Straight Talk Advice

Jun 15, 2011

Dad wants to understand today’s dating scene

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: My stepdaughter is 17, intelligent, popular and attractive. She attended prom last month with a lot of friends, which is how she always goes out. I’m not aware that she’s ever been on a “date.” I am looking for the day when a young man comes to the door to meet me and ask her out formally. I talked to another dad and he has the same complaint. Is there something wrong with our daughters? Where are the young men courting them? Can you please explain the “scene” to an old fogie? —Sacramento Dad

Rachel 19, Petaluma, Calif. Ask me a question

When your daughter goes out with friends, it’s not always girls’ night! Romance usually starts at school, parties, and other places friends hang out, well before any sort of relationship is declared.

Lennon 24, Fair Oaks, Calif. Ask me a question

I had a girlfriend senior year. We didn’t really date. We mostly saw each other at school and with friends outside of school. I asked her to be my girlfriend at some point, so there was a sort of defining moment, but meeting her mom, and later her dad, wasn’t an event and there was no announcement about our relationship. They probed a bit and that’s how it came out.

Jesse 18, Brockport, N.Y. Ask me a question

Right now your daughter probably wants to enjoy life with her friends and not have the “baggage” of a man.

Liva 22, Santa Barbara, Calif. Ask me a question

Nobody really “dates” anymore. In my high school, teens were either in exclusive relationships or not seeing anyone. I never had boys calling for dates and the boy I saw senior year never came to meet my parents. This is pretty standard. There is a similar pattern in college — only add in tons of meaningless hookups. Ironically, I had a date last weekend. It felt strange because nobody does it. We are so accustomed to meaningless hookups that the idea of boys pursuing us romantically is odd. I personally hope this changes when I’m out of college — I’m sick of it! Here are some definitions (subject to variation):

DATING: means “seeing someone” casually. It might have started as a hookup or casual meeting and may or may not become serious. Dating definitely involves hooking up.

HOOKING UP: implies doing “everything but” sex. Hookups are non-exclusive, no-expectations, no-strings-attached. When hookups involve sex (i.e., intercourse), we just call it “sleeping together” Sometimes a cruder term is used, but not toward one’s boyfriend. Nobody says “making love” anymore, unless it is in a silly voice to make fun of the expression.

EXCLUSIVE: can apply to both casual or committed relationships. Both parties agree to engage physically only with each other.

COMMITTED: serious, meaningful relationship with deep feelings, possible future plans. Heck, there might even be love!

BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND: this status is not assumed unless specifically discussed. It generally implies exclusivity and/or commitment. Otherwise, it’s “this guy/girl I’m seeing.”

DEAR DAD: Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask — thank you Liva! Today’s “hookup” is equivalent to yesterday’s “pickup.” “Hookup,” however, lacks the double standard and implied sluttiness of the female “pickup.” It’s one small positive. The large negative is that hookups are standard practice today rather than a marginal activity. Today’s rampant sexual casualness is emotionally tough on everyone. What I urge young people to do is look for love and commitment and stop settling for less. I tell them they can find both achievement AND love. Dad, you can help by encouraging this, too. Your daughter appears normal for her generation. Yet many parents are inadvertent architects of hookup culture through their constant achievement-comes-first, don’t-fall-in-love messages. Like empty self-esteem creates narcissism and emotional fragility, telling kids to delay love creates hookups.

ON ANOTHER NOTE: Straight Talk TNT is accepting submissions for a book of essays by young people ages 14-25. Writers will be paid a percentage of profits. Submission deadline Sept. 15. See for details.

Editor’s Note: It is biological fact that humans are sexual creatures by hard-wiring. So when parents tell humans at the beginning of their sexual blossoming to delay love, most are going to try to please those parents. It appears we can override the “love” switch. (After all, romantic love is a newer notion in human history.) But since sexuality is hard-wired, history has shown there is little chance of overriding that impulse (it can be repressed, but not overridden). So what we’re seeing today, is a whole lotta sex and not much love. For many twenty-somethings, love is almost considered a joke.

Conditioning starts at home. I urge parents to condition their kids from a young age (or starting now) to both achieve AND fall in love. The alternative is hooking up or being sexual via pornography. I vote for a real relationship any day of the week over those two things. Even if these relationships don’t work out, the person learns about love and commitment at a time when there may be an important “window” for learning about such things. Qualifier: I do believe making babies is best delayed until the adult brain kicks in (around age 25) — but not love. —Lauren

  1. By Maggie, age , from Carmichael, CA on 06/16/2011

    Your stepdaughter sounds completely normal to me.  It is common these days for friends to go out in groups rather than formal dating.  At my prom last month, less than half the kids came with dates.  My 2 best girlfriends and I went together and danced all night with different guys who came without dates.  It’s actually more fun since when you come with a date you’re pretty well obligated to spend most of your time with your date.  Our dad was also concerned that my sister and I weren’t formally dating the way kids did in his time.  Since we have frequent sleepovers in our room with our girlfriends, we got the impression that he was worried that we might be gay! LOL! When he overheard us telling our mom that we had used the hot tub at a friend’s house with other girls in the nude, we could tell that he was very concerned.  However, it wasn’t a sexual thing in any way, but instead was a fun bonding experience and all of us had seen each other nude in various situations, anyway.  This doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in boys.  However, these days it is common for girls to have more boy friends than boyfriends if you get the difference.  I really don’t think you have anything to worry about and neither does our dad.


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  2. By Gina, age , from Roseville, CA on 06/18/2011

    I totally agree with Maggie.  It’s basically the same way with my sister and me and most of our friends.  I’ve only had a few official “dates” and my sister has never had one, but we do lots of things with guy friends as well as going to dances without an official date, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t dance as much or more than the girls who come with dates.  It took a little getting used to by our parents since it’s different than in their day, but now they understand and our totally cool with it.  The only one who gives us flak about it is our stepsister who we have to share our room with when she stays with us.  She has a steady boyfriend and thinks that this makes her superior to us.  However, unlike us he’s the only guy friend she has and says she can’t have any others because he’s too jealous.  But she somehow thinks this makes her “better” than us.  I’m somewhat overweight but I’m comfortable with my body, but she likes to find ways to put me down about it.  Recently, she had the nerve to say, “You might actually be able to get a boyfriend if you lost some weight.”  And this was when I was naked after taking a shower!  But I just ignored it and let it go.  I really think my sister and I are better off than she is.  We can have all the guy friends we want without being “owned” by a guy as she appears to be.


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  3. By Mother of 2 Teen Girls, age , from Santa Cruz, CA on 06/21/2011

    Thanks so much for the insights and clarification!  Does anyone know where this is headed, though?  What will young people who grow up hooking up casually do in their 20’s & 30’s? Previous generations typically coupled and committed (even married) during these years.  What do your panelists hope/expect their relationships will look like after HS/College? 

    I also wonder about the effects of these profound changes in the way young people relate on our demographics, social institutions, culture, economies, etc.  I haven’t read much about this anywhere…

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