The Modern Dating Scene: A Survival Guide
Welcome To The Jungle
To survive the modern dating scene, you'll need courage, intelligence, and maybe
an elephant gun. At least on the first date.
Article by LiveReal Agents Courtney, Kevin, Mary, and Blake
This is our exploration into the modern dating scene.
Here is how we're planning to explore this juicy yet treacherous topic:
"The Dream" verses "The Reality."
The Core of Dating: Three No-Bull Models
What Experts Are Saying
Historical Context: Why Are Things the Way They Are Now
How To Arm Yourself To Survive in the Jungle
Boy meets girl, girl meets boy.
Boy and girl get to know each other.
Boy and girl fall in love.
Boy and girl get married.
Boy and girl live happily ever after.
It's as simple as that...right?
It's probably safe to say that the course of true love never has, and never will, run smooth. Yet somehow - maybe it's being partly raised by Disney and Hollywood, we often seem to secretly expect it to "run smooth," at least for us. When things don't turn out that way, more often than not, we're surprised. We somehow thought it was going to be easy...or at least, easier than it turned out to be.
But in reality, dating nowadays can be tough. And not just tough, but confusing. Confusing in ways that older generations probably never experienced.
"The sexual revolution has hit the Western world like a storm
and yet people are more unhappy in sexual relationships
than ever before."
- Lee Lozowick
And not just confusing, but hard to navigate, because it can be hard to find good maps that can help us steer safely through the dating minefield.
Finding our way through the complexities of intimacy today is not unlike being lost in the wilderness without a map or compass. All too often, we're untrained, unarmed, unprepared, and we even have pretty foggy ideas about what we want, what we expect, and what we plan to do whenever something - we aren't sure what, exactly - happens.
In other words, most of us wing it. We go by instincts - which can often turn out to be less than stellar - and while we dress it up in something fancy-sounding like "follow our hearts," the truth is that we're just making it up as we go along. And so we learn a lot the hard way.
And the people we usually talk to most about this wilderness are our friends - the ones walking right beside us in the wilderness, who are usually just as lost as we are.
And even worse, the landscape seems to have shifted dramatically over the past few years and decades. Young people today are facing problems that parents, much less grandparents, never even dreamed of, much less struggled with.
So we figured, it shouldn't hurt to try to draw out a rough map, and maybe sketch out a rough general plan.
Having made more than a few mistakes, having learned some lessons the hard way, and hoping that we can possibly help some folks navigate the scene with a little less suffering than we did . . .
A handful of LiveReal Agents have decided to embark on a quest for truth, freedom, justice, caffeine, and those rare moments when you actually seem to be on the same page with another person . . .
- and have emerged with a rough map of the modern dating scene.
"Two people seeking to fashion a life together today
face a unique set of challenges and difficulties.
Never before have couples had so little help or guidance
from elders, society, or religion.
Most of the old social and economic rationales for marriage
as a life-long relationship have broken down.
Even the old incentives for having children -
to carry on the family name or trade,
or to contribute to family work, providing an economic asset -
are mostly gone.
For the first time in history,
the relations between men and women
lack clear guidelines, supportive family networks,
a religious context, and a compelling social meaning."
- John Welwood
Your trusty LiveReal Agents, in our quest for truth, meaning, virtue, and other stuff like that in the modern world are no strangers to the dating scene.
Like we all probably know, searching for that right guy or girl in the real world is often, at times, both blissful and brutal. Especially when we're going on these things called "dates" - also known as job interviews about your personal life.
So what's going on?
Your brave and cuddly LiveReal Agents are on the case . . .
"For singles today, the spectrum of experience is broad,
but confusion and despair about finding lasting love
- Harville Hendrix
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago in a land far, far away, there lived a beautiful princess, the most beautiful princess in all the land.
But, she was lonely. And she longed, deep in her heart, for that . . . someone . . .
Meanwhile, a young prince came to the land from far away. He saw the princess and instantly fell in love. He proved himself worthy, and she fell in love with him too.
