The End of Courtship, the Rise of Friendship

What does the ideal date look like? According to this New York Times article, it begins with a phone call from a stranger (initiated by the guy). A time is agreed upon (ideally a week or two in advance). The man shows up with roses, and he treats the woman to polite conversation at an expensive French bistro followed by dessert and a movie.

The article equates romance with financial expenditure. It views informality as a sign of indifference. It plays up the importance of gender roles and tradition. If that is courtship, then good riddance.

I suggest that we fill the void, not with the author’s much-maligned hookup culture, but with meaningful friendships. Viewed through the lens of meeting new people and establishing new relationships, a tardy “want to meet up for a drink or whatever” in the early hours of Friday morning, doesn’t seem so incriminating. A “hey, come join me and my bros at the froyo social.” doesn’t seem so dismissive. Spending time with someone in a casual setting (hiking, drinking, volunteering), allows you to learn about their values and how they allocate their time. Meeting their friends allows you to learn about the company they keep, which is one of the best predictors of their own personalities.

And friendship is the surest, most organic precursor to romance.

Sure, traditional courtship might require, as the author alleges, a lot more courage and strategy. (You have to pick up the phone, ask someone on a date, and plan a week in advance.) But why make the bar higher than it needs to be? It’s not like most of us are rolling in dates. That’s the thing about formal dating: I know a lot of guys who spend weeks stressing out about how to properly ask a girl out. Totally unnecessary!  If you’re stressing out over how to ask someone out, you are already doing it wrong. Don’t ask them out. Invite them to hang out.

When you do, you’ll realize that dating and socializing don’t belong in different categories. Maybe they did thirty years ago, when Harvard was all male, but not anymore. Dating can occur anywhere that men and women interact, which is everywhere. And if increasing income equality has led more women to not insist that guys finance their dates, I have no complaints.

Meanwhile, the rules of cookie-cutter dating – guy pays for dinner, doesn’t talk about politics, waits until the nth date to sleep together – should be thrown out the proverbial window. That’s a favor to women as well as to men.

-Robert