Playing the dating game

A recent conversation with an American girl on a term exchange from Dartmouth has opened my eyes to the flaws of modern British dating. When giving her the 411 on dating etiquette in Oxford, or England in general, it transpired that British dating is very different compared to the scene in the States; no wooing, no ‘proper’ dating, just a bbm conversation and a quiet corner of a sweaty club where you can “get to know each other better.” Following on from that, if you do end up going on a date, it somehow brands you and someone you barely know as an item. We explained to said American that consequently you would never go on dates with multiple people at the same time (unless you are particularly sly and can guarantee they won’t find out) because it would be viewed as cheating. She looked on in horror: “But how do you know if you like someone before you’ve even been on a date with them?” The fact that this had never occurred to me demonstrated quite how far the British culture of dating seems to have gone down the plughole. I decided to take a closer look at the phenomenon of the modern British dater (MBD).

Initiating the date

Gone are the days of romantic love letters and dinner dances. This is modern day Britain; a society adorned with social media updates and binge drinking campaigns. You can’t go anywhere in Oxford without seeing a hashtag, hearing a ringtone or smelling the contents of your fellow Wahoo-goer’s stomach. Perhaps it is merely a convenient explanation, but I blame the loss of British romance on these two modern day realities.

Let’s say you meet someone in the ready-meal aisle at Tesco and like the look of them. It should be perfectly legitimate to ask them out on a date to get to know them better, but the nature of the MBD completely prohibits this. Our British culture has made us so mistrusting of strangers that we cannot even bring ourselves to talk to and potentially meet up with new people at risk of them turning out to be a child molester/stalker/general weirdo. I’m not saying we should all turn to the opposite extreme and start inviting strangers round for tea, but isn’t it sad if we are too afraid to get to know new fun-looking people? Cue giving out a phony number and hiding in thebakery section.

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The MBD thus has to turn to people they already know/have already shagged; which mainly consists of a small subset of friends, and occasionally extends to friends of friends. But the method by which the asking-out happens is so far removed from the romantic courting of Mr Bingley’s era that its hard to remember what ‘wooing’ even is these days. As a rule: you cannot ask someone on a date by text/bbm/twitter or any other form of social media- you should ask to their face. Otherwise there is risk of it coming across as a booty call/text a toastie service.

Purpose of the date

We need to take dates at face value. The whole purpose of a date is to get to know someone better to decide whether you may or may not wish to see them romantically. A date in itself isn’t a commitment; only an opportunity to have a good time and get to know someone new. If it all goes to pot and you resort to climbing out the bathroom window, so be it.

The problem with the MBD is that asking and then taking someone on a date has been made into this hyperbolic ordeal. Thus, if you are ‘dating’ someone (ie have been on one date or more), you are automatically labelled as a couple.

It then follows that in our youthful culture it is socially immoral to date multiple people at any one time. But why? Yes, it would be wrong if you were leading them all on, playing with their emotions or being intimate with more than one person. But if you are merely enjoying decent conversation over a tasty meal then surely it is completely harmless.

And if we follow this definition of a date being a means of getting to know someone better, taking a boy or girl on a date who you have previously bedded after a drink-fuelled night kind of defeats the whole point. You already know them extremely well (at least intimately) and now you are chatting about how your parents divorced when you were seven years old. It’s all a bit illogical if you ask me.

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Who does the asking?

Despite the many changes from the chivalry of the past, there are still a few aspects of dating that haven’t changed at all: boys still tend to ask girls out (not the other way around) and boys are often expected to pay for the date.In non-heterosexual relationships this is obviously not the case, but in an age where there are as many types of sexualities and relationships as there are people, it seems strange that a ‘norm’ like this should exist at all. Women should feel bold enough to ask out boys, and those that do should not be labelled as ‘over-confident’, ‘predatory’, or ‘ballsy’, just a few of the words I’ve heard (thankfully on only a handful of occasions) used to describe girls who do the asking.

A friend of mine explained that she doesn’t feel intimidated asking a boy out on a date, she just wouldn’t want to “hand it to him on a plate” in fear that he’d lose interest. Apparently the boy has to work for it. But surely all this silliness is counterproductive; yes, it is fun to play ‘the game’ but if the boys take on the same playing-it-cool stance as some of the girls insist on doing, then two headstrong people who should plainly be together would never end up an item.

Following on from that, why the hell do some girls still expect the boy to pay for them on a date? There is no logical reason why the man should have to splash out women are perfectly capable of paying for themselves.

It seems to me that the MBD epitomises everything that is worrying about youth culture binge drinking, underage sex and an unhealthy obsession with social media. Maybe it is an age-thing, and maybe classic novels are to blame for inaccurately representing the romance of pre-twenty first century Britain. But I want to know where the romance has gone. One should be able to ask a stranger out on a date without giving them the heebie jeebies. And it ought to be more acceptable for girls to ask boys out, and to pay at least half the bill. Let’s transform the MBD into Prince/Princess Charming and bring back proper British romance.