Once upon a time — in what we might think of as the “Happy Days” era — courtship was governed by a set of guardrails. Potential partners generally met within the context of larger social institutions: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families. There were certain accepted social scripts. The purpose of these scripts — dating, going steady, delaying sex — was to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment.
Over the past few decades, these social scripts became obsolete. They didn’t fit the post-feminist era. So the search was on for more enlightened courtship rules. You would expect a dynamic society to come up with appropriate scripts. But technology has made this extremely difficult. Etiquette is all about obstacles and restraint. But technology, especially cellphone and texting technology, dissolves obstacles. Suitors now contact each other in an instantaneous, frictionless sphere separated from larger social institutions and commitments.
People are thus thrown back on themselves. They are free agents in a competitive arena marked by ambiguous relationships. Social life comes to resemble economics, with people enmeshed in blizzards of supply and demand signals amidst a universe of potential partners.
Source link above (emphasis added).
In his column, Brooks makes much of how modern social networking technology has added to the chaos of the great human adventure of coupling. But, in my view, that is a side issue. The real issue is that, well before the current advent of cellphones, texting, email, and Facebook, we already had the chaos of ambiguous relationships. And the problem is that ambiguity does not breed loyalty or authentic love. You do not sacrifice or delay sensual gratification for the sake of haziness. Moreover, in the climate of the last forty years, there is an added desperate competition--you may, for example, as a male pursue a female not so much because she is the right one but rather because you know with absolute certainty that if you delay she will end up in someone else's apartment. I presume the same would hold from a woman's perspective: yield everything sought by this particular male because he will just move on to someone more cooperative. Desperate competition and rivalry unrelated to the personal character of the person you are considering lead to terrible choices and couplings.
I think many do not like to think deeply about these issues because they make us question the foundational assumptions of our lifestyles and social expectations. Thanks to David Brooks who dared to raise these matters in a secular setting so that others can see that the question here is one of logic and reason, not necessarily one of divine revelation or following the teachings of an allegedly authoritarian or tyrannical church. The casualties have been many in the last four decades. Many have become, simply, unspousable. That is not a happy ending.