Skip to comments.Dating games without frontiers
Posted on 06/01/2004 8:54:48 AM PDT by qam1
You can see them in bars, pubs and parties across Sydney, trying to negotiate a sexual landscape with no rules, usually having had too much to drink.
Should the male or the female make the first move? And what about sex? After the 10th drink or the 10th date?
But the bigger questions, though submerged, are still being asked. Should you get married? And is there something wrong with you if you don't? Is there such a thing as "the one"? Or are expectations too high? And why are you bothering chatting up a stranger when you could be having a great night with your friends?
When it comes to the courtship rituals of those in their 20s and 30s, anxiety is a defining characteristic.
Anna Warwick, 28, a Sydney freelance writer, set out to understand the courtship rituals of her generation. Collecting stories for her book, Dating Disasters (New Holland), she conducted hundreds of interviews at the coalface of modern romance - at pubs and parties.
She found the old-fashioned stereotypes were no longer true. Women were often assertive, as likely as men to make the first move. Most courtship occurred in the pub, when both men and women were clearly drunk. That, sometimes, men turned out to be clingy and women were the ones afraid of commitment. And that technology - particularly email, text messaging and online dating - has changed the way we conduct relationships.
"Girls are now more likely to approach men and ask them out, while a lot of guys can actually be quite scared of girls," Warwick says. In general, she believes, gender differences are nowhere near as pronounced as they used to be. Getting on with people is a matter of similar experiences and background, rather than simply sex appeal.
"There's a high level of platonic friendship between the sexes, and more equality. Men showed the same emotional levels as girls. They got upset if they were stood up or treated badly - same with the women."
Being on the lookout for "the one", or just someone better, is a characteristic of generation X relationships and "a sign of our aspirational culture", says Stephanie Donald, professor of communication and culture at the University of Technology, Sydney.
"If you have very high expectations of yourself, you are pretty likely to have high expectations of other people and relationships. But high expectations can be very damaging," she said.
"If you are trying to work hard, look good and save enough money for your house, it takes a lot of energy. You almost need to go home and be a failure with someone."
According to Donald, expectations are likely to be higher in "big international cities like London, Sydney, New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai". Why? Because "people there are career-focused and have high aspirations. It is about wanting to get the best for yourself."
Significantly, Donald argues, such career-minded people are more likely to find and receive emotional support from friends than from sexual relationships. It is a trend that was symbolised most obviously by the success of the American sitcom Friends.
"[Young people] are very canny about building networks because they know they have to move frequently in their jobs and they need people who hold a bit of their emotional memory," says Donald. "Where they connect is through friendships, which can be portable and survive moves to other cities."
Ethan Watters, an American journalist, assessed "the friend phenomenon" in his book Urban Tribes (Bloomsbury), released this year.
Trying to understand why he was still single well into his 30s, he examined where his energies were focused. He found that rather than settle down with a traditional family, a community - or "urban tribe" - had evolved among him and his friends. They were living together in various combinations of group houses, often worked together, and generally provided the sort of support traditionally offered by an extended family. In coining the term "urban tribe", Watters touched a generational nerve.
"The complexity and heterogenous nature of these [tribes] was staggering." he writes. "It appeared the lives of young adults were varying in every imaginable way. It was no wonder we have been so hard to pigeonhole as a generation."
Though Watters was writing about the US, Warwick says urban tribes are thriving in Sydney. "In Sydney, being single doesn't mean that you are alone. You can have friends of both sexes. You can flat with people and have a fling every now and again," she says. A lot of people she talked to for her book "were saying marriage is not as appealing as it used to be - particularly if you can support yourself. I like the idea of a five-year plan of marriage, where you can renew your vows every five years rather than make a commitment for life."
Figures from the Bureau of Statistics show that in 2001 marriage rates were their lowest in 100 years. In that year, 103,000 couples married in Australia while 55,300 divorced. Couples who did marry were five years older on average - 27 for the bride, 29 for the groom - than those who had married in 1981.
Professor Johanna Wyn, the director of the Australian Youth Research Centre at Melbourne University, has tracked 2000 people who left school in 1991, for a longitudinal study on patterns of living. They are now 30 and their lives are very different from their parents' lives.
"They are showing us a new adulthood. It's about juggling and flexibility and taking for granted that things will be uncertain. Friends are like family, jobs are not for life and they value education very highly."
Wyn's study showed that of the 2000 people she surveyed, 36 per cent were married. Only 13 per cent of the 2000 had children.
The trend is also reflected in where we are living. A study by the accounting firm KPMG in 1999 predicted that single-person households would be the most common household type in Australia by 2006.
