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The New Dating Game

Back to the New Paleolithic Age.

Feb 15, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 21 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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Yet it’s hard to believe that Courtney A. herself shared any of this dudgeon. Next to her story she posted a photograph of her with Max that she had a friend take at the bar. The photo shows a rosy-cheeked strawberry blonde who, although no Scarlett Johansson, is no Ugly Betty either (her C-cup bustline, much in evidence both underneath and spilling over her strapless top, doesn’t hurt). She is also grinning from ear to ear, her smile as wide as a cantaloupe slice. Max, mugging for the camera, has his arm draped proprietarily, if not exactly affectionately, around her shoulder as she leans into his chest. No disapproving peers, either. When Courtney left her apartment to meet Max at the bar, her roommates called after her, “Make sure to bring him back.” She and Max rode off to the inn “with everyone at the bar waving and giving the thumbs up.” 

Welcome to the New Paleolithic, where tens of thousands of years of human mating practices have swirled into oblivion like shampoo down the shower drain and Cro-Magnons once again drag women by the hair into their caves—and the women love every minute of it. Louts who might as well be clad in bearskins and wielding spears trample over every nicety developed over millennia to mark out a ritual of courtship as a prelude to sex: Not just marriage (that went years ago with the sexual revolution and the mass-marketing of the birth-control pill) or formal dating (the hookup culture finished that)—but amorous preliminaries and other civilities once regarded as elementary, at least among the college-educated classes.

Here is Max’s seduction technique: “ ‘So,’ he asked scooting in next to me. ‘Are you coming back with me tonight?’ ”

Here is how Courtney reacted: “Around 1:30, I told Tucker that I would, in fact, go home with him. ‘Oh, I know,’ he replied. ‘We have a cab waiting, let’s go.’ ”

It helps, of course, that there’s currently a buyer’s market in women who are up for just about anything with the right kind of cad, what with delayed marriage (the average age for a woman’s first wedding is now 26, compared with 20 in 1960, according to the University of Virginia-based National Marriage Project’s latest report); reliable contraception; and advances in antibiotics (no more worries about what used to be called venereal disease). No-fault divorce, moreover, has pushed the marriage-dissolution rate up to between 40 and 50 percent and swelled the single-female population with “cougars” in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. On top of it all is the feminist-driven academic and journalistic culture celebrating that yesterday’s “loose” women are today’s “liberated” women, able to proudly “explore their sexuality” without “getting punished for their lust,” as the feminist writer Naomi Wolf put it in the Guardian in December.

Wolf devoted her 1997 book Promiscuities to trying to remove the stigma from .  .  . promiscuity. On the one hand, she decried the double-standard unfairness of labeling a girl who fools around with too many boys a “slut,” and, on the other, she lionized “the Slut” (her capitalization) as the enviable epitome of feminist freedom and feminist transgression against puritanical social norms. Wolf’s point of view is today mainstream. It’s the underlying theme of Eve Ensler’s girls-talk-dirty Vagina Monologues, performed every year on Valentine’s Day on college campuses across the country. A chapter from Promiscuities titled “Sluts” has made so many women’s studies reading lists that term-paper mills sell canned essays purporting to dissect it. A group calling itself the Women’s Direct Action Collective issued a manifesto in 2007 titled Sluts Against Rape insisting that “a woman should have the right to be sexual in any way she chooses” and that easy availability was “a positive assertion of sexual identity.” In other words, if people call you a whore because you, say, fall into bed with someone whose name you can’t quite remember, that’s their problem. Of course, if a man mistakes a woman being “sexual in any way she chooses” for consent to have sex, it’s still rape.

The same feminist academics pooh-pooh concerns about the long-term effects of the hookup culture, arguing that it’s essentially just a harmless college folly, akin to swallowing goldfish, which young women will outgrow after graduation with no lasting scars. As long as they take precautions against disease and pregnancy, the current wisdom goes, it might even be good for you: a sort of rumspringa for the non-Amish in which you get your girls-gone-wild urges out of your system before you settle down to have babies. Pepper Schwartz, a longtime sex columnist and a sociology professor at the University of Washington, told ABC News in November: 

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