When the For Dummies folks called about a revision to my original dating For Dummies book, now several years old, I originally thought that not all that much had changed about dating: Dating, after all, is still about two people who are interested in one another and want to get together at a specific time and place. It’s not like we’re talking rocket science here. Since the original fix-up — you know, the one between Adam and Eve (who had the advantage of the ultimate Matchmaker) — dating has evolved.
With the familiar United States version less than 100 years old, the guy is often (but not always) the one who asks and pays, and couples still face the tension of possible sex at the end of the evening. However, after some reflection about the dating scene I concluded that the last six or seven years have indeed significantly altered the dating landscape, and anything that alters that landscape is certainly going to alter dating behavior. In this chapter, I detail those changes precisely. In addition to key points to remember about modern dating, you can learn how to keep track of what’s
going on in a dating notebook. I promise no pop quizzes, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about yourself and the process.
Scoping Out the Changing Dating World
Believe it or not, the changes that society, sexuality, entertainment, and technology have engendered in the dating scene can be distilled into a single concept: the need for speed!
Admittedly, human beings, when it comes to love, have always been impatient — even though Diana Ross, or at least her momma, said, “You can’t hurry love, you just have to wait!” People are under more pressures now to race dating at the speed of light when instead they should be taking very small baby steps, exercising due diligence, and noticing in minute detail what’s going on. I know that the temptation is to close your eyes and just go for it. Falling makes it seem much more fun, scary, exciting, and fast, but it’s not very productive if you’re looking for more than just cheap thrills.
I sort of invented speed dating, accidentally, when I first had a TV show in 2000 Speed dating, as it has evolved, usually gives participants six or seven minutes with each potential date, but I gave them three minutes to convince somebody to go out with them, though I was there to offer encouragement or redirect the Burger King philosophy of life: Quick, hot, juicy, and your way work in some places, just not in dating! The need for speed is triggered by two equal and opposite tendencies: Ironically, couples are marrying earlier (obvious sexual urgency) and later (increasing fertility concerns), with women feeling that if they wait any longer they won’t have the option of raising children of their own.
Changing definitions of marriage
Dating has changed, marriage is changing, gender roles are changing. There are now more single people living by themselves than ever before in the history of the world. This tendency, coupled with the reality that life expectancy has nearly doubled in the last century, means that individuals are concluding that they can hold off on marriage or not marry at all, options that mean that dating doesn’t necessarily point in the direction of settling down as it once did and settling down could mean spending many decades with one person if they marry early, prompting them to proceed cautiously.
Statistically, more people are marrying and remarrying than ever before: Concerns about fertility are balanced by women deciding that they can have children without the benefit of a partner, another factor that has radically altered the dating landscape. Some people who are raising children are dating but have never married and don’t intend to (see Appendix A for info about dating if you’re a single parent).
If all this makes your head spin, you are not alone.
Fantasies and realities
In addition to the census, demographic data, and the changing realities, television shows in the 21st century have significantly changed the dating landscape since popular notions perpetuated by the media, while originally fantasy, have a strange habit of morphing into our shared reality. Dating shows have always been a part of the TV landscape, but the bar has been raised, or lowered, depending on how you look at it. In addition to the traditional plethora of inane dating shows, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, Who Wants to Marry My Dad?, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and My Big, Fat, Ugly Fiancé have not only made dating a blood sport but convinced the viewing public that hot tubs and serial necking in front of a TV camera are normal aspects of dating.
Rules about no kissing on the first date
Rules about no kissing on the first date and no sex until the third date seem laughably out of fashion if you watch television. Dating as a competitive sport — complete with body contact and backbiting — has cheapened, degraded, and sexualized dating as well as increased hostility in ways we’re not even completely aware of. Okay, so most of us probably look at television dating shows and say, “That’s ridiculous!” We know that a lot of editing and prompting goes on. But we are all influenced, subtly and not so subtly, by these shows in how we date, how we view the opposite sex, our own behavior, and what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Reality TV has made competition, mean spiritedness, and just plain nastiness part of the social landscape between men and women, making the war between the sexes appear as a bombed-out landscape with few survivors and multiple casualties. Chapters 13 and 14 may make you believe in civilization, manners, and survival as possible goals in dating for yourself and others. Adding to the general confusion is the fact that so many television shows suggest that being gay is not only acceptable but hip and nearly ubiquitous, which has certainly increased the potential for at least considering yourself bisexual, or even more terrifying, having your partner consider him or herself bisexual.
Thus dating has become a question of will or won’t your date come out of the closet after you get to know each other. Interestingly enough, the statistics on the percentage of the population reported and reporting as gay is unchanged
since Alfred Kinsey’s studies 60 years ago. Thirty years ago, TV would have you believe no one was gay; today TV would allow you to assume everybody is gay.