They married and lived happily ever after.
Once upon a time, a long, long . . . well, actually, like, a few weeks ago. . . there lived a beautiful princess, the most beautiful princess in the immediate area, depending on what area she was in and which other princesses were around...
She was alone, and longed for someone . . . but well, she was pretty busy with her job most of the time anyway, because she had her career to focus on and all.
A Noble Prince came into the land from far away, saw the beautiful Princess, and asked her out for coffee. She refused, because she had read somewhere in a book that she wasn't supposed to seem too available. So, the Prince got drunk and hit on some of the other fair maidens in the land. The Princess found out about it and became very angry. She then asked the Prince out, and he happily agreed. They went out for coffee and slept together.
As months and years went by, they drank much more coffee and slept together many more times. The Princess grew to think she loved him . . . although she wasn't sure she was in love with him (she had heard that line in a movie or somewhere). She sometimes secretly thought him a little boring and unromantic, and wondered if he was maybe holding her back from actualizing her potential or something like that . . . or wondered if maybe he wasn't as good in bed as many of the other Princes she had been with or who kept hitting on her. At any rate, she continually asked herself if this was really the One Prince she was truly supposed to spend her life with. And he thought all the same things about her.
So they moved in together, but eventually felt they had somehow lost the flame of passion or something. They went to many weekend seminars, read some bad self-help books, saw many therapists, and tried many different things to make their relationship more exciting, intimate, spicy, fulfilling and so on. They broke up several times and eventually decided to get married. They got divorced soon after, twice, spent most of their money on lawyers, and in time, grew old and bitter.
Moral of the story: umm...
So why did we tell this anti-fairy tale?
Because most folks learn the hard way; our goal here is to learn the easy way. A lot of folks get disillusioned through their experiences; the goal here is to get the benefit of being dis - illusioned (in this case, giving up illusions, often the illusions planted by Disney) without the trauma that's usually involved in that process. Ideally, the hope is that with this approach, you wind up just as smart but without the bruises, as "wise as serpents and innocent as doves."
"...the most interpersonally
alienation generation in history..."
- Shelby Steele, The Hoover Institution
The Core of Dating: Three No-Bull Models
In any complex situation, having a model to use as a framework of understanding that you can use as a reference throughout the experience is key.
Here are three models that, we believe, get down to the no-bull essence of dating. Spoiler alert: it's harsh, ugly, and powerful.
Model #1: The "Numbers Game"
The best way we know of getting this idea across is to talk about an old experiment from sociobiology. Here is how the exercise runs:
Take twenty men and twenty women.
Put them all in a room.
Assign each person a number from 1 to 20.
BUT...no person knows what number they themselves get.
(Like the game "Indian poker" where everyone raises a card at once and puts it on their forehead without looking at it . . . each person can see everyone else's number, but has no idea about their own. (Perhaps a metaphor for the human condition?))
Each participant is given a simple instruction: Pair up with the best number you can find.
"1" is the most desirable, "2" was excellent . . . and "20", well, is at the bottom of the barrel.
And you are given only five minutes to do it.
The way this "experiment" inevitably, predictably, heart-breakingly plays out . . . is a pattern essentially similar to what happens at every high school, college, and meat-market dance club all across the country . . . only much faster, a little more honestly, a little more ruthlessly, and without all the drunkenness and blaring loud music:
The folks with the highest ranking numbers (the ones, twos, three) immediately start getting offers - lots of offers. As they become centers of attention, they quickly become choosy, realizing that they must possess a valuable number...and understand that they should hold out for similar value. The folks with the low-ranking numbers are left alone - even actively avoided - and after running from person to person with no success, quickly get the point. After being shunned by the fives and sixes of the world, they learn to give up on the glamour crowd, lower their expectations, and go for double-digits.
And as time runs down, the pairing-off transpires in earnest. No one wants to get caught alone (except when opting out of the game altogether becomes a strategy, and a valid one), and better to take even a lowly 18 or 19 than end up with nothing.
