Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the dating culture over the last century was the introduction of the car. Before that, a young man would typically come into a woman's home for courtship and that was ... about all there was since he would likely be under the watchful eye of her family.
Then, with the widespread introduction of the auto in the 1920s, for the first time a young couple had the freedom to drive away.
Leap ahead not quite a century, and dating has changed again. Radically. In fact, many young people don't "date" anymore. Several books and, most recently, The New York Times piece "The End of Courtship," by Alex Williams, chronicle the rise of a new culture. It's not just the "hookup" culture in which young people meet for sex only, it's a social-media-hookup world. No planning, no forethought — just a "What's up? Wanna get together?" vibe.
As Williams puts it, "In the context of dating, it removes much of the needs for charm; it's more like dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble."
These trends are accelerating, and women in particular bemoan them. But make no mistake: Many men do, too. That's according to those who have studied the trend, like Donna Freitas, a religion professor whom Williams cites. She is the author of the forthcoming "The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused about Intimacy" (Basic Books).
In any event, the addition of social media, according to Williams, is a factor in "the end of courtship." But cars changed things, too, and while surely many parents were disturbed at the freedom autos provided in the 1920s, '30s, '40s and beyond, at least the endgame of marriage was still the same as it had been. In fact, marriage rates hit an all-time high in the U.S. as World War II ended. Today, they are at an all-time low.
Yes, we can blame a lot of different factors for this current situation. But surely one of the big ones? Women. You read that right.
Used to be, it seems, that if women had high expectations and a man wanted her — well, he had to rise to those expectations or move on.
Women, apparently, no longer have those high expectations. They'll too often respond to a text at 11 p.m. They will put up with the last-minute " 'sup?" calls at 11:30.
Whether it's single women in their 20s who bemoan how difficult it is to find a good man, or the women my age who say the same, almost to a one they end up "putting out" early in the relationship (whether they want to or not) and putting up with a certain level of nonsense. All because they think they can't ask for more.
Yep, men are off the hook in the hookup culture.
Yet whenever I meet a woman who holds out to be courted, inevitably she is having better relationships. I know a few young women — just a few — who have shared stories with me of expecting to be picked up for a real date planned in advance and initiated by him, for him to bring up the subject of marriage before the subject of intimacy — and having their expectations met.
So what's going on with the other women, who settle for what they don't want and so don't end up getting what they hope for? My guess is that they are afraid of being alone. That's powerful, especially as one gets older. I know that fear. I myself had to walk away from more than one relationship before meeting my prince last year.
And no, I'm not arguing that doing the right thing will always get you the right relationship you crave.
But this much is true: While men are wonderful, we women typically set the standard when it comes to relationships. And social media aside, if we set it low, it will inevitably be met.
Betsy Hart's latest book, "From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports)," has just been revised.