We were watching what was supposed to be a romantic Hollywood comedy movie last night, and then it became more of an anthropological analysis of a world that was not only completely alien and terrifying, but also not completely comprehensible.
Thinking more about I wrote a FB post with some thought on the subject of that is called ‘dating’ in modern US-influenced popular culture earlier today, that I also posted in several groups, and which which mostly got agreements and some additions with more nuance from people. The original post read something like (it was posted in several versions and is slightly edited again here):
Yesterday I was having a bit of a cultural disconnect moment while watching a Hollywood movie with my wife (‘He’s not that into you’ or something like that, with Jennifer Aniston and other well-known people that I didn’t recognize myself). She was annoyed with how the women were portrayed as stupid creatures (Well, the men really weren’t much better I’d say) and we couldn’t really figure out what the age of the characters was supposed to be. (For behaviour somewhere early twenties, although they were more than teenagers in a way, but other signs said thirties already, especially for the Jennifer Aniston character).
Now the biggest question was about the whole idea of ‘dating relationships’. I’ve always been rather confused by the way dating functions in US fiction and stuff influenced by it (I have no access to the real world over the ocean except through FB friends and the like though) and the way dates seem to function as liminal moments in which a romantic relationship (including intimacy and sometimes sex) is temporarily present, which is over when the date is over and then becomes something very vague that leads to a lot of stress, insecurity and mostly a lot of pursuit of unhappiness.
The contrast is big with the approach to relationships that I saw when I was young here in Belgium: the most childish way of taking about relationships was ‘het aanmaken’, or ‘het is aan’. When ‘it’ was ‘on’, you had a relationship, when the relationship was over it was ‘off’. So you were in a relationship or you weren’t, even in a stage of hand-holding teenagers, and there really wasn’t that much confusion about that. You are in a relationship or not. Dates could occur in the relationship evidently, but they did in no way define anything. If you’re ‘together’ you need to see each other and do stuff together, not?
I’ve also noted that the word ‘verkering’ (a word usually for teenagers, for a steady and commited but casual relationship, a stage of relationship in between the first kiss or ‘het is aan’ until getting engaged) doesn’t exist in English. Translator services translate it with ‘courtship’ (which sounds extremely formal to me, or reminds me of creepy American purity culture) or with ‘dating’ (see all of this).
It seems to me that the whole dating game that I see in movies (with its strange and contradicting rules that only make it more hell) doesn’t have any way of providing that stability of ‘it’s on’ in child language. Relationships seem quite uncertain until people are engaged or so, and people seem to be dating several people at the same time (rather intimately) without any commitment.
Also, the whole idea of having romantically intimate (or even sexual) dates before you really know each other just creeps me out. Without knowing someone enough as a friend already I would never want to be romantic with anyone, and it sounds like a recipe for disaster actually. How can one start a meaningful relationship without a friendship in which it is possible to talk about important things? Shouldn’t relationships that are supposed to become a family together develop from friendship – ‘verkering’ -engagement – marriage?
So while I certainly am a fan of both dating inside a relationship and hanging around to get to know each other (as friends, without any pressure, and certainly without games and nonsense rules), the whole thing called dating, at least in movies, sounds toxic and and stupid to me, and potentially more a vaccination against good relationships than something that leads to healthy couples.
But maybe my analysis is completely off? What do you think? (crossposted in several very different groups and no-one said my analysis was off yet)
What I didn’t get was reactions that my analysis was completely off. Some people warned me that Hollywood isn’t exactly reality. Luckily that is true, but on the other hand US Americans shouldn’t forget that Hollywood provides a picture of reality that is seen a ‘this is America’ by non-Americans. And it seems that (at least for some Americans) dating culture is a hell even worse than what the movies show.
A main point for a lot of people seems to be that ‘the dating world’, especially in the US it seems, is confusing as hell, and that all people who are married or in a relationship who are happy to not have to participate in it, and that some even are single because of it.
After thinking more about the whole thing there are some points that I think are worth stating.
- I strongly believe that the best way to handle romantic relationships that are meant to become a family and a partnership for life (I can’t say much about other relationships, and they don’t really interest me either) is to start from a friendship in which open communication about stuff like for example being anxious about this whole dating world and its mad rules among other things. Without that it’s mad to start something with anyone.