(although - for precisely these reasons - more and more folks nowadays seem to be saying "screw it. I'm not playing," and decide they'd rather end up with nothing than with a 19. Or a 12. Or even a 6...)
At the final bell . . . somehow, people always manage to connect with remarkable success, landing within one or two positions of their own rank.
The point being, of course, that humans . . . even while asserting poetic profundities about "love" and "God's will" and "what's meant to be" and other such lofty matters . . . matchmake and mate in a similar manner.
We judge each other, coldly and with precise calculation to a very exacting degree, imbue others with status through our behavior toward them, and define ourselves and our value according to feedback we're given.
This, in essence, seems to be the project that many of us spend the first quarter of our lives in.
- thanks to Terry Rossio for bringing this experiment to our attention
Model #2: "The Modern Dating Game"
Here is what one author refers to as "The Modern Dating Game" - complete with the rules - here.
While the arenas and stadiums change (from seedy singles bars to dating apps) - the underlying principles stay the same.
Click here for Model #2. (Note: this link has been removed temporarily pending some revisions)
Third Perspective: "The Jungle"
Here we reduce this to the raw, brutal essentials: at some level, we are essentially animals, living in the jungle.
(Granted, it may not be all we are, but at least on some level, it is part of who we are.)
To get a window into this, we can get some insight into this scene by studying actual animals in an actual jungle.
"...the basic dynamic of courtship, as we've seen, is pretty simple: the male really wants sex: the female isn't so sure. She may want time to (unconsciously) assess the quality of his genes, whether by inspecting him or by letting him battle with other males for her favor...And she may try to extract a precopulation gift, taking advantage of the high demand for her eggs. This 'nuptial offering' - which technically constitutes a tiny male parental investment, since it nourishes her and her eggs - is seen in a variety of species, ranging from primates to black-tipped hanging flies. (The female hanging fly insists on having a dead insect to eat during sex. If she finishes it before the male is finished, she may head off in search of another meal, leaving him high and dry. If she isn't so quick, the may may repossess the leftovers for subsequent dates.)"
- Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Why We are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology (59-60)
A quick additional note for those who might not appreciate what exactly selfish flies have to do with the modern dating in the real world. We'd say they just aren't looking deeply enough.
From the same source:
"A woman doesn't typically size up a man and think: 'He seems like a worthy contributor to my genetic legacy.' She just sizes him up and feels attracted to him - or doesn't. All the 'thinking' has been done - unconsciously, metaphorically - by natural selection."
"Understanding the often unconscious nature of genetic control is the first step toward understanding that - in many realms, not just sex - we're all puppets, and our best hope for even partial liberation is to try to decipher the logic of the puppeteer. The full scope of the logic will take some time to explain, but I don't think I'm spoiling the end of the movie by noting here that the puppeteer seems to have exactly zero regard for the happiness of the puppets."
This leads us into deeper waters, which - if we really want to really survive and thrive in this arena - is where we need to go.
We need a valid model of human nature. Some of the above - primarily in the form of evolutionary biology - can serve as that model. Because whether we're aware of it or not, we've been programmed to behave in certain ways. And as the quote describes above - "the puppeteer seems to have exactly zero regard for the happiness of the puppets."
Where this leads us - becoming conscious of our "programming" in order to become able to overcome it, and possibly even change it - is where the seemingly simple topic of "dating" intersects with other realms of psychology and spirituality.
So...is that really it? Animals, cold and ruthless in an unforgiving jungle, each trying to get as much as they can for themselves?
No. There's one other key element that's been excluded from the above models: of course, the whole "love, intimacy, and marriage" thing. Certain key (if ephemeral) elements of the experience that are at least a little more than, or even outside, "the jungle"?
- Which is something along the lines of taking the above three scenarios and dropping an off-the-grid, unpredictable, homemade thermonuclear reactor right in the middle of them. Which takes all of the above scenarios and supercharge them.
But now that we have the foundation established, why don't we take a look at some "experts" have to say about the matter...
