Monday, 14 January 2013

Dating is Not Dead

Two readers have brought my attention to this New York Times article about Single people in New York, always a fiendishly difficult city to find a spouse in, or so I have been told for years.

My first thought is "sub-culture."

When your sub-culture is all about sex-without-strings, men-and-women-are-the-same, sexy-gives-me-the-edge-at-work, letting-it-all-hang-out, internet pornography and doing whatever you can to claw your way into fashionable jobs, then--no--courtship is not going to happen. Not until the men hit thirty or start going bald or start panicking about having healthy children. Because only then will they be willing to give up the smorgasbord of sex and serial monogamy for the comfort and stability of marriage (or ""equivalent) to one woman.

Incidentally, in what universe is David Mamet's 22 year old actor daughter the poster girl for American "Millennial" life? Of course her dumb-ass boyfriend tried to get her daddy to pay for dinner. Cads have been trying to get the rich fathers of the women they bamboozle to pay for their treats ever since they couldn't be legally whacked for it.

By the way, it's a bit of a hoot that the girl at the beginning of this article put on her "favourite skinny black jeans" in anticipation of her Friday night date. Boy, that's Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers right there.

It is a bit mad to expect cutting-edge-of-latest-fashion people or simply conventional-to-Manhattan people to follow in the sensible footsteps of bygone generations. No, if you are really interested in romantic courtship, men acting out traditional courtship roles with an eye to wife and family, then you have to look beyond the chattering class to other sub-cultures, sub-cultures that care about family, not just family names.

I'm thinking guys who go to church, although of course they will be enough affected by the expectations and fads of the people who created the TV shows of their generation. I'm thinking guys from cultures that have super-strong family bonds. I'm thinking guys in male-dominated careers of the kind women aren't yet much interested in (unfortunately), like plumbing and construction: guys who don't take women for granted because they aren't around us all day long.

Not so long ago, I was asked why English girls are converting to Islam. Hmm. Let me see... Because Muslim men like to get married and have kids? Because Muslims have strong expectations for what men act like and for what women act like? Because Islam provides strong family ties, a compelling philosophy and some great food? Because Muslim men like to get married and have kids?

Anyway, I don't want to suggest you limit yourselves only to church groups and wider Catholic networks, although really I think they are the best hope for Catholic girls serious about getting married and having kids before the age of thirty. As I've said before, I think you should also get to know the "cousins of the devout"--the Italian, Hispanic and Polish guys who slack off from church except at Christmas and Easter.

In a pinch, you might consider joining film clubs that concentrate on the pre-1963 period. There are an awful lot of male romantics in such clubs, sighing silently over the courtship dynamics, the clever, wise-cracking women, the marvelous complexions that you too can buy from Max Factor.

Because dating is not really dead, save among the sort of people who get the uncritical attention of the New York Times. But, yes, there does seem to be an awful lot of "hanging out" and technically I never went on a date with B.A. I just sort of showed up, and everyone at church looked at us with googly eyes and manufactured dinner parties until we got unofficially engaged.

Listen, we're a tad weird, and we're no more poster children for ordinary life than David Mamet's daughter.

Okay, your turn. Read the article and tell me what you think of it. I personally know boys of your generation who got tired of just "hanging out" and actually asked girls on dates. The thing is, though, is that these were serious, Catholic guys thinking about potential marriage to serious, Catholic women, having reached the age at which they thought they should get a move on.


Gwen said...

I found the article depressing, though I find dating in general depressing lately so that's not very noteworthy. "hanging out" can be a good, friendly way to get to know someone with less pressure than dating, but I guess the difference for me is that I would want it to eventually lead to more intentional dating/courtship. Minus the hookup culture that just seems heartless and careless at the end of the day.

I was a Catholic girl serious about getting married before 30, and then I turned 30. I've been dating guys I meet at parties, through friends, etc. to try to keep an open mind and because my spiritual director told me that God helps those who help themselves. I've met a few funny, kind, smart... and non-Catholic guys, which only makes things seem worse because then I end up feeling stuck and like I have to break it off. It seems like the two Venn diagram circles of "Catholic" and "fun/smart/normal" do not intersect very often. I have no idea how to solve this problem, which is where things get depressing. I guess I'm learning more about men and myself, so maybe that's what I need to learn right now. I kind of just decided to be open to whoever God puts in my path (within reason).

Scarlet said...

The article seems pretty accurate (as a single 20-something in NYC). I agree with the technology aspect-- why ask a girl for her number when you can friend her on Facebook, look at a bazillion photos of her, and then send her a FB message two or three months later? Sadly, this has become standard, which is why I no longer accept friend requests from guys I just met. If you like me, ask me for my number and call!

