What Happens When Dating Dies

What Happens When Dating Dies

In my last post, I introduced you to what’s happening in today’s relationship culture among young adults. Dating is actually dead, and rampant attachment anxiety means that “hooking up” is the norm. Men and women are not burdened with commitment in their relationships.

So, what does this mean for the next generation? I think it’s some pretty scary stuff.

Laura Sessions Stepp is the author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both. One summary of the book presents her work in these words:

Unhooked is an eye-opening examination of the hookup culture, seen through the personal experiences of high-school and college-age women who must regularly make tough choices about dating, love, and sex. Hooking up (which carries a wide variety of definitions ranging from kissing to undressing to oral sex to intercourse) is occurring earlier and earlier – often as early as middle school. Parties define the culture where casual sex is practiced, usually accompanied by alcohol. Stepp finds that young people have virtually abandoned the practice of dating and replaced it with hookups, detached from love and commitment. Short-term satisfaction replaces growing commitments. Long-term relationships and romance are seen as time-consuming, messy, and complicated. Love is beginning to be viewed by college students as beyond their grasp, and they are settling instead for fast sex, disconnected from relationships and promising nothing tomorrow. Stepp writes convincingly of the toll this is taking on a person’s self-worth, hope of a future, and desire to be in a committed relationship.

After Dating Dies

Stepp’s book is brutal to the sensibilities of any Christian parent today. And I am glad she has called us to face the world our children and grandchildren are now growing up in. Here is my take on where this is headed:

  1. As attachment anxiety prohibits teens from committing to dating relationships, relational maturity will decline. Sexual desire is not going away and will manifest itself in sexual behavior that is disconnected from relationships. In short, sex will become more casual, recreational, experimental, and less relational.
  2. Relationships will become even more ambiguous and undefined. Even Facebook is seeing a marked decline of the use of the category “in a relationship.” Young adults will begin to seek living arrangements during college years and beyond that are unlike anything our culture has seen before.
  3. Cohabitation will increase. It already is increasing. Couples will casually live together without being married. The popular opinion is that cohabitation actually improves one’s chances of success in marriage. It’s a trial run, a dress rehearsal—or an undressed rehearsal. Scott Stanley’s excellent research is debunking this myth and showing that cohabiting couples are statistically less likely to do well in marriage. He finds that they are poor communicators, will have less satisfaction in marriage, and will experience more marital conflict. Sliding into cohabitation hurts one’s chances of having a loving secure marriage.
  4. And with increased cohabitation, you guessed it, more babies will be born out of wedlock. We’ll see more unplanned, unintended pregnancies. I was with a Tennessee state senator who told me the story of a predominantly white county in his district. When he began his term, babies born out of wedlock comprised 20% of births. Thirty years later as his term was ending, 80% of babies born in this predominantly white county were born outside of a marriage. In our nation today, of babies born to women in their 20’s, more than half are born to unmarried women. Meet the new poor. When these infants are born to cohabiting couples who have slid into an uncommitted living arrangement, and the pressure of child care falls on a nebulous relationship, the chances of this child growing up in a loving two-parent home are about as good as the Cubs winning a World Series. And if you think the current college generation has attachment anxiety, wait until you see the next generation. In my opinion, marriage as we have known it is at stake.

My message to the students at Trevecca Nazarene University (and young people everywhere) is this:

The non-dating, ambiguous, non-committal, casual sex, hang out, hookup culture is doing you no favors. It destroys your capacity to ever know the kind of loving marriage that God intends for his creatures. If you want to bear witness to God in your generation, if you want to demonstrate the essence of Biblical holiness and covenant love, if you want to define Christian, you’ll need to buck the trend and live a distinctively different life. This begins by rooting yourself in a Biblical understanding of your humanity, including your sexuality. Then you form relationships that are marked by communication, commitment, and character. And finally, you know that sex means something. It cannot be disconnected from who you are. It is so much more than a casual hookup. It is the God-given bonding of a man and a woman in a committed marriage relationship.

Today’s post is an excerpt from my new book, Human Sexuality: A Primer for Christians. Click here to download a free sample chapter.

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