Evan Schwartz: Dating is not dead, just different

We’ve all heard the adage, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Well, the old system of dating was a long, confusing barnyard transaction.

The New York Times recently ran an op-ed piece decrying the death of dating and the prevalence of “hooking up,” or a sexual relationship between two people who are not emotionally attached, in today’s youth culture. The column made it seem as if dating has gone the way of the drive-in movie theater and polio, and we now live in an era where emotionless premarital sex has run roughshod over the entire institution of dating.

Yes, boys and girls no longer go down to the malt shop, pin each other and follow it up with an awkward fumbling session at Makeout Point. But dating is still alive and well and has been ascribed a much higher worth thanks to modern sexuality. The prevalence of hooking up has taken much of the uncertainty out of dating and has elevated dating to a higher plane.

The concept of hooking up may seem negative to older generations, but college students know it can function as the trial period before dating. In this way you get to sample the milk first before deciding to buy the cow, and that makes for a healthier relationship – plus strong bones.

If a couple decides after hooking up to enter into a relationship, it is because of a strong emotional connection as well as physical attraction. Getting the sex out of the way early ensures that the rest of the relationship is not complicated by uncertainty and ulterior motives.

Past generations relied on a bottom-up approach to sexuality: First you meet the person, you go on dates, someone eventually “makes a move” and the prize at the end of the tunnel is sex. Our generation is top-down, literally. Clothes fly off first, and couples see if the sex takes them anywhere serious. Not rushing to throw a label on a relationship takes the pressure off of people to make something out of nothing.

We as a society are also more in tune with our more animalistic urges than at any prior time in history. “Free love” in the 1960s was considered outlandish and countercultural, but America has changed socially in the last 40 years by leaps and bounds. With more gender equality, better sexual education and less stigma attached to progressive ideas about sexuality, hooking up makes sense on a more practical level than dating.

Hooking up may be the ultimate form of exercising control over one’s body and erases the double standard that negatively brands women who want the same sexual freedom that men have historically enjoyed.

With dating Web sites and Craigslist casual encounters, the Internet is proving that our desire for sex is not limited to young people. Hooking up has always existed because people have always had sexual needs to fulfill, and to assume that this culture of casual sex is just emerging now is na’ve. Instead, what we are seeing is a shift from hooking up as quick physical satisfaction, to hooking up as the step just before dating.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, perhaps Hallmark should put out a new line of cards: “Let’s keep it casual,” perhaps. Or maybe, “You’re the cow I want to buy!”

Well, on second thought.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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