Are the new rules of dating leaving everyone unhappy?

PICTURE the scene: a male pal messages you on Facebook asking if you want to ‘hang out’ on Saturday night.

You meet at the pub and pay for your own drinks.

So is it a date or just a catch-up? In today’s muddled world of dating, the answer may well depend on whose bed you wake up in — theirs or your own.

But that’s the exactly the type of brain-teaser facing singletons here, according to a new book on how courtship is changing.

“Today’s younger generation learns quickly and learns well that the norm is to be casual about sex,” says Donna Freitas, author of The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled and Confused About Intimacy — which hits shelves here next month.

“The hookup has become normative, and hookup culture a monolithic culture from which students find little chance of escape. “Young people have perfected an air of bravado about hookup culture, though a great many of them privately wish for a world of romance and dating.”

Raised in the era of the so-called hookup, it’s little wonder that millennials now at an age where they’re starting to think about settling down — have no idea how to go about it.

“Some of our younger clients have never been on a traditional date,” says Rena Maycock of INTRO Matchmaking Agency in Dublin.

“So convincing them to go on a formal date with someone can be difficult. In Ireland, our dating culture has always revolved around drink. Typically, you would meet someone in a pub or club, get hammered and snog passionately.

“If you were sober enough to swap numbers, then great. Even when I was in my early 20s, you would never ever go for dinner or do something that was conducive to a good chat. That’s the culture a lot of our younger members have come out of.”

In the noughties, Sex and the City saw four young professional women navigate singledom in the bars, restaurants and movie theatres of Manhattan. A decade on in the hit HBO series Girls, main characters Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Adam (Adam Driver) — who hooked up by texting each other nude photos — are shown lying on a bed debating whether being each other’s “main hang” means they are actually dating.

Off camera, it seems the cast are no less confused.

“It’s quite bleak,” says star Zosia Mamet, 25, of the dating scene for 20-somethings today.

“90% of the time when I go on dates, I find myself thinking I could be reading my book instead. If those are the standards, then I’m probably going to have cats.”

Perhaps the most shocking part of Mamet’s admission though, is that she actually goes on dates at all.

Between online dating and Facebook flirting, bonding over dinner and a movie could soon become a thing of the past, experts predict.

“There’s no dating anymore,” says Owen Connolly, consultant psychologist at Connolly Counselling Centre in Stillorgan. “If you go to any restaurant on a Saturday night, you’ll see groups of three or four girls having a meal together — likewise with guys down at the pub.

“Traditional dating allowed people an opportunity to get to know each other before entering into a relationship,” he adds.

“You have to have a bit of space between the initial face-to-face meeting and jumping into bed — and that’s not happening. What I’ve found is a lot of very hurt individuals.

“The attitude today is we’ll have fun and if it doesn’t work out, we can always separate.”

If one-night stands occupy one end of the hookup spectrum, then “non-dates” with no physical contact whatsoever are at the other.

“We have become more excited about interacting with the various technological devices at our disposal than about developing relationships with real people,” reckons author Donna Freitas.

“Instead of engaging in conversation with those sitting next to us, we text, email, and chat with people nowhere near our bodies. This prioritising of technology ... promotes the idea that in-person relationships are cumbersome and time consuming — better to be dealt with online, or, even better, not at all.”

Even cult dating bible The Rules has just been rewritten for the Facebook Generation.

“On the one hand, Facebook, Twitter and all these other sites are great,” says Jennifer Haskins of Two’s Company, a nationwide introduction agency. “You can come home in the evening, switch on your computer and suddenly you’re connected to hundreds of people. But they’re kind of nameless, faceless people you don’t know and will probably never meet. The traditional date is very important to what we do, and I think people still want to do that.

“There’s a grey area as to what constitutes a date,” she adds. “It’s definitely a generational thing. Older clients generally prefer a more formal dinner date, whereas younger clients prefer to go for a casual drink.

“That’s why we leave it up to the individuals to arrange whatever they’re most comfortable with.”

“Online dating is skewing how relationships are being formed,” agrees INTRO’s Rena Maycock.

“People are misrepresenting themselves by putting up old photos or lying about their height.

“On top of that, it seems to be quite difficult to get to the actual face-to-face meeting — either because the person is not actually available for a relationship in the first place, or they don’t really know how to behave when they’re not hiding behind a computer screen.

“You have to contact an awful lot of people to weed out the time-wasters — it’s like throwing as much muck at the wall as possible and hoping some will stick.”

With singletons casting the net wider than ever before, there’s another, more practical reason why we’re rethinking old dating rituals.

For victims of the “mancession“, in particular, wining and dining dates in some fancy new restaurant is no longer an option.

“Recently, a guy came to me from another agency where he had already spent €1,000 on dates,” says Jennifer Haskins of Two’s Company.

“With dinner dates, men ask: ‘Well, do I pay?’ “Some men would see that as making an investment before they even know if they want to take it any further.

“Meanwhile, the woman can feel obliged to meet him again or reciprocate.”

“To me, that’s getting complex,” she adds.

“We need to keep it simple so that two people are sitting down engaging in conversation without any other distractions.

“I usually advise clients to go for a drink and, if you pick up the vibe, you can always say: ‘Fancy a bite to eat?’”

Nerve-wrecking, expensive and rife with gender politics, is the death of the date such a bad thing after all?

“In my opinion the traditional ‘dinner and a movie’ date is not a good idea anyway,” says dating coach Stephen Nolan of Kama Lifestyles, which promises to help men ‘get good with women’.

“There is too much pressure straight away.

“That said, you should avoid non-dates like the plague too — it just shows lack of backbone and you will only end up in the dreaded best friend category.

“ Irish people tend to limit their interaction with strangers to Saturday night in a drunken environment, or online,” he adds.

“The advantage of meeting people in person rather than on Facebook is that you can tell straight away if there is a ‘spark’ — saving you months online if it doesn’t work out.

“People don’t realise the romantic opportunities that surround them every day — the love of your life could walk by you in the street.”


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