photo by youngjun koo for

photo by youngjun koo for

Dating: the word sounds ancient, doesn’t it? Instead, we usually hear “hooking up”, a phrase that sounds pretty meaningless and shallow, or “hanging out”, a terribly vague description of spending time together. All of this leads me to ask the question: Is Dating Dead?

Dating used to have a structure to it: you indicated interest in someone, asked them on a “date” and the two of you went somewhere and got to know each other through conversation and shared activities.

Now that structure appears obsolete. As a psychotherapist to many twenty-something men and women, I am aware that the world of “dating” is being replaced by the paradigms of “hanging out” and/or “hooking up”. Let’s take a look at these three ways of relating to someone and see which ones – if any – are meaningful to you.

In San Diego, many twenty-somethings spend a lot of time hanging out in groups, leaving some people uncertain about where friendship ends and possible romances begin. Hooking up, primarily a sexual thing, may or may not lead to a relationship, which can mean even more uncertainty. As one client told me, “Are we dating or just hooking up? Nobody knows. It’s all so vague.”

As a psychotherapist, I wonder if the current San Diegan hookup culture makes people more vulnerable to depression, feelings of low self-esteem and sexually transmitted diseases. Hooking up might be good for relieving sexual frustration, but is it good for your self-esteem? I’ve heard many clients say that they feel worseand more lonely after hooking up than they did before.

What do we expect from a hook-up: affection?. kissing? an emotional connection?. If so, it’s no wonder so many of us are depressed after hooking up; as we’re unlikely to get any of this from a hook-up.

On the other hand, hooking up gives us the freedom to enjoy our sexuality without getting locked into serious relationships and it allows us to experiment sexually with all kinds of people and situations. Some of us, however, want more.

Dating used to be how two people got to know each other. Have hookups replaced that, or is this where “hanging out” comes in? Hanging out gives us a relaxed low-key way to get to know someone, particularly when done in a group. Group situations relieve the pressure of only two people sustaining a conversation.

In a group, you can also see how someone you’re interested in reacts to and relates with other people. You can also get the 411 on someone by asking your mutual friends, “What’s he/she like?”. One-on-one dating can’t provide all this useful information.

The downsides of hanging out? It’s awfully structure-less, but the worst part is probably the aftermath of a bad breakup with someone in your “group” and then having to see that person again and again in the group, maybe even with someone else they’re interested in. Do you dump your group and lose all your friends, or put up with seeing your ex with someone new? Hard choices.

While no one loves hookup culture, nobody seems to hate it either. Maybe it’s a step in the right direction after the rigidity of “dating”. I encourage my clients to embrace their sexuality. If you want to hook up, hook up. But be real about it. Don’t expect much. Sex as sex is great. Sex as an entrée to a relationship doesn’t always happen.

On the other hand, for some people, romance and dating are alive and well.  Some men and women are very clear on what they want, and won’t settle for less. They won’t have sex on the first, second or third date; not until they feel an emotional connection. They want kindness, dinner dates, romance, a slow progression from kissing to intercourse….but, will they get it?

In this “post-dating world”, you get to make up your own rules and see who is willing to join you.  Can you simply enjoy getting to know people? Can you focus on friendships that may lead to more closeness and – eventually – intimacy?

There’s no “right” way to get to know someone.  Whether you try dating, hanging out, hooking up (or all three), the bottom line is: trust your intuition and follow your heart.