What Experts Are Saying: Modern Thinkers on Modern Relationships
Here are some quick glimpses of various thinkers and researchers describing what we're up against today. All of this can be explored more deeply, of course, and should be...but for now, we thought they might be useful, at the very least, to keep us alert at a minimum, and perhaps more, to give reason for caution.
- "'We are really seeing a change in the way people are viewing relationships,' says Linda Waite, a University of Chicago sociologist and researcher."
- ". . . we know more about the courtship and mating rituals of virtually every form of wildlife other than young men and women . . ." (Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook, "Girl Meets Boy" August 3, 2001)
- "Inherited cultural forms are under siege - not only marriage but also the rituals of courtship that once led to it. A certain taken-for-grantedness has disappeared . . . In the modern age, when ties of God, clan, nation or family have weakened, how much more difficult is marriage?" (Wall Street Journal Book Review, July, 2001)
- "The wreckage of relationships that these patients strew around my office has led me to wonder whether as a society we might be witnessing a general deterioration of erotic life in America...The couples I see are mostly successful, educated, middle-class people, accomplished in their professional lives, surrounded by nourishing friendships, absorbed in enjoyable recreational activities. In their marriages and other couplings, however, they are among the casualties of a widening cultural crisis. . . . The phenomenon that I describe as 'intimate terrorism' is the frequent outcome when two adults try to make a life together equipped with little more than a vision of intimacy suitable for adolescent first love. Romantic love is under siege, both from within marriage and from outside it, but neither have we yet come up with a new ideal to replace it." (Michael Vincent Miller, Intimate Terrorism: The Crisis of Love In An Age of Disillusion, 1995)
- "...A quarter of adults under the age of forty-four are children of divorce...Forty percent of the men and women in this divorce study have never married." Like all massive social change, what's happening is affecting us in ways that we have yet to understand."
- "Having spent the last thirty years of my life traveling here and abroad talking to professional, legal, and mental health groups plus working with thousands of parents and children in divorced families, it's clear that we've created a new kind of society never before seen in human culture." (Judith Wallerstein, The Unexpected Legacy Of Divorce, 2000)
- " . . . the injury to family life in America over the past 30 years (from high divorce and illegitimacy rates, a sweeping sexual revolution, dual-career households, etc) may have given us the most interpersonally alienated generation in our history." (Shelby Steele, research fellow, The Hoover Institution, 2001)
- "Children in postdivorce families do not, on the whole, look happier, healthier, or more well adjusted even if one or both parents are happier. National studies show that children from divorced and remarried families are more aggressive toward their parents and teachers. They experience more depression, have more learning difficulties, and suffer from more problems with peers than children from intact families. Children from divorced and remarried families are two to three times more likely to be referred for psychological help at school than their peers from intact families. More of them end up in mental health clinics and hospital settings. There is earlier sexual activity, more children born out of wedlock, less marriage, and more divorce. Numerous studies show that adult children of divorce have more psychological problems than those raised in intact marriages. . . We embarked on a gigantic social experiment without any idea about how the next generation would be affected." (Judith Wallerstein, Lewis, Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy Of Divorce, 2000).
- "The seemingly antiquated concept of courtship, the wooing and winning of a partner according to an accepted set of rules that lead to marriage, is being poked, prodded and dusted off. Researchers want to know if there is any mileage left in the notion . . . and others in the dating trenches are longing for help. There are no rules to follow anymore about just 'dating,' much less some type of formal courtship, and many are confused." ("Courtship Flirts With a Comeback," USA Today, Sept 26th, 2000)
- "Pornography is a $13 billion dollar a year industry" (Laurie Hall, 1996)
- "For possibly the first time in history, young women are left to make up the rules for themselves without older adult guidance. Parents, college administrators and health professionals have withdrawn from this role . . . While older adults are 'willing to pass on information in the interest of protecting young people's physical health, [they] are largely and curiously silent when in comes to the deeper questions of love, commitment, and marriage.'" (Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook, "Girl Meets Boy", August 3rd, 2001)
- "The social fabric of our country is unraveling before our very eyes, and the disintegration is directly traceable to the crisis in the family, specifically to the quality of marriages - the nest from which children come. Underlying the crisis is a critical overlooked fact: the long-stagnant institution of marriage has undergone a revolution in the last century. But our minds and hearts have not kept up with this change. Because we have not reoriented ourselves to the revised agenda of marriage, we're making a mess of it." (Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. Keeping the Love You Find, 1992)
"...the result is a gender confusion never experienced at such a wide level
in the history of the world."
