Today, things like good manners and romance are largely absent from young love, and the arts of dating and courtship have gone the way of the dinosaur.
I remember my first date because it ended with my first kiss. At the end of the movie and pizza, as we pulled into the driveway of my house, in the back seat of his mother's car, Ari C. leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Utterly shocked, I said goodbye as quickly as I could, and got out of the car. I think he may have tried to walk me to the door, but I moved too fast. The whole thing really upset me. Why? Because I didn't like Ari enough to want him blazoned into my life's history. At least, that's how I saw it in the 8th grade.
Flash forward a few years. I was finishing up my senior year at a Catholic high school for girls when the phone rang. It was Ari C., asking if I would go to the public high school prom with him. I went, "as a friend." He picked me up, brought me a corsage, took me out to dinner, opened the doors for me, and took my coat. He asked me to dance, and didn't take any liberties. We had a great time. It wasn't anywhere near as awkward as it was four years before. And although I was never attracted to him, Ari earned my respect. If I hadn't left for school in Boston and he hadn't gone to St. Louis, who knows? There might have been a third date!
That kind of dating -- with all its sweet awkwardness -- used to be the norm. It's what 13, 14, and 15-year-old kids used to beg their parents' permission for. A movie and pizza. A bowling alley. A high school homecoming football game. It was innocent, real-world training for what would someday grow into the love of a lifetime.
Sure, there were always the guys who thought buying you dinner meant that they were entitled to sexual activity. But most of them would, and did, take no for an answer. They wanted to be thought of as "gentlemen." And while they may not have been quick to admit it, I think they were looking for romance as much as any of us girls were.
Today, things like good manners and romance are largely absent from young love, and the arts of dating and courtship have gone the way of the dinosaur. In our society, men and women are more equal than ever, but so few of them seem to be able to find each other. Young people are more "connected" than ever, but more of us are lonelier than people have ever been. In the wake of the sexual revolution that they never took sides in, sex is quick and easy, no-strings-attached, but romantic love and genuine affection are rare.
It's no wonder fewer and fewer young people are choosing to marry at all. The general directionlessness so many of them suffer from is the result of their lack of vocation. But that isn't because God has stopped calling; it's because people no longer listen to God. Our culture has forgotten that the purpose of relationships is love, not self-fulfillment. Looking for a mate has been too casually reduced to a hiring process, complete with resumes, interviews, and probation periods. And, honestly, angry and aggressive feminism has villainized men who take initiative.
Half the population is now single, but significantly less than 100 percent of those who are want to be. That is a sad reality for many young adults. And even sadder, it seems that somehow we've failed to pass on the basics of human interaction, especially when it involves interaction between the sexes. Our kids don't know how to be boyfriends and girlfriends anymore because a whole lot of them don't know how to be friends. How will they ever manage to become husbands or wives?
So where do we go from here? Hopefully at least part-way back to the way things used to be, that is, back to dating. But let's face the fact that there will be no dates as long as hanging out and hooking up are the order of the day.
That's why "The Dating Project," playing in theaters across the nation on April 17 only, is so critically (and culturally) important. The documentary of Boston College Professor Kerry Cronin's work in this area has the potential to be as influential as "An Inconvenient Truth" was in its day. There's a lot to be learned from following five young singles as they search for meaningful and loving relationships and are taught the ropes of traditional dating. That's why I'm encouraging every single person, and their parents and grandparents, to see "The Dating Project."
Find out where The Dating Project will be shown near you at www.FathomEvents.com.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.