Dating, 1954: Guy picks up girl and takes her to the soda shop.
Dating, 1984: Guy picks up girl (at aerobics class), takes her to see John Cougar Mellencamp in concert.
Dating, 2014: Guy texts girl. Ambiguity ensues.
So much ambiguity that, in a new Glamour survey, 73 percent of single women said they often can't even tell whether they've been on a date or not—and, shockingly, 19 percent said they had never been on a "real date" at all. Women in relationships aren't faring much better; just 12 percent of them have a regular date night with their significant other. There seem to be no dating rules anymore—or even any expectations.
Here's what is happening instead: "My boyfriend won't turn off his phone alerts when we're out," says Alexandra Einstein, 26, an account manager from Greenville, South Carolina. "The other night I grabbed it and read 'Drunk fan falls asleep in front row during Blazers game.' Thank God we were alerted." And everyone's gotten lazy about planning time together, as evidenced by this, spotted recently on a Tinder profile: "No more Netflix on a first date." No wonder we're all complaining about our love lives. The bar for acceptable night-out behavior has dropped to the floor.
So let's pick that bar up and reset it. Let's bring back date night—or date day, even. It doesn't have to be a four-star dinner and a private Beyoncé and Jay Z concert. But dating does require planning. "A date is someone asking another person out and arranging to do something fun together," says Risa Sarachan, 30, an actress from Albany, New York. "It needs to involve getting to know each other and having a sense of romance. At least that's how I wish it were." Instead, date night has turned into a pitch meeting, according to Kim Wolfe, 26, a Web designer from Sarasota, Florida: "It's always just drinks or coffee instead of a real date, because no one wants to commit more than 20 minutes to get to know you. I would love to spend a day roaming the park or checking out a museum, instead of feeling like I'm on a timer."
SO HOW DID WE GET HERE?
There's plenty of blame to go around. The apparently enormous number of available single people online threatens to make each individual date a little less special—your next date is, after all, only a click away. Everyone is working longer hours and over-scheduling; even 35 percent of women in relationships say finding a time when both parties are free is a barrier to date night.
It wasn't always like this. Dating is—like rock 'n' roll, blue jeans, and microwave popcorn—an American invention. "It's a practice that was developed and fine-tuned in the U.S. about a hundred years ago," says Beth Bailey, the author of From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. "The first time I found the word dating used in an American magazine was in a January 1914 issue of Ladies' Home Journal." Previously, young couples could only flirt under the watchful supervision of their families. But as public spaces like amusement parks and dance halls opened, dating outside the home became a mainstream phenomenon.
To be fair, dating has always changed with the times. In the 1930s, things were competitive—you had to jitterbug with as many people as possible on the dance floor; then, after the tumult of World War II, the goal was to settle down and "go steady." During the rebellious 1960s, couples enjoyed a new sexual freedom that gave birth to 1970s singles bars, but by the 1980s neoconservatism led to a return of more formal dates (think Andie and Duckie in Pretty in Pink). Today dating is murky and confusing—and no one seems very happy.
TURNS OUT, DATING IS GOOD FOR YOU
A formal get-together has practical payoffs. Going on actual dates and not just "hanging out," texting, or hooking up means you are more likely to find better romantic choices, says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., match.com's chief scientific adviser. "The test of a relationship is how your personalities mesh, and you can find that out only when you sit down and talk one-on-one. Sites like ours are not dating sites; they're introducing sites. Go out on a real date!" That goes for established couples too, says Fisher: "Date night can renew your feelings of romance by taking you back to when you were first dating and madly in love."
To sum up: Date night works, and it's fun. It works for singles and for couples, gay or straight. "Early on, my now boyfriend and I went on real dates instead of just hanging out, and I feel like it made a real difference," says Morgan Furst, 25, an inventory analyst in San Francisco. "I can still remember the butterflies I had after the first dinner. We shared stories about our lives and really got to know each other."
Dating is a century-old American tradition—let's not let it die. Take a chance! Invite your crush to dinner. Go on a picnic. Meet someone new. Get nervous. Feel the butterflies. See a movie—on a big screen. Create a memory (even if it's a terrible one; the story will delight your friends!). And take your spouse or long-term partner out for a date night, so you both can focus on just each other. Dating is supposed to be fun, remember? So go out. Really, just go out. Maybe you'll get lucky. Maybe you'll fall in love.
One night could change everything. ♥