- John Eldredge
Historical Context: Why Are Things the Way They Are Now?
"You know . . . what I've concluded
is that many singles just aren't mature -
they're not connected to reality,
they don't know themselves,
they haven't the capacity to take on responsibilities,
and they have fantasy-world ideas about love.
They're either running to or running from marriage,
but they are in the dark as to what it's really about.
They have adult privileges and adult possessions,
but they haven't reached adulthood . . ."
- Harville Hendrix
Events that took place before many of us were born or grew out of diapers still shape the way we date now. Maybe understanding a few of them might give us a little perspective on the matter, and so, help us out.
Some of these major game-changing influences just from the past few decades:
- The "sexual revolution"
- The rise of divorce
- Birth Control (a "technology" which helped give rise, in part, to...)
- "Sex as sport"
- "Hookup Culture"
- Dating via apps
- Living together as a "trial marriage"
- Entering relationships with "baggage"
- The study of relationships by science (eg love as a by-product of pheromones)
- The Psychologization of Relationships (a.k.a. it's not about "love," it's about "meeting needs")
- Post-feminism and the tension between the sexes
- The erosion of religious authority
- The decline of tradition
- Nonexistence of "courtship" (a.k.a. "no rules")
- Marriage - redefined to be "an optional burden and limit of freedom"
- Kids - defined as "things that interfere with my career"
- Relationships - redefined as "something that interferes with my career"
- "So then, why should I get married, anyway?"
In a nutshell: we're living through "The Death of God."
This might sound like some kind of abstract philosophical trip, but it's not. The consequences of this are astonishingly tangible.
"When my parents divorced in the late '70s, we children went along with it like troopers.
When they started bringing home boyfriends and girlfriends in the '80s,
we ultimately accepted these new people into our family.
Sometimes, the new people went away.
And we dealt with the divorces and separations all over again.
And accepted the new people all over again.
Fine. Exhausting, but fine.
It's a wonder we 18- to 35-year-olds
even have the energy to date. (And maybe some of us don't.)"
- Larissa Phillips
"A double revolution is at work in modern American love:
A revolution in higher education has created
the most professionally accomplished and independent generation of young women in history,
and a revolution in mating has created a prolonged and perplexing search for Mr. Right . . . .
"Cultural historian, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead documents the new social climate
in which the demands of work, the epidemic of cohabitation,
the disappearance of courtship, and the exacting standards of educated women
are leading them to stay single longer –
and to find the search for a mate even harder when the time is right.
From the frontlines of college, where dating is dead, to the trenches of corporate solitude,
Whitehead reports on a wholesale shift
that has stacked the marriage deck against the best and brightest women.
The thirty-something, perplexed single woman is today’s new cultural icon.
Why There Are No Good Men Left is the first book
to take a serious approach to analyzing where she came from
and to ask how she can realize her dreams of lasting love.
There are plenty of good men left, of course, but Whitehead deftly illustrates
why women in my generation often believe otherwise . . ."
- excerpt from Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman
by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead
So... is it all futile?
"So much of the heartbreak of love
could be avoided if we would postpone marriage until we learn
what relationships are really about,
and until we uncover the hidden land mines
we bring to our partnerships . . ."
- Harville Hendrix
Maybe. But if you've ever seen any movie, ever, then you know it's a bad idea to bet against love. (That, and millions of years of evolution.)
But we're working on it.
"I forgot how difficult it was to be a human being.
Nobody looks at each other any more."
- Thornton Wilder