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MarriageDating

A Valentine Wish: Could We Bring Back Romance and Dating?

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There seems to be a craving for it.

Talk to college or young career woman and you’ll often hear the lament that dating is extinct and romance is a relic of 19th century novels. Instead of guys having the confidence to ask a girl out and “court” her, we have a $2 billion on-line industry with dozens of on-line “dating” sites where mutual interests draw a couple together.

There are also plenty of “relationship coaches” to help jump start or streamline the process of getting young people off their phones to talk to each other face-to-face. Such coaching was prompted by the fact that young adult relationships are typically anchored in social media; about half of users check up on previous dates through social networking sites (SNS), about a third of them usually post details and pictures of their dates, and about a third of them use SNS to “check out” someone they are interested in dating.

A study of nearly 20,000 respondents found that more than one-third of marriages in America now begin on-line. The on-line site, Tinder, amazingly produces 14 million matches every 24 hours. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, about 31 million Americans have used a dating site or matchmaking app. The sheer magnitude of users has prompted IBM to warn their employees that about 50 percent of the sites are security risks.

Little wonder that a new television program is emerging to help young adults navigate the Internet to find love. CNN’s “Morgan Spurlock Inside Man” (Thursday nights at 9 p.m.) is refining the Internet dating process by offering guidelines on how to target according to the searcher’s needs and desires.

Much of the angst over dating stems, of course, from the changing campus demographics. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), women make up about 57 percent of all college students in the U.S. these days (compared to around 40 percent in the 1970s). For young black women the situation is even worse; only 37 percent of black undergraduates are males. Social scientists like Mark Regnerus note that the demographic switch has caused changes in the “sexual market.” When women outnumber men, the latter have the upper hand and sex becomes “cheap,” producing a “sexually permissive culture.” The bottom line, Regnerus explained, is this: “On campuses where women outnumber men, they are more negative about campus men, hold more negative views of their relationships, go on fewer dates, are less likely to have a boyfriend, and receive less commitment in exchange for sex.”

The trend away from dating to “hanging out together” in groups or “hooking up” has left many, perhaps most, young women feeling envious of the dating customs which their mothers and grandmothers enjoyed; the loss of romance leaves their daughters with wistful longings, freely admitted. It is a sad, sad fact that many young women reach adulthood without ever having a guy ask them out or show them special attention. One young woman described today’s social scene: “The guys are jerks and the girls are crazy!”

In fact, the downside of impersonal, on-line matches is that “men are twice as active as women” in using on-line dating services. The relative anonymity of the Internet means women have been subjected to creepy on-line harassment, such as hostile and lewd and comments about their appearance or behavior.

It is too soon, of course, to be certain whether the Internet generation, seeing the wreckage of the last 50 years, will gain understanding and rediscover the wisdom of the old constellations, those tried and proven moral principles that once guided young people to navigate the tumult of dating and courtship.

There are hopeful signs of a new realism possibly replacing the Hollywood myths about the glories of casual sex. As sex has become separated from marriage, more and more contemporary young adults (70%) regret their first sexual encounter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that young people are increasingly more abstinent. While television often glamorizes and encourages teen sexual activity, social scientists have documented some of the realities that are prompting more of today’s young people to be abstinent. The nascent move back to abstinence is good news indeed and certainly substantiates our claims that providing better information—an honest picture of the realities of sexual intimacy’s hormonal and emotional effects on our psyches and bodies—leads to better decision-making by adolescents and young adults. All these new, more positive trends mean a brighter, happier future for the nation’s young people. That would be a really Happy Valentine’s Day gift.

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