Before living in the US
What I got from pop culture is that American people call “dating” the process of seeing someone that one is currently sexually attracted to and officially romantically involved with.
From this it is understood that the important aspect of “seeing someone” revolves around “going on dates.” For example: to go have coffee, to go have food, to go to the movies.
To go have sex? No, at least not in said movies, but that is rather an aftereffect of the MPAA. Therefore one would believe that dating is serious business, that it is codified and constitutes a long-term courtship. Think about pigeons cooing in the spring, for a really long time.
After living here
How wrong I was. When I started asking questions of my American peeps about dating and what it meant, I got all sorts of unexpected and funny comments. One of them was, “Get the money before you take your shirt off.” What! No court, no romanticism, whatever happened to Ashton Kutcher’s Valentine’s Day spirit? Ah, wrong example, my bad.
Slowly I realized that I’d been fooled again by this idea of flawless America, replete with puritan mores. So I took a second to look back and consider my own experience.
I met this American guy in Paris, last year, random situation, friend of friend. He was living as an expat for a few months. We went out one time and had fun. The second time we had even more fun and ended up making out. Pretty quick. There was no first date, there was no going to a restaurant, there were just two people hanging out and attracted to each other. I am not saying this kind of casual encounter is representative of the whole population, but talking with friends from here made it seem something common.
Furthermore, while browsing the internet on the subject, I found this recent New York Times piece The End of Courtship? In a nutshell, the author argues that traditional dating in America does not exist anymore. Blame it on the comfort of asynchronous communication, on modern feminism, on the financial crisis, on efficient matching made possible by online dating websites, one of the most prominent being OkCupid — the old-school method has been rendered obsolete.
In France the biggest online dating website recently launched a video advertisement emphasizing the difficulties of meeting new people once friends around you have settled, when you live in a big city, etc. Going on step further, the epitome of postmodern dating would probably be the infamous adopteunmec.fr, which literally translates to “adopt a guy.” The website is proud to aim only at no-strings-attached hookups.
Grindr could be the American app equivalent, but targeted to the gay male community.
The loneliness of big city life and the relief offered by technology thus seem to make us both demanding and dependent while fearing engagement and rejection. ‘Dates’ do not exist anymore because we ‘get to know’ the other person online.
Paradoxically, while the selection of the desired other happens prior to the actual meeting, seduction coaching becomes more and more popular. In Paris, for example, Nicolas Dolteau teaches the art of talking to women in everyday situations to insecure young professionals, renewing old codes of courtship.
Though informal hookups and online dating generally tend to be denigrated because of their apparent lack of commitment, they prove to be not necessarily unsatisfactory. I am still happily “dating” the same guy I met last year, even though neither of us really planned for it to happen like that. Same thing with people who actually engage in a relationship after a successful encounter that started on the internet.
In my opinion, the problem may hinge on the pressure to find happiness through engagement, coupled with our individualistic lifestyles. Expectations become so high that one’s judgment is biased and overly critical. We focus on our image, whether online or off, creating an appealing avatar and promoting ourselves rather than actually getting to know other people. Something that is not particular to Americans but to all of us, people of the internet.