Tom Matlack's description of his daughter's first date ever sounds straight out of Norman Rockwell: a dashing seventeen-year-old meets the family, then takes 16-year-old Kerry out for "a romantic dinner" and has her home by 9:30. My first date, at the age of 14, was considerably less adorbs — we went to the mall, where we got so bored that we eventually sat and watched an entire instructional video at an electronics store. That said, it was definitely a Date — he specifically called and asked me out, and our admittedly meager social outing wasn't couched in the vague language of "hanging out." Nor did we hook up. The formality of our (one and only, in case you hadn't guessed) proto-romantic encounter is striking in retrospect, especially since some of my later actual relationships began far less formally.
Kerry's date was apparently unusual for this day and age — she told her dad that "only three girls in her class of 125 had boyfriends, and [...] the rest had to put up with guys who only wanted 'friends with benefits.'" But the supposed rise of hookup culture may not be the only reason for the decline of the traditional date. I'd argue that over time, it's become harder to tell what a date even is. The advent of texting has made the pre-date phone call all but obsolete, and hang-language threatens to replace the ever-awkward question, "would you like to go out with me?" Some positive social changes may have made dating murkier too — back when the genders were more strictly segregated, social interactions between them had better-defined rules. Now hanging out with a guy can just as easily be a friend thing as a romantic thing, and it's not just teenagers who sometimes have trouble telling them apart.
Of course, traditional dating culture left out a lot of people — and today, bigots are still trying to keep gay teens from taking their dates to the prom. And as someone who hates phone calls and likes being friends with dudes, I'm not eager to roll back either the technological or social changes of the last few decades. There is, however, something to be said for teenagers learning to treat each other well, a lesson it seems like Kerry and her gentleman caller have learned. That doesn't have to mean being all boyfriend-and-girlfriendy — not every teen necessarily wants that. But it does mean being clear and polite and not making the other person just "put up with" whatever it is you do want. Dating is one way for people to learn these values, but it's all too clear that it's not perfect. Today's teens are pretty smart and savvy — maybe they can come up with a better method.
The First Date [Good Men Project]
Image via Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock.com