From that I would go through a stage of ‘verkering’/’going steady’, or a growing romantic and committed relationship, followed by engagement and marriage when the time is ripe. (Not too soon, not too late). I also believe it is very important to be clear on where you are, always.
- A lot of other non-Americans seem to find the US situation incomprehensible too. I’m rather glad about that for the rest of the planet, but I offer my condolences to any Americans that are screwed by this culture.
- The confusion about not knowing where you are in a relationship (that even was a sexual relationship on the last date) sounds like hell. How can anyone live with that? See what I wrote about a friendship with open communication in point 1. I wouldn’t even have a first kiss with someone that I can’t talk about what kind of relationship we’d be in.
The strange thing is that it seems that people are really intentional about not defining their relationships (or DTR, there even seems to be an acronym) for reasons that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. There even seems to be an active peer pressure even to not define relationships or even call them relationships because that would put pressure on them or something like that.
I have no idea what that would even mean but it sounds like a very bad idea and an absolute recipe for disaster. And I’m glad that all of this sounds very alien to me. (My condolences again to those stuck with this kind of screwed-upness)
- It seems that both weird forms of evangelical ‘purity culture’ (‘don’t ever be alone with someone of the opposite sex’ madness) and the strange and contradictory rules of ‘the dating game’ try to actively keep people from said friendships in which can be communicated like that. Which is keeping people away from a basic requirement without which relationships will always be unstable. Instead of looking for signs and trying to find out what the other might have meant people should just say that they need to say.
- There seems to be an element of consumerism too on ‘the dating market’. When you reduce people to products to consume you’ll never be able to have healthy relationships with them. Aforementioned friendship would already be impossible, or make this approach to human beings impossible… (There are more ways in which consumer capitalism is deadly to relationships, but I’m not the one to go to deep in that rabbit hole and that would divert from the topic of this post)
- This is probably the place too to give my opinion on ‘hook-up culture’ and one-night stands, which is not based on religion here but merely on the relational wisdom outlined elsewhere: if you’re not in a relationship with someone that enables you to understand each other very well when talking about sex and intimacy it’s just a very stupid and potentially very destructive idea to have sex with them.
Let’s add to that that hook-up culture very easily becomes rape culture with just the tiniest hint of either sexual entitlement or peer pressure, both of which seem to be more present too in the US than here by the way.
- The idea that men and women cannot be friends is not only nonsense, but also very very very problematic, as you should have gathered from everything else I wrote here. See also: The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)
- Speaking of vaccinations against relationships: porn in modern society is probably one of the things that destroy relationships in very different ways. But that’s another topic.
- It seems that the words ‘sex’ and ‘intimacy’ are used almost as synonyms sometimes, while they certainly aren’t. There is a lot of intimacy outside of sex and sexual relationships, and a lot of sex isn’t really that intimate at all. Hook-up sex, and whatever porn describes, (as well as the ‘men need sex as a physical release, wife give it to him’ of certain US evangelical marriage books) can be completely devoid of intimacy and even the opposite of it.
- Marriage itself when it turns into an obsession more important than your partner themselves can become an idol that is destructive to your relationship. Same with wedding days when they become more important than your partner and your relationship.
- If this is what is called ‘Dating’ in the US I understand now that Josh Harris kissed it goodbye. It’s just that not much of the things he proposes instead seems to be a better alternative…
- I can understand how this mess turns men into Incels and MGTOW and the like. Which is also a destructive and a rather effective vaccination against healthy relationships.
- Saying ‘I love you’ seems very hard for a lot of people even in romantic relationships (also something I don’t really get. I’d think it’s a requirement very early on). But I think it’s important to be able to say those words and mean them.
So, to summarize, my own relationship advice: be honest, be yourself, be open, form a strong friendship before you even think of ‘intimacy’ (which is a lie anyway without a relationship, you can’t communicate love that isn’t there), talk about everything, and look for someone with whom you can run away from all the dating game nonsense.
The best way to have a healthy relationship is to just short-circuit all the nonsense, and go your own way together. So anyway, before you ‘date’ or whatever you call it with someone, it’s probably good to form a friendship deep enough to talk about how to evade, subvert and completely ignore the whole nonsense of dating, and then face the madness world together.
That sounds like a very good bonding experience by the way…
What do you people think?
Joshua Harris, unkissed frogs and false promises
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex…
Sexual entitlement, Involuntary celibacy, porn and losing your humanity