So to summarize: yes, the article is accurate and something NYC Catholics have been lamenting for some time now. Long live the sub-culture! :)

Lauren said...

Yeah, this was discouraging. I actually don't mind hanging out, and I don't mind some informality... but so much of what's described just seems rude.

The more I experience this mess and read about it, the less I want any part in it. And I know that sounds bitter, and I know bitter is bad. I don't mean to be bitter; I just quite sincerely weigh up the pros and cons and think "dating" these days SO is not worth it.

Lucy said...

I couldn't finish the article - it was too depressing. Having said that, so-called traditional dating or courtship has proved just as depressing in my case. So it may be less depressing to look back and think that Facebook was worthless than it is to look back and think that eighteen years in conservative and trad communities was worthless! I can still remember a friend assuring me that I'd be married by the age of thirty, which date has long since passed! (And I second Gwen's Venn Diagram analogy!)

Sunnysaffer said...

Gwen, loved the Venn Diagram analogy too!

I too have met guys at a party or other gathering, enjoyed chatting to them, had them actually ask me directly for my number/email (or asked a mutual friend to check with me if they could pass it on) which all seems like a minor miracle in today's culture, only to find out on the 1st or 2nd date that he is not a Christian. How to avoid this? It seems a bit weird to make the first thing you say to any man you meet "So are you a practising Christian?"

Seraphic said...

There is no point to being depressed by the article because the article is not the totality of reality but an article written by one person with a limited social circle probably in that rather socially unusual place called New York.

It isn't a minor miracle when men ask for phone numbers, etc., in many, many places. Dear me, I recall being asked for my phone number by a super-cute, 22 year old Polish-Canadian guy in Toronto's "The Green Room" when I was off my face, errr..., when I was living in a convent, and I had to tell him the only phone belonged to the nuns, which is how I learned the word "Random".

There is no "today's culture"--there are only "today's cultureS", most (but not all) in the English-speaking world somewhat influenced by television sitcoms.

Tell me more about Catholic and fun/smart/normal not intersecting very often. I have never found this to be the case, not even at BC, where although the majority of male students I met were total lefties, they were also Catholic, fun, and smart so I just don't get it. Yes, there are a few guys with mental or Sheldon-eque personality problems, but they are definitely in the minority.

I imagine a much bigger issue is Catholic guys not wanting to get married before 30 because they are former humanities students with horrific student loans simply terrified of the economic burden of supporting a wife and umpteen charming children. Happy are they who went to trade school and became plumbers, electricians, carpenters and pastry chefs, for they shall be well-paid.

Morgan said...

The Venn Diagram works surprisingly well when you live in the American south, where Catholic men are few and far between.

Sunnysaffer said...

I have met many smart Catholic men it is true, but I think it is the 'fun' aspect that is often missing when dating Catholics. Sometimes it feels more like a job interview - I get asked a whole lot of questions which seem aimed at determining whether I fit the idea of the perfect wife the man has in his head, and not at all aimed at getting to know me as a person.

Seraphic said...

That's interesting. Are these guys met through Ave Catholic Maria Match?

MaryJane said...

Gwen, Amen Amen to the Venn Diagram! I distinctly remember the point at which "normal" superseded "Catholic" on my list... the normal guy can always convert, but alas, the socially awkward Catholics are less like to swim to the other side of River Normal.

Seraphic, I'm puzzled that you don't know what we mean... maybe this is an American problem? {I've never been on a catholic dating site, myself.} Or the fact that the guys you knew were lefties? I'll freely admit that most of the ones I am talking about are decidedly un-left. But I have never chatted with another single Catholic woman who did not nod in agreement at the bemoaned lack of normalcy in the Catholic man-o-sphere.

It dawns on me that in your own words, "Listen, we're a tad weird, and we're no more poster children for ordinary life than David Mamet's daughter." - maybe your experience was just different?

But by all means, do offer suggestions as to where to meet these smart/funny/normal Catholic (or cousins of Catholic) men.

Seraphic said...

BECAUSE--the kernel of a post is exploding in my head--first dates kind of ARE job interviews.

Hanging out is supposed to be fun, and not that serious.

But dating is not necessarily fun, because it is rather serious. Many men date because they are looking for mistresses. Other men date because they are looking for wives.

As most of us don't live in France and none of us live in the novel "Le Divorce", very, VERY rarely do men put their sexual cards on the table when they are looking for a mistress, at least not until the third date. And they never say that's who they're looking for. They never negotiate by saying, "Of course being X and Y and not being where I want to be in my profession (or being married already), I am not looking for a wife. I am looking for a mistress, preferably a clever, beautiful one like you who will not embarrass me at parties." Instead they charm you and hang around and kiss a bit until actions give shape to their unspoken words, at which point if you are granted the smarts or the grace, you give them The Speech. And then they move on with more or less grace. If they are not jerks, they skip the "Thanks for wasting my time, bitch" remarks.

