Monthly Archives: March 2016

Where Did “Dating” Come From?

Love_-_Engagement

“None of us marry perfection; we marry potential.”  – Robert D. Hales

As I ask my classes of college students each semester, it seems that the numbers of students who go on “dates” is declining.  Current research tends to support the growing trend among young people – dating has gone out of style.

Where did “dating” come from in the first place?

Courtship here in America started out with much more close contact than you might realize. Ellen Rothman writes that in the late 1700’s as many as 30% of brides were pregnant at the time of their marriage. Even though unwed pregnancy was rare, people who were engaged often began sexual intercourse before their marriage. The patterns of living enabled people to spend much more time with one another as they were courting.

As the Industrial Revolution began to reshape American society, courtship rituals also had to be adjusted to fit all the new ways of working and living. As people began to live in larger cities, work and home became two separate spheres. Interaction circles grew wider as people came into contact with more and more people and often with people of different habits.

What we now call “dating” became a custom later, after the Victorian era, when sexual norms became more restrictive. Sexual regulation became more important in families. Working class families searched for ways to better oversee their children’s social lives. When it came to courting, all sorts of obstacles prevented parental oversight. There wasn’t any privacy in their homes for young couples to socialize. There weren’t enough regular social occasions around which families could invite courting couples to participate. Who could afford it? Interaction needed to be formalized in some way.

What evolved were arranged dates and times during which a male suitor could take his female acquaintance out of her home and spend time together in another location. Her father, of course, was the one to set the day and start/stop time for this “date.”

Once “dating” became the norm, it soon spread to the other social classes. When the 20th Century arrived, romantic love and adolescent experiences became dynamic components in the development of the distinctive identity we now know as “the teenager.” Youth spent more years in school, worked outside the home and began to consume the new mass culture (television, radio and Elvis). They were developing an independent identity earlier than ever before. Dating was a central role of this new identity.

By the time most of us started, dating had also become a way for men and women to conspicuously consume – to demonstrate their social status by spending money and looking beautiful. There were very specific gender roles. The male was always the initiator and took responsibility for pleasing his date. The female, while not being the damsel in distress, was expected to follow along. Even though her role was more like that of a special guest, she had all the right to provide her opinion about the plans for the evening. As the relationship developed, they would collaborate more on choices and familiar patterns.

I am indebted to Gene H. Starbuck for this lesson

Today, things have changed. Single’s aren’t dating very much.

Most young singles in America do not describe themselves as actively looking for romantic partners. Even those who are seeking relationships are not dating frequently. About half (49%) had been on no more than one date in the previous three months. (Mary Madden and Lee Rainie, Romance in America)

When we talk about the fragmented family, it’s important to not just look at how families fall apart and come to an end but to also examine how people learn to fall in love and decide to create a family in the first place. If dating has come to the end of its usefulness, what new social practice will we use to help people create the most important bonds in their lives?

Alone in the Crowd

shoppingwithkids

“The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.”  – Charlotte Bronte

I was at the grocery store again and I couldn’t help but notice more family experiences that just made me keep thinking about it all.

  • There was that 6 year old standing by the butter yelling at the top of all of our lungs that he had “found it!” He made sure that everyone knew this three or four times. I watched as the woman who looked like she needed three naps pushed her cart toward his excited dance. I thought to myself, I hope the day never comes when they stop speaking to each other.
  • Then there’s the dad who has responsibility for his three little tiny girls walking around his ankles like kittens. He is focused on his mission, eyes searching, while they are running around and darting in front of everyone else – causing near misses and collisions right and left. He remains oblivious. His wife has obviously given just one simple directive, “don’t leave anyone behind when you come home.”
  • Watching the young (and older) couples filling their baskets together is always fun. Sometimes she is having to give a lot of directions and he is just there to do the pushing and pulling. Other couples look like they are on an adventure, planning a meal or getting their week organized. Every now and then there’s an older couple, one of them is confined to an electric cart and his/her partner is moving up and down the aisle finding the right item. They work as team to manage their life together.

I’m usually at the store by myself. It’s therapeutic. People say they see me there but I never notice, walking by, talking to myself, in my own world, watching the world around me.

The grocery store is a great place to see the American family in action. As I’m watching these people together doing the mundane tasks associated with life I think about where our society is heading. We are trending toward more fragmented families and choosing to live alone.

According to numbers from the most recent National Survey of Family Growth, more men (66%) than women (49%) agreed that it was better to get married than to go through life remaining single. Are men more frightened of loneliness? Are women less willing to settle for second or third best these days? This doesn’t mean that people are less willing to have children. The stigma of single-parenthood has dramatically declined.

This also means that half of women are willing to remain single. It’s become a more normal option to them – at least on a survey question.

The trend for many is away from marriage as a key component of the American Dream. It promises a high level of individual autonomy and control of one’s lifestyle. But there is a cost to both the individual and to our society.

I suspect that as the days go by I might see more lonely shoppers at the store and far less interaction to watch.

You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn’t so
Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
And what’s wrong with that?
Paul McCartney

The Stage is Set

LAURIE-DAVID-FAMILY-DINNER

“Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening.” – Art Buchwald

What was your family like around the dinner table when you were growing up? The answer to that question depends on how old you are, what generation you belong to…before or after handheld technology. That time around the dinner table helped to make you who you are and shouldn’t be discounted as something that just happens on it’s own.

More families today spend less time than ever gathered together around the dinner table during the week. All kinds of experts (even me) believe that the diminishing of this social practice is bad for our physical, moral, psychological, social and spiritual health – as individuals and a society.

A very interesting brief piece about this topic can be found here: A History of the Family Dinner in America

In general, family time together is shrinking. Today, that sort of time seems to be concentrated around carpooling to after-school activities and working together on mountains of homework. We are together trying to solve problems, driving around in the backseat and often plugged in to our devices.

Casually sitting around the table, reflecting on the day, listening to each other and providing guidance and feedback is one of the most crucial daily activities that families engage in.

Think of all that has come about to change the family dinner table:

  • The microwave and fast food
  • Cable TV turned on all the time
  • Cell phones
  • Afterschool activities (careers)
  • Mountains of homework
  • Single parent families
  • Two-career families

Do you think the day will soon come when most of our children will only gather around the table during special occasions and holiday celebrations? Will families only come together at inconsistent times and never know the rhythm and flow of daily gathering and sharing? Will children one day grow apart from their parent(s) too soon and lead lives much more independent than is healthy simply because their family cannot find the time to put everything else aside and be together?

There’s a Family Dinner Project working out of Harvard. It’s aim is to help promote the practice of family dinner by providing resources.

What makes us live lives that are self-destructive? What makes us raise children in ways that aren’t the very best? Why have we built a world in which we have to slowly kill ourselves in order to survive it? No one does any of this on purpose. Life just happens.

What about living your life instead letting your life live you?

“We can surely no longer pretend that our children are growing up into a peaceful, secure, and civilized world. We’ve come to the point where it’s irresponsible to try to protect them from the irrational world they will have to live in when they grow up. The children themselves haven’t yet isolated themselves by selfishness and indifference; they do not fall easily into the error of despair; they are considerably braver than most grownups. Our responsibility to them is not to pretend that if we don’t look, evil will go away, but to give them weapons against it.”  ― Madeleine L’Engle