Dating: an old fashioned practice?

Yes, Valentine’s Day is approaching, but no, this is not another article about dating. Or is it?

I recently read an article that compared British dating and American dating, and I thought to myself: what is dating in the first place? As a South American, we don’t really go out for dates in the Hollywood ideal. We prefer the term “hanging out” as a better alternative to dating.

Dating is a formal word that indexes our desire to “see more of” a special someone. However, we are all familiar with the stereotypical dating practices of meeting a person and going for dinner or a movie. Is that still the case today?

Going out for coffee seems a very common alternative for those who would like to date someone but don’t necessarily want to be seen as doing so. In fact, many people would accept an invitation for coffee or to just “hang out.”However, it would be less likely that they’d accept an offer for a date. There are many reasons for this.

First, perhaps the commitment that signifies going on a date with someone scares many people away. When you accept to go on a date, do you already accept that person as a possible suitor? Or do you genuinely just want to get to know that person? Is dating an exclusive practice for finding partners?

Secondly, going out on a date also sets the tone of the encounter, while “hanging out” leaves options more open and, therefore, people have more freedom to navigate through the situation.

Another important thing to note might also be comparing dating to a job interview. Many people go through “basic” questions to find out if the person is suitable to their preferences. Regardless, it’d be highly unlikely to be successful if we’re seen as checking boxes for those attributes that we find desirable, as if we were choosing a product from the shelves.

Others would argue that dating is all about courtship. They would assert that formal dating is more desirable because it demands that people are more open about their expectations, which prevents misunderstandings. It could be the case that going out for coffee would qualify as a date for some, while for others, it may just be the opportunity to make a friend.

It is important to note, especially in a university context, that many people come from different cultural backgrounds and therefore have different conceptualizations of what constitutes a date or not. It is thus paramount that we take cultural difference into consideration. Ignorance of these differences generally leads to very funny, awkward situations, as you can probably imagine.

In recent years, social media and online dating have also increased in popularity. In the past, we would have to call a home telephone to schedule a date and run the risk of having to engage in a conversation with another member in the household. I suspect that many of us have dealt with an awkward telephone conversation or two.

Nowadays, cellphones are more personal and private, and text messages have very ambiguous and open-ended meanings. This makes it a bit harder to know a person’s intentions. Social media has further complicated the situation since you can find out a great deal of information about a person before even talking to them once.

Online dating has also provided a tool for those who prefer to have promising chances before encountering someone. It also simplifies dating, since we already know that the person chosen has similar values or beliefs as you. However, it makes dating more complicated at the same time, since perhaps we already know too much about that person, or we may also feel pressured to like them since they’re so similar to us.

Perhaps dating belongs in the past. Perhaps getting to know somebody shouldn’t be so structured or sequential. Perhaps you shouldn’t succumb to the pressure of being with someone.
So, is dating an old-fashioned practice? I believe it is not. The names, practices and labels may change, but essentially, we have all dated in some sort of way and will continue to do so.