RCL #8

Katie Saylor

Professor Hamilton

English 137H

19 October 2017

Dating: Courting to Casual

“So! Any boys in your life? Do you have a boyfriend?” Olivia Daffan, a freshman at Penn State feels the shift of dating on a personal level. Her mother and father, both Penn State alum, met during college and as a result, her mother expects her to do the same. Contrary to Mrs. Daffan’s expectations, dating in the late twentieth century is far different from dating today. Olivia explains to her mother that in today’s society, there is much less emphasis placed on the importance of a relationship. Due to the increase in divorce rate, the increase in technology usage, the feminist movement, and today’s pop culture, the symbols, strategies, goals, intimacy, and expectations of dating have experienced a shift. Essentially, sex and casualness have become more important than marriage and commitment.

The symbols of dating have changed significantly, primarily due to the introduction of social media to the dating world. In the late twentieth century, dating was often expressed through material symbols. Letterman jackets and class rings were common symbols used to express a relationship status. Letterman jackets and rings were used because young men valued these things, and by giving them to their partner, they expressed their feelings– they gave what they love to someone they love. The symbols used were not only a way of expressing love, but also a method used by young men to “claim” their partner. When a girl was seen wearing someone’s letterman jacket, it was made clear that she was unavailable. Today, symbols are still used for the same purpose- to claim their partner and to express their feelings. Rather than using material objects though, people today often rely on social media. When a relationship becomes serious, people often refer to it as “Facebook official” this comes from the relationship status feature found on the popular social media platform, Facebook. In a literal sense, social media allows young people to publish their relationship status for all of their “friends” to see. In addition to the simple facebook status, there are other ways social media is used to symbolize a relationship. For example, if a couple is dating, they may put something to reference the commitment in their Instagram “bio.” the Instagram “bio” is a feature found on each individual’s instagram profile. To display the relationship, young people may put their significant other’s name, initials, their anniversary date, or any combination of the three. The reference also typically includes a heart emoji or even a lock emoji to represent the commitment. For those young people who are not in a committed relationship, social media is still used to symbolize a developing relationship. An instagram post is worth a thousand words- these posts often elude to a developing relationship. A common example of this is “women crush wednesday” (#WCW) or “man candy monday” (#MCM) posts. These hashtags allow people to post about their love interest in a way that not only shows appreciation, but also shows others that they are interested in each other. Many other platforms such as Snapchat, Twitter and VSCO are used to symbolize relationships. Unlike the late twentieth century, social media is utilized heavily as a symbol of dating. This shift in material to electronic symbols is due to today’s heavy internet usage. While it is still important for young people to make their relationship known, the methods used have shifted significantly.

Alongside the shift in dating symbols, strategies associated with dating have also changed- primarily due to the introduction of technology into the dating world. Used often to make uncomfortable interactions less uncomfortable, technology has become a common tactic in dating. In the late twentieth century, asking someone out was a dreaded task due to the potential embarrassment of hearing a “no.” To avoid this outcome, people would often ask others out on a date through notes or through a friend. Asking a friend to scope out the situation was a commonly utilized tactic to avoid rejection. Today, young people are still trying to avoid embarrassment when asking others out, and thanks to texting, this is a much easier task. People often have more courage when they are hiding behind their phone. Not only is technology utilized to initiate a date, it is also used to find connections with people. Today, about 40 million Americans utilize online dating services (Statistic Brain). Since the first dating service, Match.com’s creation in 1995, the usage of online dating services has increased significantly, and thus has changed the commonly used strategies in the dating world (Kauflin). Online dating services have evolved as well, and with the 2012 introduction of Tinder, a dating service in which you view photos of potential matches and swipe left on people you are not interested in and right on those you are, the online dating world was altered as emphasis was placed on appearance rather than actual compatibility (Crook). Despite this, society has accepted the shift- about 60% of Americans believe online dating is a good way to meet people. There is also a shift in how people are getting to know each other. In the late twentieth century, people often got to know each other over coffee, or over dinner, but today, people often get to know each other over Snapchat or text. Technology is increasingly used to ease the difficulties of dating- finding potential dates, asking potential dates out, and getting to know a potential date. This shift highlights the decreasing importance of face-to-face interaction and the increasing reliance on technology.

As dating strategies have evolved, they reflect the changed goals of dating. In the late twentieth century, the primary purpose of dating was to get married- society viewed marriage as an important goal, and dating was just a method used to accomplish this goal. Not to say that dating was not intended to be fun, but the manifest function of dating was marriage, and fun, entertainment, and socialization were latent functions. Today, many people still date with the purpose of marriage, but that is not the only reason people date. For many people, dating is mere fun- especially in high school and college. College students often express the viewpoint that, “college is not for relationships.” This contrasts greatly to the viewpoints in the late twentieth century, as people often joked that women go to college to get their “B.S. and Mrs.” The reason for this shift may be related to the increasing divorce rates in America- young people see failed marriages everywhere, and this discourages them from pursuing marriage. So while young people are not dating to get married, they are still dating- for many people the reason is intimacy. As a basic biological need, sex fuels many human behaviors. Which leads to the next aspect of the shift- the shift in intimacy of dating.

