I’ve pondered with you before on this blog (HERE) the disappearance of something we used to call “dating,” wherein a young man would summon the courage to ask a young lady out to dinner or perhaps to the movies. He would do something called getting “dressed up,” go to the young woman’s house, often meet her parents, take her out for the evening, and then return her home at a respectable hour.
Dating was something that one did beginning in late high school or in college. Youth too young to date were often encouraged by adults to meet one another, and so the adults often sponsored dances and other social activities for young men and women to meet, learn to dance, and interact socially. All this was in service of something we used to call “marriage,” a term that has lost any real meaning in the general culture over the past fifty years. It used to mean (and still does in the Church) the lifelong, stable union of one man and one woman for the purposes of having a family and raising children. In the general culture today it really means little more than two (and soon to be two or more) adults consorting for as long as they please, for whatever purposes they please, until it makes them happier to no longer do so.
With the demise of marriage also came the demise of dating, which existed to serve marriage and to provide opportunities for younger men and women to meet and eventually marry.
As I pondered the disappearance of dating with you some months back, I was surprised at the the sad and sometimes bitter or cynical remarks that came in the comments box. Clearly there is a significant undercurrent of bitterness, cynicism, and lack of trust between the sexes. So many young men wrote in, with great anger at times, about how they are treated by young women, who seem to see them as predators and as somehow beneath them. Many young women confirmed this by describing men as immature and not interested in anything but sex. The overall climate seems to be deeply imbued with a poisonous cynicism and even an open hostility between the sexes.
In a certain sense we see today an age of lost innocence. Gone are the days of idealistic young men and women venturing out to find a spouse, excited at the prospect of marriage, family, and future. Now, because of divorce rates unimaginable fifty years ago, idealism has been replaced by cynicism. And with the explosion of easily accessible pornography, sexual innocence is lost very, very early. Almost no young people these days think ahead to a blissful wedding night and having their first experience of sexual intimacy there.
Yes, it is an age of lost innocence. The word “innocence” is from the Latin in (not) + nocens (harmful or noxious). Thus in seeing someone as innocent, we presume that they mean no harm. But in cynical and jaded times like these, fewer and fewer people presume innocence on the part of anyone. A young man can barely take notice of a woman’s beauty, let alone tell her she’s beautiful, without being suspected of predatory sexual advances. He might even get sued or lose his job if he does so in the workplace. A woman cannot be even subtly flirtatious without fearing significant pressure to go very far, very fast with someone she might just like to get to know slowly.
Almost no one presumes innocence anymore and to do so is scoffed at as naïve. So cynical and jaded have we become, that we even ridicule the notion that there ever was an innocent time when men and women generally observed chastity, and within those safer boundaries, were able to speak more freely of their interest in one another and relate at more subtle levels than all-or-nothing sex.
The loss of innocence and the rise of cynicism have rendered the relationships between men and women hostile, fearful, and fraught with posturing and negotiation.
To be fair, men and women have struggled to get along since the time of the book of Genesis. Many women are in fact very different from most men. Men think differently, often have different priorities, and behave rather differently. But, Holy Matrimony had traditionally been an important way that we bridged the wide gap between men and women, getting them to focus on a shared vision of family and children. The differences might well remain, but with a common goal those differences could become a diversity that added strength to the shared work of family.
In terms of continuing the discussion on the disappearance of dating and on the tension between the sexes, I’d like to share the insights of Anthony Esolen, who has made some very poignant observations. I would encourage you to read his book Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity, which is one of the finest analyses of the demise of marriage that I have seen.
Throughout the book, Esolen (a professor of English at Providence College) gives many examples of poetry and art from the last thousand years that emphasized romance, beauty, and a love that sought union in marriage and family. He writes,
But this tradition is in its death rattle … Why should we have expected otherwise? When men and women [since the sexual revolution of the late 60s] are taught to use other people as objects of sexual excitement … as if they were toys or robots, do we really expect that they should all at once see the beauty and the nobility of the other sex? … Today popular musicians do not sing lyrically about a woman’s beauty or man’s courage. Instead they whine and grunt like animals … and have almost nothing kind to say to one another …
The sexual revolution is essentially a lonely one … The sexual revolution isolates. The man says to himself, “I will have this woman now, because it is convenient, but I’ll make sure she doesn’t press things further.” The woman says to herself, “I’ll let this man have his way, because he’s weak and I can manipulate him.” Each one says, “We must make sure that no third person [i.e., a baby] intrudes upon this arrangement”… And if that third person does intrude, he may well be dispatched with cold steel … and his remains be deposited in a bag labeled “biohazard.”
