The Modern Dating Game Is Rigged against Players

By Marshner, Connie | Insight on the News, September 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Modern Dating Game Is Rigged against Players


Marshner, Connie, Insight on the News


Contemporary dating is preparation for divorce, not for marriage. The social conventions currently governing boys and girls age 12 and up hardly could have been better designed to produce peer dependency, educational inadequacy and faulty socialization.

Most young people get on the dating treadmill at 12 -- an absurdly young age at which to begin imitating courtship behavior, since the average age of marriage is 22.

As currently practiced, "dating" means a guy and a girl go out together exclusively. It's go steady or nothing. The girl doesn't get to choose whom she'll go out with this weekend and be asked by a different guy next weekend. Instead, once she goes anywhere with "Johnny" (even to the mall to hang out), she is considered "taken" and has lost the option of seeing another guy -- unless, of course, there's a big breakup.

This amounts to serial monogamy without benefit of clergy. Now, if this indeed were courtship intended to culminate in marriage, the exclusiveness would be a logical step in some direction. But it is quite the opposite. It's a temporary relationship of convenience, with no commitment except to pleasure and no purpose except diversion. The two merely are using one another.

That basis for a relationship would strain a corporate negotiator. But we are talking here about young, emotionally vulnerable people!

When the parents of Jane Austen's heroines were concerned about the "intentions" of young men hanging around their daughters, it precisely was this trivializing of affections they were concerned about. Two hundred years ago society was wise enough to know something we seem to have forgotten.

Parents work hard to protect their children from dangers of remaining unvaccinated -- yet they laugh indulgently as their sons and daughters are used as the temporary amusements of young women and men and subjected to repeated emotional trauma. "It's part of growing up," they chuckle.

This casual attitude underestimates the trauma involved. It's traumatic because it's so intimate. In all but a few subcultures, to be dating somebody means to be sleeping together. Kids from Maine to California know that, but parents sometimes find it hard to believe.

The way human nature is constituted, sexual intimacy brings with it an emotional bonding that cannot be wished away. So the emotional involvements are profound and, since they end in rejection 90 percent of the time, the damage to the self-esteem of a personality just being formed can be, and often is, enormous. The teen suicide rate bears witness to that as well, to say nothing of the medical consequences (remember, there are 12,000 new diagnoses a day of sexually transmitted diseases).

Parents may take comfort knowing that an individual trauma will not last long. But that actually is one of the most dangerous features of dating: the way it prepares teens for future divorce.

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