DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: My stepdaughter is 17, intelligent, popular and attractive. She attended prom last month with a lot of friends, which is how she always goes out. I’m not aware that she’s ever been on a “date.” I am looking for the day when a young man comes to the door to meet me and ask her out formally. I talked to another dad and he has the same complaint. Is there something wrong with our daughters? Where are the young men courting them? Can you please explain the “scene” to an old fogie? —Sacramento Dad
Rachel, 19: When your daughter goes out with friends, it’s not always girls’ night! Romance usually starts at school, parties, and other places friends hang out, well before any sort of relationship is declared.
Lennon, 24: I had a girlfriend senior year. We didn’t really date. We mostly saw each other at school and with friends outside of school. I asked her to be my girlfriend at some point, so there was a sort of defining moment, but meeting her mom, and later her dad, wasn’t an event and there was no announcement about our relationship. They probed a bit and that’s how it came out.
Jesse, 18: Right now your daughter probably wants to enjoy life with her friends and not have the “baggage” of a man.
Liva, 22: Nobody really “dates” anymore. In my high school, teens were either in exclusive relationships or not seeing anyone. I never had boys calling for dates and the boy I saw senior year never came to meet my parents. This is pretty standard. There is a similar pattern in college. We are so accustomed to meaningless hookups that the idea of boys pursuing us romantically is odd. I personally hope this changes -- I'm sick of it! Here are some definitions (subject to variation):
DATING: means "seeing someone" casually. It might have started as a hookup or casual meeting and may or may not become serious. Dating definitely involves hooking up.
HOOKING UP: implies doing "everything but" sex. Hookups are nonexclusive, no-expectations, no-strings-attached. When hookups involve sex (i.e., intercourse), we just call it "sleeping together" Sometimes a cruder term is used, but not toward one's boyfriend. Nobody says "making love" anymore, unless it is in a silly voice to make fun of the expression.
EXCLUSIVE: can apply to both casual or committed relationships. Both parties agree to engage physically only with each other.
COMMITTED: serious, meaningful relationship with deep feelings, possible future plans. Heck, there might even be love!
BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND: this status is not assumed unless specifically discussed. It generally implies exclusivity and/or commitment. Otherwise, it's "this guy/girl I'm seeing."
Dear Dad: Today's "hookup" is equivalent to yesterday's "pickup." "Hookup," however, lacks the double standard and implied sluttiness of the female "pickup." It's one small positive. The large negative is that hookups are standard practice today rather than a marginal activity. Today's rampant sexual casualness is emotionally tough on everyone. What I urge young people to do is look for love and commitment and stop settling for less. I tell them they can find both achievement AND love. Dad, you can help by encouraging this, too. Your daughter appears normal for her generation. Yet many parents are inadvertent architects of hookup culture through their constant achievement-comes-first, don't-fall-in-love messages. Like empty self-esteem creates narcissism and emotional fragility, telling kids to delay love creates hookups.
It is biological fact that humans are sexual creatures by hard-wiring. So when parents tell humans at the beginning of their sexual blossoming to delay love, most are going to try to please those parents. It appears we can override the "love" switch. But since sexuality is hard-wired, history has shown there is little chance of overriding that impulse (it can be repressed, but not overridden). So what we're seeing today, is a whole lot of sex and not much love.
Conditioning starts at home. I urge parents to condition their kids from a young age (or starting now) to both achieve AND fall in love. The alternative is hooking up or being sexual via pornography. I vote for a real relationship any day of the week over those two things. Even if these relationships don't work out, the person learns about love and commitment at a time when there may be an important "window" for learning about such things.
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