However the editor of Cosmopolitan, Mia Freedman, urges caution. She says marriage is still a popular aspiration among young people. "Finding your soul mate has become the holy grail and there is nothing embarrassing about admitting this," she says. "Men and women are now quite open about saying they really want to find someone to settle down with."
For example, says Freedman, Cosmopolitan recently launched a supplement, Cosmo Brides, to deal with a resurgence in the interest in marriage. But along with this interest in marriage she also noticed a trend in marriages that fail. "We are looking at a paradigm shift from where we were a generation ago. In some cases marriages are treated like a joke, with shows like The Bachelor, and celebrities getting married for a day. There also seems to be a rise in starter marriages. It's almost seen like a rite, a passage to have a brief, failed marriage in your 20s, especially if there were no children involved. Social mores are much more chilled out."
With this relaxation of mores, Freedman thinks not getting married is also an acceptable lifestyle choice. "You are not considered indulgent if you are not married with a mortgage in your 30s. It's a valid lifestyle choice. Just flick on the TV; you see examples of urban tribes everywhere. Seinfeld, Will & Grace, Friends. It's all about a close group of unmarried friends."
But is the tribe really gen X's solution to romance? Watters thought so. He asked: "How would I get the momentum up to get married when I'm always hanging around with my friends? I spend more time talking about my love life than I do having one." He argued that a group of mates can provide the support that makes you feel good about yourself, saving you from the anxiety and anguish of having to go on dates and try to click with a new person.
Warwick agrees. "Internet dating is becoming more and more easier and less of a stigma. But if you think that everyone you meet is a potential mate then the result is a lot of anxiety."
Warwick found the wedding of Mary Donaldson, 32, to Denmark's Prince Frederik, 36, unsettling - but also enticing - for those reasons. "They met in a pub. If she stayed at home and ate pizza she wouldn't have met him. You have to put yourself out there."
And so young people will continue to put themselves "out there" on the internet, in pubs and at parties.
Wyn will be watching with interest. After 12 years of tracking the class of '91 she has seen their attitudes to marriage and family change. "As people are getting towards 26 or 27 they said 'I think family is not what I want'. But when they got to 30, both men and women were saying 'I would have thought I would have had a stable partner by now but it's not happening.' "
Certainly, in her last collated survey in 2002, "they were definitely disappointed and a little puzzled [their love life] hadn't worked out yet".
According to Wyn, 51, we shouldn't assume this generation is afraid of commitment, but it is not marrying in great numbers. "There's a lot of instability. It's hard to make a commitment if you can't get a house or somewhere stable to live because of high housing costs. It's deeply insulting for this group when people say they have delayed adolescence.
"Their lives are complex and with them we have seen a shift in the way that people live their lives. They place an enormous value on learning, experiences such as travel, the environment and their friendships."
And what about their despairing baby boomer parents?
"I sometimes think that older people seem to imagine they are going to grow up and become like we were. Those times are gone. That kind of adulthood will never exist again. This generation are forming their adulthood in the only way that they can. It's not even a matter of choice."
In the never-ending drama
Tuesday, 6pm and, after a particularly tough rehearsal, students of the Australian Academy of Dramatic Art are enjoying a drink at the Criterion Hotel in the city.
When the talk turns to dating, everyone's got a different story. Some are single and despair of ever finding a boyfriend or girlfriend. Some need to have a few drinks before they can "crack onto" the opposite sex, while others find the whole concept of dating bizarre and too American, arguing romance just happens without the dinner and flowers.
But all agree that modern relationships between young men and women are seemingly without rules - and admit to having to make it up as they go along.
Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social aspects that directly effects Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations (i.e. The Baby Boomers) are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.
Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details.
The Death of the West continues...people marrying late and only having 1 or 2 kids...while the muslim population explodes
Well, the tax laws in the US make it difficult for even upper-middle-class couples to have one member of the couple stay home and take care of the kids. My wife (of 3 weeks) is 29, I'm 28. We're not planning on having kids until she's 32 or 33. Though we're both lawyers, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for one of us to stay home full-time with any kids we might have since cost-of-living is so high where we live (DC Metro area) and taxes take a huge chunk out of our income. We'd love to have 4 or more kids, but that just doesn't seem realistic.
You don't need bars and clubs to find the right person. I cannot understand why so many couples in their twenties appear perfectly happy to cohabit for YEARS before deciding to marry. It's as if they think being married young means they'll never enjoy life again! A number of relatives have done this and I just don't get the point...if you love your partner and want to build a future together, then GET MARRIED.
I think my fiance and I are just an old-fashioned kind of couple, but we believe in marriage and having a family...there's no reason why we can't also enjoy our careers and some modest material possessions at the same time, but those things are certainly no reason to POSTPONE marriage and family!