Men who think dating is not a fun way of passing time, like hanging out, like Catholic men who are serious about marriage and family, are more likely to put their cards on the table, to find out if you think dating is serious or just a fun way of passing the time. And so the solemn questions and orthodoxy tests, the dull practicality of "How many kids do you want"/"As many as God sends."

It would be great if all the men in the world loved taking women out just to feed us and look at us and have fun conversations and then--quelle joie!--pay the bill, but most of them are too poor or too practical for such magnanimity. If courtship--not hanging out--is involved it is because men want something from us: marriage or sex. And most men can now get at least a kind of sex without courtship, either because they themselves are being courted by horny women or they are more interested in what they can get from internet porn.

The best way to avoid the job interview quality of first dates is to date only those you have already hung out with, which is to say, those of your male friends and acquaintances who are tired of just hanging out with you and want something more, yet another reason not to just drunkenly make-out with friends at parties, not that any of my female readers do that.

Seraphic said...

Well, what do you girls mean by "normal"? Maybe we should start with a definition of "normal" or even "normal for guys". Because if you think "normal" is how girls behave then, yes, trad Catholic guys aren't going to seem that normal.

I have found normal Catholic guys at the Toronto Newman Centre, at St. Michael's College, Toronto (particularly in chaplaincy), at Regis College, Toronto (most of those male religious, however), at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Cambridge, MA, in young Catholic circles in Frankfurt-am-Main, and in Edinburgh.

In my humble opinion, the Theology on Tap sponsored by St. Paul's in Cambridge MA offers young, bright Catholics in their 20s great opportunities to meet each other. St. Paul's also has or had) a great coffee hour, dominated by Democrats--not so surprising for Cambridge.

I suspect the entire nation of Poland is full of normal Catholic guys--normal for Poland, anyway--and think there still must be a bunch in Ireland.

Increasingly trad Catholic guys are not going to be "normal" because it is becoming less and less normal to be a trad guy or a Catholic guy at all, so the naturally conventional people will no longer be traditional, Catholic or, dare I say it, people who would ever have voted for Reagan or Thatcher, an action today looked upon by a noisy number of influential taste-makers as tantamount to crimes against humanity.

B.A. strikes me as pretty normal, which means that he likes a lot of the same things my oldest brother likes. And yet there he was unmarried at 36--basically because local women did not appreciate his Catholic traddery, which I suppose they didn't think was normal. More fool them.

I'm starting a new post called "What is a normal Catholic guy?"

Andrea said...

My short thoughts on this article for a non-Christian audience are here:

MaryJane said...

Seraphic, my Canadian friends will be thrilled with your suggestions - anything to get me up there! :)

Antigone in NYC said...

I have much to say about dating in New York, and dating Catholics in New York, but I wanted to jump in and somewhat disagree with the idea that first dates should be a type of job interviews. (Disagree with caveat that I respect very much and follow this blog pretty closely.)

My experience of dating practicing Catholics in NYC is that the first date is somewhat more likely than it is among secular types to be treated as a job interview, and that drives me up the wall. In my head, a first date should be an hour over coffee or drinks, and the point should be to find out whether you can both spend an hour in one another's presence without being bored stiff. The big questions need to be addressed, and addressed early (3rd or 4th date?), but I believe that the more human and natural progression of romantic relationships is to first establish whether very basic chemistry and compatibility is present.

I find this especially tiresome among the serious Catholics, as most of those dates are results of connections through CatholicMatch and Ave Maria Singles, which are largely self-selecting and which already provide the couple with a blow-by-blow outline of which major controversial Church topics they do/do not believe in (ordination of women/premarital sex/contraception, etc.). There's just something offputting about having spent thirty minutes with a new guy, and being asked something like "So, have you heard/read about Theology of the Body?" (which is usually a veiled attempt to verify the other's opinions on chastity and contraception). To me, at that thirty minute marker, I'm still trying to decide whether I even like or am attracted to the person sitting before me, and ALREADY we're having a conversation about sex? (Married sex, grant you, but sex none the less.) I think a little natural modesty is in order, and respect for the fact that women and men are not angels: I know I can't have theoretical conversations about sex with a strange man/potential suitor without feeling slightly flustered. There are also other big questions that are just as important to selecting a spouse, yet I wouldn't ask a man "Are you an alcoholic?" or "What is your current amount of debt?" or "Yankees or Mets?" on the first date, either.

