Oh, eHarmony.  Oh, blind dates. Oh, meddlesome girlfriends with guy friends they know would be perfect for you. How do I love/hate thee?  Let me count the ways.

Actually, let me not.  I’d rather have this post be about the trouble that comes to call when a girl decides to date in the postmodern world.  And when I say trouble, I mean more than just frustrations and little annoyances.  Read and see . . .

Times of Trouble

As a young lady on the lookout for love these days, you essentially have three options:

  1. You can use the internet matchmakers and browse pictures and profiles (for a price, and with another substantial cost in patience).
  2. You can rely on your friends to set you up.
  3. Or, you can go out and hope for chance meetings.

Actually, all three of these options, fail or fly, rely on chance.

It’s all risky.

When you actually manage to make a connection, there’s a buffet of ways available to help you begin to organize your further communication.  Numbers are exchanged, Facebook friendships are formed (added, whatever),  AIM screen names may be traded.  Then he (if he isn’t a wuss) calls you/texts you/messages you to set up the date.  One never knows which way he’ll attempt to ask you out , or even if he’ll get up the guts to do it, and you can’t ever be certain when you answer him as to how your answer will be received and read for tone and tenor through an electronic medium.

This entire process is tricky.

Then the date happens. You do something fun and awkward together. You sit and talk in a variety of settings, usually over food. This part hasn’t changed since the ‘50s, and it’s no big deal.

Other things happen then that haven’t changed since the beginning of time. You notice little things about how he smells (you firmly believe in good hygiene), how his body is angled towards you (you firmly believe in body language as a reliable signaling system for those with a healthy social IQ), how he looks to you (because, let’s face it, you care as much as he does about chemistry), and how he looks at you (you firmly believe in just enough eye contact as signs of proper feeling, respect, and interest).

Then comes the part that I can’t stand: If any of these primitive assessments render disappointing results, or worse, mind-bogglingly inconclusive results, you still have to figure out how to respond to the guy, and you have to do it quickly: typically, before the date draws to a close and he inevitably begins to shuffle his feet and unsubtly cast about for feedback.

Since he’s paid for dinner and tried to show you his best side all night, you’re really on the spot now. You struggle to be sweet but honest and grateful without giving him too much hope that you’re dying to be with him in every way, forever.  You hem and haw, you offer a few compliments, you assure him you had a good time, and then you try to nicely back off without crushing him or cutting him off completely, depending on the case.  This task takes an enormous amount of emotional analysis and intellectual perspicacity.  It also requires you to think faster than your heart actually beats. To make matters worse, you also have to consider what little you do and don’t know about the guy, and then whether or not he’s exaggerated any information he has offered to you during the course of the evening.  Your boundaries of trust extend and retract, and your head feels like it might just explode while he stands there waiting with puppy-dog eyes for your answer.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

Given this situation, nobody can really come away from a date feeling totally confident or satisfied. For men and women both, the postmodern dating game frankly . . . sucks.

Denying Biology

Part of the reason why dating today bites is that both sexes have gotten into the quick-results mindset fed to us by a world ruled by computerized assessments. We sit down, we take some questions and answer some questions, we input some measurements and fill out a ratings scale, and then we foolishly expect results to flash instantaneously onto our mental screens in the form of a decided opinion, a firm yes or no.

While this process may be effective for men, who naturally dwell in the realm of –ahem—erective  absolutes in terms of attraction (up or down, yes or no, turned on or off,  a “woohoo!” or “woof!”), women just don’t work that way and never will (sorry, second-wave feminists).

We women dwell in the exotic realm of maybe.  And we live there for an awfully long time before we decide to walk outside of it, and outside of ourselves, in order to make a definitive decision in the mating game.   As it is for men, our decision-making process is largely determined by our sexual makeup.

Without getting too crude, I’ll just outline some basics.  Sexually, women can be partially aroused and hardly aware of it until later–just like we sometimes don’t realize our attraction to a man until we get a chance to pause for reflection.   And even if our interest is immediately peaked, women, unlike men, don’t feel the urge to do something about our feelings right away, because we don’t have to (we don’t experience pain if we don’t, and nothing on our body decides to, er, change to, um, an unhealthy color).  In fact, the female body—and our mind—counsels us to wait: to wait for our feeling of interest to rise, for the situation to get better, for more information about this man, for greater emotional intimacy with this man, for a better man to walk in the door, for God to give us some leading concerning which man to choose, etc.

So we wait. We ladies literally sit on our eggs.  We do this because we feel, intensely, the fullness of our responsibility to provide the world with the next generation of life.  We know that, as women, we’ve got to carry that responsibility (literally), and that we have to choose our mates exceedingly well so that we aren’t left alone to shoulder the burden (because, let’s face it, the village scatters once you raise a child). We also know we want our kids to have a good chance of being smart, good-looking, and well cared-for.  So if we’re even of average intelligence, awareness, and sobriety, we gals think really, really hard before we make any moves towards a physical relationship and a major commitment (because for most girls, those two go hand-in-hand).  We women know that we essentially must put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak, and so we need to spend a decisive amount of time  basket-shopping.

In today’s warp-speed dating game, the girls are at a definite disadvantage.  But so are the guys, simply because we women frequently get ticked off at the poor fellas for pushing their advantage and making us feel rushed, vulnerable, or even threatened.  In the end, both would-be lovers walk away with frayed nerves crackling with irritation, frustration, and confusion.

What can we do?

Short of throwing on a period costume and attending geekified Renaissance/Reproduction Fairs, what's an old-fashioned girl like Ruth to do?

