Saturday, 19 March 2011

Who Dates?

One remark letter-writers often make is that they've never been on a date. And a fair number of people stumble across my blog by typing "never been on a date" into a search engine. But if I am reading current Youth Culture correctly, teenagers and college students don't go on dates. It would appear that "dating"--the "I'll pick you up at six" kind of date--is nowadays confined to people off campus and in the work world.

In the 1980s, there was still I'll-pick-you-up-at-six dating amongst teens and college students. I know this because there I was, going on dates. Mind you, I made some of these dates myself because seventeen magazine said that was okay, and seventeen magazine (with some mental editing for Catholics) was my standard of normalcy. I hasten to add that in the 1980s, seventeen was a proper magazine with long articles that ran to two or three pages. It had a prim little column called "Sex and Your Body" which was illustrated with a sketch of a medical clipboard. I started reading it at 12.

Dating, however, was not a universal, but mostly a North American phenomenon, and began with the rise of the personal automobile. Before cars, women who worked for a living "walked out" with their admirers, which I believe literally meant going for walks, and women who didn't were chaperoned--either by mothers or auntie-figures (like me) or their sisters or other female friends--and, to use an anachronistic expression, "hung out."

It is fascinating to read novels that pre-date mass production of the automobile, for one perceives thousands of romances that had absolutely nothing to do with dating. In the Anne books, the only time boys and girls were alone together was when a boy asked a girl "May I see you home?" (There doesn't seem to have been a polite way to say "No", either, so poor Anne had occasionally to walk home from school or church with boring old Charlie Sloan. In Little Women, the March girls hang out with the boy next door and his pals. The boy next door asks one of the March girls to marry him without ever having gone on a date with her or kissed or anything except having hung out for the past seven years or so. In Pride and Prejudice, the first time Elizabeth is alone with Mr Darcy she has to tell him that her family is in total disgrace. In Sense and Sensibility....but I could go on.

There is no dating in Germany, which I know for dear old Volker did not go on a date until he did a post-doc at Harvard and met little me. I believe there is dating in Britain, but I was told by a most credible source that the way Britons pair off is to get absolutely smashed at parties, and then have intense discussions at 2 AM that turn into snogging. Incidentally, this is not how B.A. and I got together.

Uh oh. B.A. is arguing.

"It basically was," he claims.


Belfry Bat said...

My grandmother tells that my grandfather asked to walk her home every day of school from grade 1, and claims she always said "no". So, maybe there's a polite way of doing so, or maybe it's intrinsically polite, or... but she was the same year as his younger sister, and later the two girls went to teachers' school together. Anyways, it all worked out, in the end.

Julie said...

It was common knowledge at my (US) undergrad that there was no such thing as dating. A girl I met at the Catholic Center told me as much my freshman year, with the point being that I should loosen up, get with the times, and get myself a birth control prescription like everyone else.

Not to say that no one ever became boyfriend/girlfriend, but this was by some mysterious process that put a high value on ambiguity. As far as I could tell, people who hung out together in the same groups, at the same parties, might then end up talking and talking for long hours all while studiously avoiding putting labels on anything. Then one night, maybe drunkenly, some sort of physical encounter, maybe sexual, would occur, and then if both parties didn't regret it the next day they might decide they were Together. Being in A Relationship was a lot like being married in my eyes in that it involved a lot of casual time spent together and of course nights and even vacations spent together.

If I longed for "dating" it was because I imagined it would be unambiguous and fun and not terribly intense, and involve a flattering amount of attention and excuses to do my hair and not wear jeans. "Dating" implies a set of ground rules that I desperately wanted. Plus, of course, as long as I was dreaming up some kind of ideal dating scene I went ahead and imagined that somehow I would magically have a date every weekend or at least every month instead of spending four years being utterly uninteresting to the male population. ;)

Irenaeus G. Saintonge said...

For me, I find it hard even to imagine romance without dating. Or, for that matter, marriage without dating. I know people used to do it, and I understand that, but I simply can't imagine how it worked! :D
I guess it's another part of our whole western culture that we're beginning to believe is universal.

I've only been on one date with my significant other. It's because she lives on the other side of the continent. ;) Still, I guess that shows it can be done. I think our relationship is stronger in part because we're not always physically together.

Maggie said...

Didn't you and B.A. end your dates by praying rosaries? Or is that someone else's blog I'm thinking of? I suspect the probability of ending a date with a snog decreases with the amount of decades the couple prays on a rosary ;-)

Seraphic said...

We didn't go on dates. We read each other's blogs, sent a few sporadic emails, and he suggested I stay with him if I ever came to Scotland.

We said the rosary together on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, which was the day we travelled to the Highlands.

Before that, we spent a lot of time hanging out and going to dinner parties, Mass, etc. I don't think going places with your touristy houseguest counts as dating.

aussie girl in australia said...

I go on dates with my boyfriend very regularly. We actually don't do a lot of "just hanging out". We can do that when, and if, we are married. He put it to me that now is our time to relax and enjoy ourselves as we get to know each other. If we get married we can eat at home together and do all the usual things. But for this time (courtship) he believes in making it special and taking me on dates is part of that. It is also nice to know where we stand with each other and the purpose of all this.

Oh, and while we are now both older (in our 30s) I did go on dates in university and even high school.

Emma said...

If memory serves me correctly, Elizabeth Benent was alone with Mr. Darcy before she has to tell him about her Lidya's disgrace. What about Mr. Darcy's disasterous proposal?

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Dating seemed pretty dead on my college campus, that's for sure. It was a big drinking school which meant hook-up culture and a higher than average assault rate, unfortunately. On the other hand, the very Christian students seemed to pair off way too quickly. I knew a few people who seemed to be balanced (basically following a Christian version of The Rules and not being exclusive so quickly, etc.) but jumped straight to Very Serious. Balance would be nice... I've been getting to know an NCB at church and am hoping he'll ask me out sometime...