging with its bruises and its faceless brutes. Which is just such a waste.
Just a brief note on the “record” numbers of Cambridge lady-students signing up for sugar daddies on seekingarrangements.com.
Ok, so, yah da yah da, the site offers young “goal-oriented” women the chance to get extra cash for newly expensive tuition fees. £9,000 per year, after all! No wonder they’re turning in droves (168 out of roughly 4,700 female undergraduates) to a website where they can offer their youth and beauty in exchange for cash.
Two things are apparent from this previous paragraph: one, actually a very small proportion of women are seeking arrangements with old rich men to help them get through Cambridge in style and two: I thus rather disapprove of the disproportionate coverage of this whole thing. Actually, I think I’d disapprove of it even if the numbers were much bigger. This is because, despite glaring problems with the whole setup and what it says about lots of things, everything I’ve read so far has been entirely dictated by the site’s own press release. The implication if one reads enough of the coverage is a wholly unexamined sense that when the chips are down, and tuition fees go up, proffering your tasty AND clever young booty is a fair recourse for cash. Yep, both young and clever. No wonder these men are fawning. We’re expected to agree that the prospect of a young woman at Cambridge is most exciting for the sexual possibilities it offers than for the intellectual or professional or social possibilities – and the downsides of having those threatened by higher prices.
There are lots of big stuffy superior things to say about the sort of people who go for this. I am tempted to wag my finger as the girls and say, can’t you get a job at a cafe or as a weekend tutor? Isn’t it worth earning a bit less but not putting yourself in this position?
But I don’t know their circumstances. So I’m going to focus on the two things I do know.
One: That many young women today see their bodies on a direct continuum with commercial gain and consumerism, eg gifts and pampering, is disturbing but no surprise. As Ariel Levy argued in her fabulous book, Female Chauvenist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, hotness is the ultimate currency these days, sexual attractiveness has more power than a briefcase of greenbacks – it buys you everything, from happiness to power to actual, measurable wealth. Love and inner beauty are the laughable stuff of old innocence. What everyone wants to be and to have these days is non-ageing tans and botox, diets and hairless vaginas, to strive for total thin-ness, perfect toning. Women like that get more. Because (some) men want women like that. And many women want to be women like that. So in a way, it is only natural that young women in possession of a very hot piece of property (body gold in currency terms) – youth, beauty and the sexual spark that brains add to that mix – should go straight to market. Whether or not modernity has done its work to the degree that the psychological landscape of the sugar babies can seamlessly assimilate this voluntary arrangement is another story. I rather hope they feel freaked out and grossed out by the scenario. Not because they’re doing something incredibly akin to prostitution – it’s not the same since they don’t have to offer sex – but because it is gross and freaky. For the below and second reason.
Two: The men who are signed up for this site know that they are only being suffered because they have cash. This means that they are probably ugly and/or socially maladapted since good looking and/or suave wealthy older men have no issues finding willing younger babes in “normal” offline scenarios. It’s an obvious but unmentionable axiom of a site like this. Which means that they know that the women they are seeing know that they know that they are only being used for cash. A man happy to pay for the guise of a real relationship, with a bit of sex thrown in by a woman almost certainly repulsed by him, is odd enough. But that he knows the girl knows that this is the case going into it – that his attractiveness is *not* why she is with him – is just somehow more disturbing because it indicates the kind of man that one would probably not want to date at any cost. Not even for want of champagne and tuition fees.
I know that stripping and pole dancing and getting naked are any woman’s prerogative, to get all Britney on it. But I’m afraid I’m going to go all old-school and judgemental and say that I think that women lucky enough to be at Cambridge are lucky enough to have earning potential that should free them from this sort of thing. I say “lucky”. That’s because I don’t think that it’s generally something a woman after personal and professional fulfilment would opt for as a first or even a second choice. If it is, fine, but I’d want that desire closely questioned if it were mine.
Not everyone loves those pieces in the New York Times, Atlantic and so on where a relationship trend – normally headed “The End of…Men/Women/Love/Sex/Etc”- is heralded based on interviews with four or five upwardly mobile Manhattanites.
But I love them. Or at least I regard them with more than a snort of disdain.
