Dividing dating into two different sub-species would help us see things more clearly.
Dating – the word and the idea – makes more sense as the process of spending time with someone with at least one eye towards creating a union. A formal, public union.
Going out – for which we should coin a new word – is all about being with another person (or a number of other people) with a view to simply being with them. Like being in the moment, we’re going out for entertainment, for the company, for passing time or perhaps we’re just looking for a sex partner.
They’re different behaviors, with an entirely different intent. Calling them both “dating” is confusing, leading nowhere particularly good.
Dating, courting and all that stuff revolves around figuring out what the other person’s thinking.
We cannot do this directly, in the sense of plugging in a computer, downloading what’s inside and riffling through the contents at our leisure. What we do is talk, listen, prompt, observe, react, note and synthesize. Problem is that all of these methods are indirect at best, and mostly misleading.
Talking is the way we communicate for the most part. Unfortunately this is the least reliable route to accurate assessment of someone. That’s because much of what we see is filtered through the higher, complex mechanisms of the brain. Every bias, mood, emotion, predisposition, experience, love, hatred, miff, disappointment, triumph and childhood disaster has an input to our communication. Motives are masked, truths cloaked. Deception is a part of the thrust and parry of conversation. Irony too. Sarcasm. Attempts at wit. None of these helps to gain much insight into what’s really going on.
Eventually we build a picture of the person standing opposite, but it does take time. The camouflage of language is imperfect and can be stripped away, which is why it takes years – yes, years – to figure the risk-worthiness of a potential mate.
The mess we create goes far beyond our own back yard. Take this article, for example. While the clarity of thought about, and acknowledgement of – how shall I put this? – the shortcomings of current youthful coupling practice are little short of brilliant, the fact of them remains frightening.
From the author’s description, real dating is merging with cyber-dating to create some hellish version of romantic relationships. Gone are the virtues of delayed gratification, anticipation, wonder, attention, mutuality and respect. Replacing them are the digital delights of personal pleasure, immediate gratification, easy attachment and dis-attachment and limited responsibility.
Figuring out how we found ourselves in this dead-ender version of life is relatively easy; extricating people might prove rather more tricky.