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.