Dr. Wes: I’m often asked how different dating is today than it was in the eighties or nineties. I usually reply “very.” By that, I mean that kids just don’t couple these days like they used to. I may sound like I’m waxing philosophic about those good old days of yore that always end up being more legend than reality, but the facts are pretty clear. Culturally, the idea of sex within a relationship, let alone marriage, has become a bit quaint.
While there are still many couples attempting what I call “radical monogamy” by dating exclusively for long periods of time, the zeitgeist among today’s youth is to hook up more casually. The measure for those experiences tends to be how “random” they are, meaning expectable (a good friend, someone from your social circle or at least someone you’ve met) or quite unexpected (someone else’s partner, a coworker or someone you just met at a party while wearing the cloudy goggles of drink and exuberance.
To my way of thinking, this does more than just expose young people to emotional and sexual risk. It changes how we couple and commits. It creates what Fight Club’s “Narrator” referred to over a decade ago as “single-serving friends”—someone you meet once and use up. Perhaps it’s the hopeless romantic in me yearning to break free, but I long for a time when sexuality and love and even a bit of spirituality all got rolled up into something really special. My advice to young people has always been, “shoot for that. That’s the good stuff.” And it will be forever.
On a recent Up to Date with Steve Kraske, we discussed evolving dating patterns among teens and young adults, as we have in this column many times over the years. That sparked an idea for a show in September on the same subject, this time including late teens and young adults who’d like to give their candid appraisal of how sex and love are expressed nowadays. If you’re 16 to 23, comfortable offering your opinions and perspectives on the air, and would like to join me at 11:00 a.m. on a weekday in September on the campus of UMKC, we’d like to have you on our panel. You can use pseudonyms on the air so you can feel free to speak your mind. Minors, however, will need parental permission.
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll discuss your views and how they might fit into the format of the show and we’ll have to pare the list down to about three panelists. I look forward to hearing what teens and college-aged adults have to say about this interesting and ever-changing topic.
Miranda: I can’t speak too much about dating twenty years ago, but I do know about dating today. The most defining characteristic would have to be the use of technology. The way we communicate in all of our relationships, especially dating, has been altered by it. We tweet about our relationship woes, we text instead of talk face-to-face, and our generation coined the term “Facebook official” to decide when a relationship is real.
While I love technology, it would be nice to go back in time and live when society wasn’t completely dependent on it. The movie He’s Just Not That into You, says it pretty well. One character, who continues to get rejected via social networking, says, “I miss the days when you had one phone number and one answering machine and that one answering machine had one cassette tape and that one cassette tape either had a message from a guy or it didn’t.”
Instead, dating today is far too much about navigating Facebook, Twitter and texting just to find and maintain that relationship. This creates an atmosphere where teens spend less quality time with their significant others and more time sifting through and decoding the messages received via the social network, even starting and breaking up online. The dating scene today creates an environment where teens don’t know how to deal with the difficulties of relationships face-to-face and use technology to shield themselves.
We still deal with the same emotions (i.e. jealousy, rejection, and love) but they are expressed over different mediums. Instead of the love letter, we have a Facebook message. The key to pushing past the technology barrier is to make sure that if you’re dating someone, you make time spent with them quality time. “Unplug” yourself and keep your phone at bay so you can really learn about the other person. By making your time count, the need to keep in contact constantly through social networking becomes less necessary and builds a stronger relationship.
Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D. owns Family Psychological Services, LLC. He is board-certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP) and author of the books Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens and Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens. Learn about his writing and practice at www.dr-wes.com. Miranda Davis is a recent graduate of Free State High School who has co-authored the column since August 2011 and is the eighth in a series of teen co-authors. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to email@example.com. The column is reprinted from Double Take, published weekly since 2004 in The Lawrence Journal-World. Opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.