[Young people] also see a world that is vile at every turn—one in which, even before puberty, most children will have pored over things which people of past generations not only had not seen, but could not have imagined, for their squalor and perversity. [It is] a horrible world in which children are precocious and adults childish and selfish. This is the world of the sexual revolution. [Young people] see it … and feel powerless to do anything about it. So the corruption spreads …
Boys now in high school and college do not ask girls out for dates. They can’t. There’s no “language” for them to use … If he says, “I’d like to take you to a movie,” what does that imply? In a more innocent time, it meant that he’d take the girl to a movie, and he might be brave enough to put an arm around her shoulder, or even steal a kiss. In a more innocent time, the kiss itself would be a delight. To walk home with the girl he likes best, holding her hand, would thrill him to the core of his being. A blushing kiss at the front door might’ve been the stuff of dreams; sweeter by far than anything that the bored addict can glean from a hundred pages of body parts.
The bad language has driven out the good. So the boy … dare not kiss her with any passion or hold her hand or give her a warm embrace. All those actions have now lost their old meanings, and have become mere preludes to sexual congress. Therefore we hardly ever see them. Boys do not give girls flowers, or write poems for them. They do not court them. Girls do not present themselves to be courted. If they tease boys, it isn’t [seen] as innocent flirtation. [Things] that were supposed to bring people together, have wrought mass alienation. The evidence is there for all to see, or rather not to see … I do not see boys and girls flirting in a childlike way, or kissing, or holding hands, or bowling at the alley, or dressing up for one another, or giving valentines to one another. At Yale, Valentine’s Day is “celebrated” by “Sex Week,” complete with the sale of sex toys and “how-to” presentations by prostitutes. [A certain play which I won't mention by name on this blog] features spoiled and corrupted college women who cry out for their independence from predatory males by shouting the vulgar name for their private parts. Anger, resentment, self-promotion, immodesty, cruelty, callousness, perversion; try now asking that girl over there what her name is and whether she will go with you to the ice cream social.
The whole of the sexual revolution has been a colossal failure and has brought untold human misery (Excerpts from Chapter 4).
This is a powerful analysis and I have found its truth more and more in my discussions with younger adults today. Even those who do not want to adopt these attitudes find them so pervasive that they don’t know how to break out of the stifling, lonely system and find love again. I am in the perplexing position of knowing many remarkably beautiful women—ones whom I’d have asked out on a date in a minute back in my youth—who are almost never approached for a date. Many young women today are also, frankly, not all that interested in marriage or family. They have careers, etc. and live in a culture that no longer looks askance at having children without marriage. So who needs men (at least as husbands)? Or so the thinking in the wider culture goes.
Our culture has gotten very sick, very quickly. And the sexual revolution and radical feminism have been the poisons we’ve swallowed.
Esolen makes the following observation about our culture:
No culture is perfect—far from it. But all healthy cultures reward virtue and punish vice, encourage what is noble and beautiful and discourage what is base and tawdry, promote liberty, and restrain license. [Every young man] must now dwell in a perverse anti-culture in which his attempt to practice the demanding virtue of purity meets less than approval. It meets snorts of disdain and ridicule. In a healthy culture he would not be alone, and it would not be hard for him to meet a young lady of similar mind. Married men and women, in a healthy culture, would take upon themselves the cheerful task of bringing such boys and girls together in those innocent and lively pastimes that are the seedbed of sexual attraction and love; in dances and concerts, and parties attended by everyone from toddlers to grandparents hobbling on their canes (p. 54).
Again, this is all so true. And we in the Church have also gotten out of the work of uniting the next generation. We have to do better.
Here’s a cynical song on marriage from the anti-culture.