Eh... I don't think it's anything quite THAT dire. This article could have easily been about me (31, single, successful, massive network of friends accross the region, etc, etc). Where I am is the result of deliberation and conscious choices, none of which revolved around the decline of the West.
Which contributes more to the defense of the west: me rushing out and getting in a poorly considered, loveless marriage, squeezing out six runts along the way, OR my desire to only be married ONCE in my lifetime to a woman (yet to be found) whom profoundly makes my heart race?
Congratulations on your recent marriage :-)
Can either of you eventually work from home? That might not work if you and your wife are trial lawyers, but if you put your minds to it, a solution could be found. You and your wife are going to have to make some tough decisions regarding having kids. Of course you realize that you get tax deductions for kids, right? Don't put it off too long. Mother Nature can be cruel.
Can you move to a less expensive area and commute?
Good luck, and best wishes.
From a Freeper who has been married for 17 years, and got married at 30 to a woman of 29, also both with good jobs, let me offer some words of advice:
1) Be positive about it and expect things will work out.
2) Your greatest joy in life will be your children. We have three now and at age 47 I can think of nothing that is more important to me, except my country and my faith. Don't cheat yourself because you don't think you will be able to afford them.
3) If you have to, move to a lower cost-of-living area when your wife stops working to raise the children. [This happened to us with the birth of our second -- we moved from high-rent Menlo Park CA to lower-rent San Diego.]
4) Finally, don't let the financial planners and Money Magazine scare you about the cost of raising children. They will have you fretting about the need to put $5K away each year to pay for their college or some such nonsense. Just work hard and trust that this will all work out. It did for our parents -- mine didn't do any financial planning, yet we all went to college -- and it will for you, too.
Good luck and God bless.
This is also very true. In some areas of the country - including mine - it is very difficult to own a home in a decent area and still have one parent stay home with children. We've accepted that we will probably both have to work when we start a family. We don't like it, but that's reality.
I just don't get the long-term cohabitation thing, like I said before.
"We'd love to have 4 or more kids, but that just doesn't seem realistic."
bump 4 later
Astute observation - however not only is it the Muslim countries that are having population explosions, but the third world countries as well. Which leads one to the conclusion that it may be inevitable that these worlds and the quest to redistribute wealth in the name of equality will collide in one huge deadly conflict.
That's one of the reasons a Federal Gov't job is appealing to us. There seems to be a lot more flexibility in the public sector in terms of telecommuting, part time work etc. than in the private sector.
Can you move to a less expensive area and commute?
Moving way out into the suburbs isn't appealing for several reasons: 1) the length of the commute (especially in the DC area) can become extreme. I know people who live practically in W. Virginia and commute to DC area. They spend something like 3 hours a day in their car; 2) suburbia isn't that appealing to us. We prefer living in closer to the city, with its nightlife, culture, restaurants etc.
We'll eventually find a solution, but at this point we're not willing to change our lifestyle in order to have kids.
I'm amazed at how much the cost of living varies from one area to the other. I'm in Boston right now. I have to make twice what I would make if I lived in North Carolina. Yet salaries aren't any higher in my field. There are websites where you can go and get cost-of-living information by state and city. It's sobering.
My wife and I lived together for about 3 years before we got married. We were engaged for 2 of those years (it took forever to plan the wedding- it involved as much planning as the D-Day landing).
Living together is, IMHO, an invaluable experience. You get to learn whether this is a person you can actually live with. You end up going into the marriage with full disclosure of your partner's quirks.
Not ready to do that yet- suburbia doesn't hold much appeal for us.
Nice idea. Except some of us have fairly specialized jobs that don't exist everywhere. I manage to have a stay-at-home wife and 2 home-schooled kids in Metro DC, but it's not easy. And jobs like mine are NOT common. . .
In some fields, location makes a big difference in terms of salary. When I was starting work in NYC, a lawyer fresh out of law school could make $125,000+ while lawyers in other places made a goodly amount less. Of course, with cost of living, you tended to end up in the same place.
I can see it for a year or two...my future sister-in-law and her fiance have lived together for about 2 years now. Cohabitation is valuable for some couples. What I was thinking of was truly long-term. I've got cousins who've been shacked up with their partners for anywhere from 6-10 years. Sorry, but if you don't know if you're meant to be together after that long, you might need to reconsider some things!
(I agree on weddings taking more planning than an amphibious assault! We're having an 18 month engagement and I still wonder if it will all get done on time.)
"Girls are now more likely to approach men and ask them out, while a lot of guys can actually be quite scared of girls,"
LOL, ain't that the truth. Though I've just met my hottie, I've met a few great guys before that would not come up to me first, also I've been finding a lot of guys who "assume you were taken or with somebody". If I hadn't made the first move, sheesh, to find out... just ask! You might be surprised! LOL.
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