Last week we looked at meeting. This week we look at mating and maintaining, otherwise known as dating.
Dating is like microwaving a meal. Enter King Soopers grocery.
Peruse the aisles for best-looking and most healthy mac-n-cheese option. Quickly make purchase in self check-out line. Drive home. Pop meal into microwave. Shovel it in semi-attentively. Toss cardboard dish into recycle bin.
If you are more of a planner, you might have picked up a few meals while at King Soopers and stashed them in the freezer for a rainy day. But the consumption is the same — instant gratification and fleeting amusement.
Dating has not always been this way.
Dating used to be called “courtship” and implied a search for long-term partnership and/or marriage. In the early 1900s, middle-class men would show up at a woman’s doorstep armed with flowers and pre-planned poetry. These were the days when romance signified hetero-centric traditions of manly strength and womanly virtue. As gender became more fluid in the 1960s, women began to challenge cultural and social inequities and the sexist structure of power. By the 1970s and 1980s, traditional gender roles lost universal acceptance. Everyone was getting an education, and marriage became more and more delayed, if done at all. Add in the evolution of electronics, and now our social climate operates on the fast-forward button, as evidenced by how we instant message, instant e-mail, instant shop, drive, eat and meet.
But how did the deliberate courtship dance decompensate into an expeditious dating game devoid of deeper intentions?
Sociologist Anthony Giddens credits society’s rising emphasis on individualism and globalization. The conundrum is that we crave intimate connections, endlessly look for love, yet we simultaneously struggle with a high-speed culture centered on self-satisfaction. Thus, intimacy and dating are simply a means to an end, where the end goal becomes self-gratification. The lack of commitment creates an easily dissolvable relationship. Hence, dating simulates the microwave meal, a transitory activity done for fun. Two people hooking up only long enough for their erotic needs to be met.
With globalization people can connect worldwide without being physically proximate with one another, as seen by online dating. But people may feel easily disposable, as web relationships are easy to enter and exit, and individuals can be traded in for seemingly superior profiles. As such, dating, particularly the online version, can feel like a casual commodity.
The silver lining is that while individualism may encourage people to act in a more self-focused fashion, intimacy cannot exist without the authentic development of the self. And though globalization may make dating feel like window-shopping for love, it does provide connections across oceans. When people only interact face-to-face, sexual intimacy tends to be the focus. Online exchanges, however, encourage other types of communication, such as emotional and intellectual intimacy. This can create a more meaningful and genuine connection, especially in a climate where dating can be an informal endeavor.
But whether you date online or off, whether you are single and searching, or whether you have been tied together for the past four decades, developing deeper bonds and interacting with intention can still be accomplished in today’s climate. The challenge is making casual connections more intimate.
Our individualized human nature often creates a strong, solid shell that is intended to prevent others from wounding our core. But when we hold love at arm’s distance, we never really love at all. If each of us is an artichoke, the goal is to allow ourselves and another to slowly peel back the layers of those prickly, protective leaves until we arrive at the soft, juicy interior. We do this by communicating and sharing pieces of ourselves.
Yes, we can easily pop in the microwavable mac-n-cheese meal, but it takes more time and courage to create new cuisine from scratch. The end result may be a butternut squash and black bean enchilada with mango salsa. When you grow your own ingredients and combine them in creative ways, the meal melts in your mouth and is more satisfying.
So go ahead and date. But if you want deeper intimacy, be willing to shed some layers of your inner artichoke.
Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org