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Reality Dating And Real Courtship – Can One Lead To The Other?

The options for dating in the 21st century are many and complex.  One need not look long before encountering an internet or television advertisement for some form of on-line dating, many with a specific demographic focus: religious preference, age cohort (from teens to 50+), occupation (e.g., farmers only), and race.  In the increasingly complex world and rapid pace of life, it is understandable that many people have turned to the net [1] in an effort to find the perfect match.  And most of us know couples who have successfully met online and seem to be making a go of it.  But how truly helpful is it?

Over 1/3 of American adults who are “single and looking” [2] have used the technology to find dating partners, and five percent (5%) of current marriages have resulted from relationships that began online.  While over half of those utilizing technology to date report experiencing that the other party has “seriously misrepresented themselves” in the process, a majority of the public still believes it is a “good way to meet people” because of the sheer numbers involved.  I am not convinced.

In my clinical work, I have encountered a number of instances where the results of such relationships were not only not successful, they were, at times, tragic.  What is concerning about these non-traditional forums for dating is the potential for advancing relationships too quickly—not allowing sufficient opportunity for the parties truly to get to know each other before making significant commitments, physical or legal, of one sort or another.  While this is not necessarily so, the typical trajectory of these relationships heightens the risk:  we meet on-line, email awhile, move on to phone calls for a time, then the fated meeting occurs, by which time we think we really know each other.  If the first face-to-face contact goes well, the pressure increases to move quickly forward, either to sexual activity or marriage depending upon one’s morals and values.  In either event, what is neglected is the irreplaceable opportunity for the couple to simply be with each other, to hang out with friends, to meet family, etc. long before an intense press for commitment begins.  The importance of this shared “life as usual” time for discerning whether one has found a truly-suitable partner with whom to establish a community of life and love (aka “a family” [3]) cannot be underestimated.

The Extreme

The risk of “speed mating” is taken to an absurd level in the ABC television reality series, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.  For the uninitiated, the shows feature one star who proceeds through a sequence of individual and group dates with the hopeful contestants, and eliminates those contestants one by one until the final episode, when the ‘chosen one’ is supposed to receive a bona fide marriage proposal.  The encounters are laced with trips to exotic locations adding to the ‘unreality’ of the dating situation.  Granted, many of the participants are likely looking for their first big break in Hollywood, but the premise of the show is that genuine relationships will ensue, and this seems to be the attraction for viewers.

Take, for instance, a recent article in People [4] magazine where the new star of The Bachelor series, Chris Soules, states that “after having his heart broken on The Bachelorette, in his current show he has found ‘the one’ and is ‘ready for love.’  By rough count to date, about 10% of the shows have resulted in an actual wedding.  Small wonder.  (Perhaps the bigger wonder is how long such marriages will last.)  To use Mr. Soules words, can a person really find “the one” and true “love” in such a hurried, artificial manner?  Experience suggests not.  The liabilities of online dating, primarily a lack of genuine time together where couples can experience the day-to-day challenges of life, are reflected here in spades.

The Real Reality

In prior centuries [5], courtship involved one man and one woman spending intentional time together to get to know each other in the context of their families and communities, with the express purpose of evaluating the other as a potential husband or wife, father or mother.  More recently, cultural norms have shifted (with the sexual ‘revolution’ and artificial birth control separating sexual activity from conceiving children) and courtship has devolved into something more based on competition and consumption, than on the values necessary to establish a home and family.  Mates are no longer chosen predominantly because of how suitable they will be as a parent to one’s children and fit into one’s extended family, but rather on more individualistic, self-centered, criteria.  Yet, relationships are the antithesis of self-centered living: it does in fact take two to tango.

There are no short-cuts to dating that are realistically reliable.  Forming lasting, loving partnerships for life is hard work.  It requires time, communication, involvement in a shared community, and patience.  That is the bottom line—the “Real Reality.”