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The end of courtship? Maybe in America

2013 January 20
by Zoe Strimpel

According to the NY Times, this is what you can expect a date to look like in 2013. Maybe it is – in college campus America.

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Phone calls requesting a date for two have been replaced by a last-minute “sup”.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

-Phone calls


-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.


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