I was watching an episode of "The Brady Bunch" the other day, and I found myself entirely jealous of Greg Brady. No, not for his dreamy blue eyes and groovy good looks, but for how easy dating was for him, as well as for the rest of his fellow teen-age friends of the late-'60s and early-'70s. In the episode, Greg asks a girl on a date to spite his sister Marcia, who has just begun dating his mortal enemy at school. Though he has not talked to the girl all year, he has no trouble approaching her out of the blue and asking her for a date. Greg easily gets this girl to agree.

Similarly, later in the episode, Marcia's new beau meets Greg's new girlfriend for the first time and asks her on a date, and she immediately accepts with a cry of "Far out," and the two walk off into the sunset holding hands. True, we cannot all be as slick as Greg Brady, but dating has become a lot more difficult than it was in those simple days of boy meets girl, boy courts girl, boy and girl live happily ever after. Today's youths are not necessarily commitment shy because they are afraid of each other's cooties; rather, modern mores reject old traditions and approaches to romance, putting us all into a state of utter confusion when it comes to the pursuit of potential partners.

Whereas Greg could officially ask a girl on a date, setting a clear stage for the beginning of a relationship, today the so-called date is almost nonexistent. Today we are more likely to see potential couples not alone on their first dates but with other friends. The tendency of modern lovers to not go out on dates stems from a fear of jumping into a potentially hurtful situation, as the disintegration of the traditional family in the last few decades has created jaded views of romance. The fact that divorce rates have more than quadrupled between 1970 and 1996 has taught us that romance does not always work out. So why bother? This abandonment of the traditional picket fence nuclear family has caused us to be wary of romance, fearing potential commitments to the point that we prefer casual, non-threatening meetings of merely "hanging out" to traditional dates.

If the relationship does not work out, then there is no harm done. After all, he and I did not actually go on a "real" date, and so he did not actually reject me. No one gets hurt, and our young, uninjured hearts are free to run right along to the next potential playmate. Staying clear of traditional dates does not necessarily guarantee a lifetime away from heartbreak hotel. Misunderstandings between potential lovers are more likely to occur when the line between friendship and love is vague. So not making an official commitment actually leads to the pain we are trying to avoid in the first place. If a man and a woman spend time together as "just friends," each may assess the situation completely differently. The guy may think they are floating together through the tunnel of love, while she might have no clue of his romantic intentions and think of him as only a friend.

Since the women's liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, equality of the sexes has improved American society, leading to progress that has led to fairer treatment of everyone, regardless of sex. But equality has also led to maximum confusion in the vicious coliseum of dating. No longer can females rely on males to make the first move. In the 21st century, men and women alike can pose the first question for a date or phone number. This goes for picking up the dinner tab as well. In a time when men and women are perceived as equals, paying for a date becomes a complicated matter. Now a couple must consider who asked whom for the date, if traditional chivalry should decide that the man will pay, or even how well the two individuals are acquainted.

Today it is not uncommon for the woman to pick up the tab or for the two to split the bill. Going out to dinner in the 21st century has become a fuzzy matter emphasizing political correctness and therefore making first dates a lot more confusing than they used to be. Breaking out of the antiquated expectation that the guy pays for everything on a date also blurs the lines of traditional feminine and masculine roles, and this is something that is even more confusing for gay or lesbian couples. Modern times dictate that dates should not be limited to the traditional gender roles. When two men or two women go on a date, and one pays, there is the inevitable perception that one of them is taking on the traditional masculine role while the other is "wearing the skirt." Same-sex couples are thus forced to deal with the confusion of keeping with ideas of modern times in the institution of dating.

Modern vernacular has also made our pursuits of love and relationships more confusing than ever. Romantic slang used to make more sense than it does today, as expressions were derived from more literal contexts. Phrases like "going steady," "getting pinned" and "going on a date" clearly communicated a relationship's status. The last time I heard someone use the word "pinned" – not counting a three-hour episode of "WWF Smackdown!" – Chachi and Joanie were on their way to Arnold's diner in "Happy Days." Instead of these easy-to-interpret slang expressions, today we use cryptic idioms, like "we're seeing each other" or "we're talking," to indicate that two people are either casually dating or possibly interested in each other. The popular expression "hooking up" is the most obscure one of all, with its definitions ranging from exchanging phone numbers to kissing to having sex.