Secondly, I'd like to point out that a man trying to find a woman just to fill to a role of "wife and mother to my children" may be in danger of using that woman--in the negative, utilitarian sense described by JPII in L&R--just as much a man using a woman for a one night stand or a mistress. (I address myself and my own longings for a marriage partner here, too.)

And unfortunately I usually don't get on too well with the NYC traddies, who often identify strongly as Big Business Republicans. I may be an introverted, weekly mass attending, feminine looking, staunchly anti-abortion and no-premarital-sex having Catholic, but they freak a bit when they discover I also love me some universal health care, liberal immigration policies, and strict environmental regulation. I am also fond of wearing pants to non-Latin masses.

Polish Girl said...


I'd like to refer to your statement about Polish guys.

I am Polish, catholic and live in Poland. According to what you said, I should have none of the problems NYC catholic girls experience.
and yet: our supposedly normal NCBs are not so willing to ask you out, let alone to think about committment. It's what many friends of mine are going through. No dating prospects, just occasional remarks that could be interpreted as flirting, but that's all.

So, it looks to me it's a case of "the grass is always greener" attitude. Poland is more of a "westernised" (in a negative way) country. There a lot of single women here, as well as a lot of catholic and non-catholic jerks.

Seraphic said...

@Polish Girl. Well, I am more commenting about "normal Catholic guys" here than about "willing to get married."

The difficulty girls in the USA have is that Catholics are a minority group. On paper they make up only 25% of the population, and a big chunk of that 25% is Spanish speaking. If you are a white American, particularly in some states, it's kind of weird for you to be a Catholic, and indeed only people who do not care about being seen as weird (or are weird) will stick to the faith.

In a big city, there will be more people who were baptized Catholic, but that doesn't mean they go to church or, if they go to church, that they actually believe or follow Catholic doctrines.

In terms of Catholicism, in Poland, because on paper 90% of Poland is Catholic, Catholicism itself is "normal." If a girl doesn't want to have sex before marriage, it may be old-fashioned and inconvenient, but it is not a huge surprise.

One difficulty with being Catholic in the USA is that the USA is in the middle of a weird culture war in which just to be a believing Catholic is weird. Already weird, the Catholic guy might not see why he should knock off a few of his rough edges, just for the sake of getting along with women.

Most people are conventional. It is conventional in the USA to be Protestant. It is conventional in Poland to be Catholic--for now.

As for why there is such a delay in Single people getting married in Poland, I am told it is (A) the relatively new ability to travel and work abroad and (B) the economy. Apparently Polish women living in the UK are having more children than living in Poland.

Seraphic said...

Sorry, that should read "...than those Polish women living in Poland."

Seraphic said...

Antigone, tell you what. Petition Mark Shea. A lot of American Catholic men read his blog. If you said, "Mark, could you please tell the young Catholic men of American not to grill young Catholic women on our orthodoxy and take on Theology of the Body on the FIRST DATE? It's weirding us out, and we modest Catholic gals don't want to talk about sex, however marital, with near-strangers" he might just do that.

Seraphic said...

@Polish Girl again. If you read the post on "What is Normal" you may get an idea of what the American girls are dealing with: it seems to them that the only single Catholic men they meet who really care about their Catholic faith don't seem to be interested in anything else and are aggressive about the faith, argumentative about the faith, and generally hard to deal with.

This is not my experience, mind you. I am used to a third way, a very Toronto way, which is that men from Catholic families tend to go to Mass often for reasons as cultural as they are religious. Immigrants are often more conservative than the people they left at home, so I imagine there are a lot of Polish-Canadians and Polish-Americans and even Polish-Britons who are more religious than, for example, Poles in Warsaw, although I have to say I was still impressed by Mass attendence in Warsaw. And they won't have the need of, say, a White Anglo-Saxon American convert to obsess about what was right or wrong about Vatican II and whether or not women should wear trousers in church.

Seraphic said...

@Antigone, actually, I'll give it a shot.

Alisha said...

Antigone, I'll probably be in NYC in a couple of weeks and it sounds like we could be friends based on your description of yourself (ie. not Republican but orthodox - gasp! :) Seraphic can give you my email, if you like!! (I don't want to post it here!)

Antigone in NYC said...


By all means. And I'm not the only one in NYC (double gasp!). We do exist, in larger numbers than I think we're given credit. I will also send my email to Seraphic (if she doesn't mind).

And Seraphic,

Thank you for writing your delightful, on target open letter. I've been fascinated and heartened by the response on Mark Shea's blog.

Also, this:

"... indeed only people who do not care about being seen as weird (or are weird) will stick to the faith."

neatly sums up the situation. Alas.