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Saturday is National Date Night, but what constitutes a date in 2014?

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According to this story in the New York Daily News, this Saturday night is National Date Night.

Which means it’s probably already too late for you. Everyone who’s read “The Rules” knows that a girl should never, ever accept an invitation on a Friday for a Saturday night date. Tuesday was the last day! Try again next year!

Seriously, the mere mention of something called a National Date Night has engendered a round-robin of chin-pulling among observers of the current mating scene, mainly because no one these days seems to know what a “date” actually is.

For one thing, there’s this problem, reported by Glamour magazine’s Logan Hill in an article aptly titled “What the Hell Happened to Dating?”:

“In a new Glamour survey, 73 percent of single women said they often can’t even tell whether they’ve been on a date or not — and, shockingly, 19 percent said they had never been on a ‘real date’ at all. Women in relationships aren’t faring much better; just 12 percent of them have a regular date night with their significant other. There seem to be no dating rules anymore — or even any expectations.

“Here’s what is happening instead: ‘My boyfriend won’t turn off his phone alerts when we’re out,’ says Alexandra Einstein, 26, an account manager from Greenville, South Carolina. ‘The other night I grabbed it and read ‘Drunk fan falls asleep in front row during Blazers game.’ Thank God we were alerted.’ And everyone’s gotten lazy about planning time together, as evidenced by this, spotted recently on a Tinder profile: ‘No more Netflix on a first date.’ No wonder we’re all complaining about our love lives. The bar for acceptable night-out behavior has dropped to the floor.”

So Alex Abad-Santos of Vox chimed in with an almost 2,000-word Vox-splanation titled “How Dates Got So Complicated” that itself sounded pretty complicated. Here’s what Abad-Santos has to say:

“Part of this confusion is that each person has their own working definition of what it means. This idea varies from person to person, and is usually something culled from what that person has been told a ‘date’ is, rather than from personal experience.”

You don’t say! Abad-Santos rambles through some possible explanations for the dating chaos, including the friends-with-benefits culture (why buy the cow, or even buy the cow a beer?); confusion over who should pick up the tab now that many women are outearning men; the online scene, which has made the 20-minute coffee “date” with your new Internet friend the norm.

Abad-Santos does, finally, try to tell us what a date actually is:

“A date involves two people who are meeting in person.

“A date has no time restriction, and there’s no rule that short dates are better than longer dates.

“Someone paying for the date usually signifies that you are on a date.

“Don’t expect dates to be elegant anymore.

“You can take your hookup on dates.

“Some people think hookups are dates.

“If you’re unsure, just ask: ‘Is this a date?’ (the nuclear option).”

“You can take your hookup on dates?” “Some people think hookups are dates”? I think we’re back to where we started from.

Then, Amanda Marcotte of Slate weighs in with “Defense of the Nondate Date”:

“Sure, that can be confusing, but I would like to defend the much maligned maybe-date. What that Glamour poll recorded is actually the widespread use of the maybe-date as a dating device, a phenomenon where two people go on an outing that is ostensibly platonic but also has the possibility of morphing into something sexier. Going on maybe-dates is a way for a lot of young people to experiment with dating with a safety net. If you go on a maybe-date with someone and there’s no spark there, you don’t have to deal with outright rejection — giving or getting it — because it wasn’t officially a date anyway.”

Very helpful, Amanda.

So, just in time for National Date Night, I’ll weigh in with my own definition of a date:

Dating is about courtship. It’s supposed to “morph into something sexier” because it’s about the romantic — not platonic — interest that a man shows a woman with whom he is interested in developing a romantic relationship. At the same time, he’s showing the woman things about his personality, interests and moral character that he hopes will engender some reciprocal romantic feelings. (If she accepts the date invitation, she will be showing the same about herself.)

And the “Rules” girls are right: it’s the man who should ask the woman out, not vice versa, and he should pay for the first few dates, to show, as the evolutionary psychologists would say, that he is a good provider and protector. That means the first few dates should be small and cheap, which protects both parties if they turn out not to be so interested in each other after all. Later — if there is a later — she can reciprocate with “let me treat this time” or home-cooked meals or “extra” opera tickets.

Hookups and booty calls are not dates. Going out somewhere is.

In short, a date should be romantic, even if the hoped-for romance doesn’t turn out to bloom. And if you keep that in mind, you’ll always know whether you’ve been out on a date. So good luck on Saturday!

Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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