Whereas past expressions had more literal meanings, today there are many interpretations and possibilities to romantic diction and syntax, making the state of our potential and established relationships less obvious. So has the modern world completely destroyed our chances at true love? Probably not. Though modern ways have definitely changed traditional dating, there still is no clear-cut universal approach to romance and there probably will not ever be one. You have to figure out what works for you and for each unique situation with each individual you pursue, whether your model is Greg Brady or Dawson Leary. And if the method you choose does not score you that date for Friday night, then don't worry about it. Love's labour's lost never did kill anyone.

Maybe I am living in a part of the world seemingly devoid of the traditional settings in which date-asking can be held with a somewhat normal level of respect. Dating itself being one of many social systems in which we attain some set goal, those who are liable to use it have to make some choices. Either they go along with the system that is in place, rebel from it and either remove themselves entirely from the "dating scene", or create within the system a new system, that of going dutch, girls approaching boys, etc. But like most social contructs, dating has changed in response to its environment and like so many other systems involving pairing off and procreation (marriage, children, extended families, individual's roles in the economy), it has mutated so drastically that it seems a shock to many of us what it had been like before the 90's.

On one hand, you could say that the institution of dating as it worked in the past will not and cannot satisfy our needs in the present, if we agree that humans and their needs have changed rapidly over the last 50 years (which remains to be seen and is something about which I have mixed opinions). On the other hand, you could say that our perception is really the only thing that has changed, in light of women's lib and the sexual revolution.

Using myself as the only example I can speak of with any sort of authority, I am severely independent and never once really believed that the man I marry will be able to financially support me, even by matching or superceding my income. I come with my own bit of debts and burdens, both financial and personal, and all I ever asked was for a man who would, in most cases, be my equal. Since I am a heterosexual, I can only speak for heterosexuals when I say that as long as women are to be the bearer of children into this world, by and large, many customs of pairing off will be determined by some of the same standards. Even if you have no intention of marrying at all, or of marrying the person you are currently dating, that one issue tends to have some role in the relationship. As long as women have to be mothers, someone has to be the father. He doesn't have to be the breadwinner or the sole source of funds to still be the father.

In a dating scenario, the guy doesn't have to pay or open the door to still be the guy. Our sexual and gender roles haven't become so muddied that we can't still be who we are on a date. Whether the man pays or whether they split the bill is and should be treated as nominal in way of influence on a date. What a date means to either party has not really become so vague that the institution of dating is completely useless to us. God knows we need some level of awkwardness to be established so that we can move past it to a level of comfort.

I agree that dating was easier to execute when the roles were better defined, meaning that to pull off a date was easier because we all tried to adhere to some common ground, and because that ground has been pulled out from under us, we are responsible for making new ground. This is never easy and wasn't ever supposed to be. If the girl wants to pay her share, let her, but don't let that tell you that you aren't, at any time, allowed to play the role you so greatly want to. She likely still wants to be cuddled, to be shown affection and tenderness and love. If the dates continue, there will surely be some time where you get to play the more dominant person who can comfort and shelter her. It just doesn't happen right off the bat like it used to.

Unfortunately, the fact that women and men still say one thing but mean another did not go the way of traditional dating. And as such, you are required to think about what she says out of defense verses what she means in her reactions to what you do. Just as the rules of conduct were dicated to us generations ago and passed down, those rules hurt some and rescue others. The rules of PC and women's equality did as much to harm women in dating scenarios as it did to aid them in other circumstances. As with most of my commentary on social issues, I really can't say any of it is black and white, right or wrong.

Where once convention laid out the rules of conduct, we are required to make up for the dissipation of those rules with clear open dialogue on the matter. It is so hard sometimes to just ask what is ok to do and what is taboo, to put aside a whole evening's awkwardness for 15 minutes of clearing up confusion. That, more than the dating game, has injured most single people seeking to be coupled.

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