If We Could Turn Back Time

In light of all the problems attendant upon today’s dating game, I really miss certain things about the old-fashioned rites of courtship.  I miss, for example, the fact that courtship was done with a community emphasis, where the men and women involved were expected to know each other by reputation at the very least before any “calls” were made.  Family got involved on both sides of the relationship and interacted with the would-be wooer and the would-be wooed. The couple could then see each other in a variety of communal settings where the romantic pressure was minimal and the realities of their personalities—not an impressive show put on over dinner and a movie—had a better chance of coming out. For instance, the girl would get to see how Mr. Maybe played with his dog, talked to his little sister, treated his great-aunt, and hob-nobbed with friends and neighbors.  Mr. Maybe would get to see his Miss Perhaps as she existed in her native environment, too,  which was usually her in home.  After that, he could really make a decision about his feelings for the lady based on some firmer knowledge of her than, say, just her cup size and an online profile that lists her trivial pursuits.  He got to see her for what she really was, and vice-versa.

Now comes the best part:  after the young man got around to thinking about what he ‘d learned about the girl in question, he would then declare his intentions for an official courtship — in writing, not in a face-to-face confrontation—and the lady would have the time to sleep on the man’s feelings and figure out her heart.  It was expected in those days that the woman would take time and privacy to make this kind of decision, and that if her decision fell ultimately against the man, the lack of attempted romance between the man and his lady prior to this decision would make the sting a little less sharp for him.

In our modern-day world, where independence is everything, and community, family, and even neighborhoods are so loosely knit as to render themselves useless as resources, this sort of courtship can’t really happen.  (Sorry to burst your bubbles, Joshua Harris and Elisabeth Elliot.*)

But I’ll tell you some principles that I think can, and should still apply:  Men could adapt a more non-restrictive form of dating and remember to give their girl of interest at least a lunar cycle to figure out her feelings before they decide to corner her for a decision.   Women, conversely, could adapt to the male-catering nature of today’s dating by being more honest about their developing feelings once they reach some recognizable shape.  This requires more self-analysis and self-awareness than many women can bear; it also means a lady has to tell her date some hard truths, which is also very difficult for women raised in our non-offensive era.  (I know I’m often guilty of playing nice when I should be truthful.)

Although these alterations to current dating practice might take some practice, the rewards could well be worth it. At the end of the day, courtship’s principles hold some real wisdom for everyone, simply by counseling  both sexes to be thoughtful of, and responsible to, ourselves and each other.

The reward of these adjustments—a relationship that has time to unfold fully—is not only more satisfying than the alternative, but it might just be the answer to so many relational problems men and women experience today.  After all, nothing lasting can be rushed, and nothing true can be built on kindly-meant dishonesty.

Now that I’ve had my long-little rant, I’ve got some work to do in my own messy love life.  Meantime, I’d like to hear any and all of your feedback on this argument!

Notes on the allusions:

*Elisabeth Elliot, author of the Christian-homeschooler’s staple works on sexuality, Passion and Purity (1984), Let Me Be a Woman (1999), and many other works.  She’s got a lot of old-fashioned wisdom, but it’s often hard to apply it to a modern setting. Elliot is incredibly intelligent and thoughtful, however, and her writing reflects this.

*Joshua Harris,  author of the semi-revolutionary I Kissed Dating Goodbye (1997) and the companion work, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship (2000). Harris, along with other contemporary Christian authors like Eric and Leslie Ludy, is a leader among the countercultural movement of young Christians seeking to reclaim sexual purity like the Crusaders tried to retake the Holy Land.  In the interest of securing the souls of all sexually-driven teenagers, Harris and Co. champion rules like no kissing and no body-to-body hugging before the wedding day in their books.  They also advise that you be rarely left alone with your person of interest while you’re dating/courting. This might be a good idea for high schoolers without even a modicum of self-control and with a driving need for the structure of concrete rules, but it’s obviously impractical, impossible, and inappropriately legalistic for adults with a well-developed moral center.  My recommendation is that all these authors re-read the Song of Solomon and underline every verse that talks about the kissing going on before Solomon and the Shulamite get married–especially the sneaky kisses the Shulamite wishes she could deliver in public without risking chastisement. It’s clearly all natural, healthy fun.  I also advise these writers to stop scaring kids about sex and public schools.  It’s not really helping the vast population of turtle-Christians to come out of their shells and interact with the real world.  It’s also killing God-given sensuality.  More on that in another post, I think (current working title: “Christians Are Bad at Sex”).

Some fabulous resources:

1. Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. Eds. Leon and Amy Kass. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000.  >>> A super-fabulous collection of thoughtful essays, bits of old literature, pieces of new criticism, and a lot of intelligent, soulful discussion on the meaning of love, sex, mating, and marriage.  Kass and Kass chronicle the historical journey of courtship and dating from the front porch to the back seat, and they discuss the merits, downfalls, folly, and wisdom of each step.  RUTH HIGHLY RECOMMENDS!

2. Graglia, F. Carolyn.  Domestic Tranquility:  a Brief against Feminism. Dallas: Spence, 1998. >>> A sassy, sexy, and beautiful tour-de-force written by a lawyer-feminist-turned-housewife on the true nature of female sexuality and the ways in which postmodern feminism oppresses it in our culture.   Graglia doesn’t shy away from a gritty discussion of womankind’s deeply-seated sexual instincts revealed in the psychology and literature of women across the world. Ruth is almost through with this 400-pager, and she recommends it for those who don’t easily blush.  Actually, the blushers need to read it, too, especially those turtle-Christians.

3. Crittenden, Danielle. What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999.>>> Crittenden writes a kick-ass skinny-yet-heavy treatise on how feminism has screwed up relationships between men and women, and why the sexual revolution didn’t help matters much, either.  She offers some interesting solutions and some sharp insight.  Ruth thinks that if you don’t have the patience to read Graglia’s big brief, this is a nice, small, but less artful, substitute.