Because frivolous as they may be, they seep into the ether in a surprisingly powerful way, shaping the discourse surrounding relationships even as they pretend to be merely reporting it. I feel that they should be paid some attention to, if only by people like me.
Well, I’d like to comment on a recent one filed under the catchy heading: “The End of Courtship?”
The question mark is the key thing here. But that’s not to say the article didn’t ring true…for Americans. As for everyone else, I’ve conducted a straw poll and I have good news: COURTSHIP IS NOT DEAD. If, of course, the guy likes you.
Now, a disclaimer. I am aware that I’m talking about it as though the only way in which this trend manifests itself is through men and their decisions – but the fact of the matter is, it kinda is. Unfortunately. It’s still very few women who take the lead in dating, and very few men who secretly resent the woman not paying for his dinner on the first night out, particularly if sex ensues.
The article argues that the old dating format – ie the one that involved direct verbal contact with a person followed by a one-on-meeting- is dead, replaced by a more casual “hanging out” style tweet/text invite. Hazards the NY Times: “Instead of dinner-and-a-movie, which seems as obsolete as a rotary phone, they rendezvous over phone texts, Facebook posts, instant messages and other “non-dates” that are leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.”
Phone calls requesting a date for two have been replaced by a last-minute “sup”. The woman cited at the start of the study was indignant that a plan for a meeting with a date turned into a 10pm bulletin that he was hanging with college friends at a bar and she could come join. The reporter ventured that she needn’t have been so put out – this is the norm for youth of the digital age.
Lots of reasons (or excuses) were cited for this kind of behaviour – in a competitive online dating atmosphere of extreme choice, you date so many people that a dinner or a one-on-one could get too costly both in terms of money and time. Then there’s the fact that in the digital age of instant messaging and social networking, people have lost the ability to communicate outside of real time. Indeed, they’ve lost the art of being rejected- ask someone out and they could reply “no”. Which would, obviously, be a catastrophe of the highest order. So instead they just tweet “sup” and hopefully love will be born?
My gut reaction to the end of courtship is that it’s just not true. But one psychologist quoted here interviewed college seniors and apparently they really are clueless: “They’re wondering, ‘If you like someone, how would you walk up to them? What would you say? What words would you use?’ ” the psychologist said.
So I have to say it must just be in America. Or among the very stupid young.
Which brings me to the more upbeat part of this blog. And the most sexist. And heteronormative. (Please forgive me, gender studies colleagues).
When a GUY likes a GIRL – ie regards her as a human being that he would like to get to know better and maybe in the biblical sense too – he does ask her out. In the last few months, friends of mine have experienced:
-First dates complete with high quality restaurant food – in one case, 2 Michelin star
-Persistence on more dinners
-Dinners cooked for them
-Direct messaging on Facebook, including a question requiring an answer that could just be a rejection.
-Requests to “date”, almost the modern day equivalent of going steady
I asked as many men as I could about the end of courtship. They all said that they would never ping ‘sup at 10pm to a girl *if they liked her*. And none of them were particularly comfortable admitting to pinging them if they didn’t like her – it struck them as a bit crass. Plus ca change in that case, for those familiar with the unfortunately brilliant He’s Just Not Into You. Granted the guys I asked seemed to be all rather sensitive types – but I struggled to find INsensitive ones. Which points to something else – if you look hard enough, or with different spectacles, you’ll see there are plenty of non-brutes out there, boatloads of men who are nice people just like we are (right?), who have very fragile confidences but are willing to power through these to spend time with YOU. Who will not succumb to the digital slurry of half-dates, quasi-put downs and deeply stingy group hangouts. I made sure to talk to a few youngsters, recent college seniors themselves, and they knew just how to ask a girl out. Indeed, had done so just recently and – in some cases – were in committed relationships. One such chap, 22, noted that he felt alienated from the overwhelming choice of partners that gets pushed at people nowadays.”It makes people look at other people and try to maximise their use of them. I prefer to see people as an end in themselves.”
Take that, US college seniors.
And for the ladies, at least those in the UK, no need to despair. Just nip in the bud anything sounding like a “what’s up bro” when you’re expecting “hello, would you like to go for a drink?” Online or offline, courtship is alive and well, for better or worse.