In my second-to-last semester of college, I’m fulfilling one of my basic requirements by taking the course: Christian Marriage. Not like I’m in a hurry or anything… but relationships, in general, interest me. The way humans form bonds (that sometimes last a lifetime) is comforting, whether those bonds seem fateful and simple or incredibly complex.
This course is discussion-based so there’s a lot of freedom within the classroom. It’s a safe place. We trust each other and there’s no judgment so people tend to talk freely about sexuality, their past relationships, and their perspectives on marriage and religion. In class so far we’ve been discussing the early origins of marriage within religion, what sexuality really means, and we even sat down with two married professors to listen to their love story.
This week, however, was a little different. Our reading was on dating and hook-up culture and our first assignment is to interview 4 friends; two male, two female, on their thoughts on dating. Overall, the task was pretty broad, but I brought specific questions to the table and sat down with some of my closest friends.
Here are my list of prepared questions:
- Are you in a relationship currently? / When were you last in a relationship?
- How long did this relationship last?
- When was your last date?
- How was it?
- What did you do?
- Did you enjoy it? Explain.
- What was important to you about the last person you dated? What do you seek in a partner?
- Aristotle’s philosophy was that there were 3 specific types of ‘friendship’. Which would you describe your relationship as?
- Utility – “I need you.”
- Pleasure – “I want you.”
- Virtue – “We have the same values.”
- Are you religious?
- Does/Did sex play a role in your relationship?
- What are your thoughts on the dating landscape today?
- Are you optimistic or pessimistic about dating?
- What does dating mean to you?
- Would you ever like to get married?
The first of my friends to be interviewed was probably the most honest – with me and herself. Her most previous relationship of four months ended last March. Her last date was dinner on Valentine’s Day. All was well… because she’d had a few glasses of wine. I asked her where her head was at that moment in her relationship. “At that moment I was back and forth with myself. I didn’t know what to do.”
“He kept doing things I hated. He answered his phone in the middle of dinner. I remember he said that he doesn’t like wine because he thinks they’re all the same. For some reason that really bothered me. It just screamed immaturity and finally, I was like… Huh. Maybe this really isn’t right.”
As one of her best friends, I can attest to what an asshole he was. He just straight up sucked. They’d argue over their personal politics, he’d talk over and never listen to her, and he was inconsiderate to every feeling she’d ever had within their short-lived ‘relationship’. Describing him in 1 word: arrogance.
The Infamous ‘Talking’ Stage
She started to question her feelings. I then asked her what initially drew her to her past boyfriend. I mean, he had to have a few redeeming qualities that made her fall for him, right? “Well at first, I was attracted to his looks. And, he was really nice to me. He pursued me for a while and went out of his way to talk to me at the bar. He was only focused on me and I wasn’t used to that. We talked for a few weeks and spent some time together. He asked me to his lacrosse formal. I was like, ‘I hate this weird talking stage.’ And he was like, ‘Well, we can just skip that. I really like you. Let’s just date.’ And that’s how it happened.”
Ah, modern romance. How rare is it that one skips the confusing relationship limbo of ‘talking’ that plagues so many of us?
“What do you think about the “talking” phase of a relationship?” A general consensus arose between quickly that the talking phase is important (one friend even said absolutely necessary) at the beginning of a possible relationship simply because you’re not sure if your personalities mesh until you actually spend a little time together. However, extending past a month of “talking” is just an excuse not to commit.
A Greek Philosopher’s Take
I asked about Aristotle’s philosophy, “Aristotle’s distinguishes three characteristics that generate friendship, but he maintains that only the third is the perfect type. The first type is utility. People come together and become friends because they are mutually advantageous to one another. The second type is the friendship of pleasure. Like friendships founded on utility, these relationships are often unstable. (…) The perfect kind of friendship according to Aristotle is friendship founded on virtue. These relationships are stable since they are founded on the person’s character and character does not change quickly or often. (…) Among the most important (characteristics) are: desiring the good of the other, finding pleasure in the other, and being able to completely trust the other.”
When asking this question, I didn’t specify to my friends on which of the three Aristotle deemed the perfect fit. Friend #1 answered, “At first, it was pleasure and then it moved to utility. I lost interest in him and I didn’t realize it until I realized I only kept him around to do things for me.”
Friend #2, when asked replied simply, “pleasure.” And when I further explained each; utility, pleasure, and virtue, she went,
“Oh, yeah, we definitely don’t really have the same values on love. He doesn’t even believe in it. He doesn’t believe in being with one person forever either. Why am I still with him again?”
She and her boyfriend have been together for about a year and a half. Their last date was in August because he just recently graduated and they’re trying to make their relationship work long-distance (they’re from different states). They went to dinner, chatted normally, and enjoyed each other’s rare company.
“When we first started talking, he was very different than how he is now. He was very funny, very forward, he would ask to do things with me and hang out a lot. He told me I was beautiful. Now, it’s not really like that.”
And when asked what dating meant to her, she responded ironically, “Dating is figuring out who you want to be with for the rest of your life.” Although stuck between letting go of this relationship and holding onto it by a thread, she also sees dating positively, “I’m definitely optimistic. Hopeful.”
The Man’s Perspective
I got way more out of my girlfriends than my guys, but the men were also really insightful a lot more forthcoming than I expected. Ultimately, they looked for the same things in their significant others as the girls did. They felt sex played a bigger part in their relationships and they both categorized their relationships in the Aristotle’s pleasure category. Not surprising, but still valid.
There was a moment each of my male friends got quite heated and that was when I asked about our dating landscape in today’s society.
“I think people are trying too hard to make dating something it’s not. There’s too much comparison and social media almost makes things awkward. There are so many ways to communicate and a lot out there to misinterpret. Feelings end up getting hurt for no reason and it ends up hurting your relationship.”
Why Did I Even Do That?
“Sometimes I feel guilty about a hookup because I’m like, “why did I even do that?”
The article that helped explain that feeling was one that we’d just been assigned in class: Premarital Sex in America: Data on How Young Emerging Adults Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying, where the author describes and compares sexual regret among conservative and liberal Americans.
They state, “If you believe pornography and cohabitation and premarital sex are wrong, then you will likely feel guilty when you misstep, but at least you know where you stand. Liberals have a hard time articulating what they, in fact, believe about sex, tending to fall back on a radical tolerance that does not always square well with the emotional weight of the matter.”
Basically, this article is describing ‘loose’ liberals as morally confused – and I can relate. In America, the land of extremes, we’re either preached to about abstinence from the right or told that we can be as sexually free as we feel comfortable with from the left. Both are valid, yet the right’s agenda has a set of rules to follow and guilt that comes with breaking those rules, whereas the left’s doesn’t necessarily. There are no rules when it comes to promiscuity – you have to make them for yourself, so obviously you will misstep and more often than not your own background (religious or otherwise) will have an impact on your production of those rules.
This paper allowed me to examine a lot of what I already knew about the dating landscape of my generation – and I learned a lot about my friends, too. I almost think this assignment did them more good than it did me.
Whether our relationships work out or not, it’s always interesting to dissect the bonds we create to better understand ourselves and our significant others. Sometimes the result turns out better than others… (#2 broke up with her boyfriend shortly after our interview.)