Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

February 27, 2009

Online Dating's Meat Market

In her recent Washington Post column, Miss Manners answered a question about Online Dating Etiquette:
Dear Miss Manners: Do you have any "rules" for online dating that pertain to determining the person's character and integrity before continuing the relationship? …What is the real deal anymore? So many men seem to be just looking to hook up.

Gentle Reader: So Miss Manners has been told for the last millennium or two. Hardly something she can be expected to reverse with a few pithy words.

Let us therefore address only the aspects of the situation that relate to Internet dating. While undeniably making it easier to meet great numbers of people looking for romance, it has, as you say, made an always risky venture even scarier.

Before this method, people met through other people, whom they both knew.

No, wait. Miss Manners has skipped an era, possibly because she prefers to forget. Before the Internet, determined people were meeting in singles bars. And complaining that these were, as they so elegantly put it, "meat markets." What they meant was that an awful lot of people were there looking for something a bit quicker (and more quickly over) than romance.

And sadly, there were some ladies who misunderstood the concept of the one-night stand, believing that the traditional timeline could be reversed and that courtship would follow.

Meeting through introductions from those who knew both people never precluded such unfortunate misconnections. But it does offer certain protections.

One is reputation. The go-between, knowing something of each person's character and history, is able to vouch for them -- and, if wrong, to damage the reputation of anyone who behaved badly. The online equivalent requires accepting the testimony of people who are equally unknown, and being able to warn only other prospects, without reaching the offender's own circle.

The other protection is deniability. People who frankly declare themselves to be looking for romance are bound to encounter different interpretations of what may loosely be termed romance. But those who meet socially need not seem ridiculously -- if not fraudulently -- coy if they make up their minds about prospects slowly under the guise of mere acquaintanceship. They may plausibly become indignant at crude advances. As a bonus, they lack the paradoxically unattractive aspect of someone who is "looking."
Miss Manners is well aware that all this is little help to those who feel that long work hours and a demise in strictly social entertaining have given them no choice but to turn to strangers. She offers it only with the slim hope that it will encourage everyone to develop and cherish circles in which romance will flourish naturally, as it always has.
I just love her answer for so many reasons. She doesn’t moralize—that’s not her place—but she does talk about cultivating a culture of respect interest and genuine romance.

I’ve never done online dating—though I know of several very happy online-dating marriages. Still, I would never consider it, because it seems to me to be as much a meat-market (if not more) as a bar scene, or other similarly disgusting and objectifying experience. But the cultivation of Romance through friendship seems to me to be the best and (let’s be honest) safest way.

While I’m at it: there was a fascinating article in December in the New York Times about the end of dating:
It turns out that everything is the opposite of what I remember. Under the old model, you dated a few times and, if you really liked the person, you might consider having sex. Under the new model, you hook up a few times and, if you really like the person, you might consider going on a date.

I asked her to explain the pros and cons of this strange culture. According to her, the pros are that hooking up emphasizes group friendships over the one-pair model of dating, and, therefore, removes the negative stigma from those who can’t get a date. As she put it, “It used to be that if you couldn’t get a date, you were a loser.” Now, she said, you just hang out with your friends and hope that something happens.
he cons center on the issues of gender inequity. Girls get tired of hooking up because they want it to lead to a relationship (the guys don’t), and, as they get older, they start to realize that it’s not a good way to find a spouse. Also, there’s an increased likelihood of sexual assaults because hooking up is often fueled by alcohol.

That’s not good. So why is there an increase in hooking up? According to Professor Bogle, it’s: the collapse of advanced planning, lopsided gender ratios on campus, delaying marriage, relaxing values and sheer momentum.

It used to be that “you were trained your whole life to date,” said Ms. Bogle. “Now we’ve lost that ability — the ability to just ask someone out and get to know them.”

Now that’s sad.

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