In the late twentieth century, premarital sex was discouraged- and casual sex was a taboo in American society, but today, these are both accepted. When the primary goal of dating was marriage, people got married much younger- in 1980 most women were married around age 22, but today most women are not married until age 26. The same goes for men- in 1980, most men married for the first time at about age 25, and today, most men are not married until age 28 (“Median Age at First Marriage”). When people married at a younger age, it was easier for young people to remain abstinent till marriage, because marriage occurred earlier in life. In addition to this change, there has also been an introduction of “hookup culture.” According to Lisa Wade, a sociologist at Occidental College, hookup culture has developed in which there is a “dichotomy between meaningless and meaningful sex, and students have to go out of their way to ‘perform meaninglessness.’ They have to prove that they’re not emotionally attached to their sex partners” (Vedantam). This contrasts greatly to the attitude regarding intimacy in the late twentieth century when sex was often used as an expression of love- hence the term “making love.” Intimacy was an expression of love that was done between committed partners, but now it can be a casual pastime taking place between friends and sometimes even strangers. Attitudes about intimacy have also changed. Sex researcher, Justin García has found that there is more casual sex happening today than ever- for two reasons. Firstly, young people are unwilling to give up the potential of numerous partners during their prime, and secondly, casual sex is becoming more accepted as it is portrayed in pop culture and the media. (Estupinyà). Intimacy in today’s society is viewed much differently today than in the late twentieth century.

Dating expectations regarding intimacy have changed, and so have a multitude of other expectations. One expectation that has changed is that marriage must come before having children. Historically speaking, having children out of wedlock has been socially discouraged, but in recent years, it has become a norm. In 2015, over 40% of children in the U.S. were born to unmarried mothers (“Percentage of Births to Unmarried Mothers by State”). Many other studies have found that for millennials, having children out of wedlock is the new cultural norm. Expectations regarding cohabitation have also changed. In the late twentieth century, it was expected that if you lived with your partner, you were married or planning to be married, but today that is not the case. Today, cohabitation is become exceedingly common- the number of cohabitating unmarried partners increased by 88% between 1990 and 2007 (“Key Facts about Unmarried Americans”). Expectations about partner behavior when dating has also changed. As feminism and gender equality has become increasingly popular, society has begun to reject gender roles when dating. In the late twentieth century, men almost always asked women out on dates, while some women did ask men out, this was not the norm. It was so unusual for women to ask men out that the idea of a “Sadie Hawkins” dance developed as a chance for girls to ask guys to their school dances. Today, however, many more women are asking men out. A survey done by Match.com found that 65% of guys have been asked out by a women and 91% of men are supportive of women making the first move (Burton). Another expectation that has changed is who should pay for the date. Traditionally, it has been expected that men will pay for dates- if a man proposed that they split, this was looked at as a bad thing. Often people say “don’t go Dutch on a date” meaning do not split the bill. But in recent years, this expectation has a begun to fade. Another survey by Match.com revealed that only 50% of men expect that they should pay for a first date and only 37% of women expect that men pay (Magaldi). In the late twentieth century expectations about dating and relationship were very conservative, but due to the feminist movement and decline in marriage rates, dating expectations have become much more relaxed.


Works Cited

Burton, Natasha. “The ‘Rules’ Was Bull: Men Really Want Us to Ask Them Out.”Cosmopolitan, Cosmopolitan, 9 Oct. 2017.

Crook, Jordan, and Anna Escher. “A Brief History Of Tinder.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 18 June 2015.

Estupinyà, Pere. “Calling It Sex When They Mean Love.” Scientific American, Nature America Inc., 9 Dec. 2014.

Kauflin, Jeff. “How Match.com’s Founder Created The World’s Biggest Dating Website.”Business Insider, Business Insider, 16 Dec. 2011.

“Key Facts about Unmarried Americans.” Unmarried Equality, Unmarried Equality, 2013, www.unmarried.org/press-room/briefing-kit/.

“Median Age at First Marriage.” Infoplease, Infoplease, 2010.

Magaldi, Kristin. “Who Should Pay On A Date? What Men Vs. Women Think.” Bustle, Bustle, 4 Feb. 2016.

“Percentage of Births to Unmarried Mothers by State.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Jan. 2017.

Statistic Brain. “Dating / Relationship Statistics.” Statistic Brain, Statistic Brain Research Institute, 26 Feb. 2017.

Vedantam, Shankar, et al. “Hookup Culture: The Unspoken Rules Of Sex On College Campuses.”NPR, NPR, 14 Feb. 2017.


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