The word “dating” is not in the vocabulary of many college students. It seems like a relic from the college days of their baby boomer parents, joining other words on the verge of extinction, like “wooing” and “going steady.”

No longer is the man expected to pick the woman up from her house and take her to a “nice restaurant” for dinner. No longer is the man expected to pay for the date. No longer is the man even expected to be the one who initiates the date. These unspoken changes have made many college students question whether the traditional notion of dating has become out-of-date.

A random sampling of college students found that dating isn’t dead, it’s just very casual. “Because dating today is a lot more informal, where dinner and a movie used to be the norm, nowadays dinner in the cafeteria or a trip to the library could work,” says 19-year-old Howard University sophomore Marie Smith. The Virginia native pointed out that a couple mutually agreeing to meet one another at a party can be considered a date.

Dating is further complicated by ambiguous language: just talking, hooking up, friends with benefits, and open relationships. These words are all used to avoid the dreaded concept of commitment, their “kryptonite.” These semi-relationships alleviate the pressure of a real relationship by allowing both parties to leave their options open.
The ever unclear “hooking up” seems to be the most widespread phrase favored by college students. A 2001 study of college women sponsored by the Independent Women’s Forum, an advocacy group, found that “hooking up” was defined as when “a girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and don’t necessarily expect anything further,” with the definition of a physical encounter ranging anywhere from kissing to having sex. However, the study also noted that “hooking up” can be used to describe a third party who introduces two people, or simply going out with someone — not necessarily in the romantic sense.

The average college student was raised to believe in equality between the sexes, which has resulted in the blurring of gender roles. While the burden of asking and paying for a date is no longer expected of the guy, the Women’s Forum report suggested that there are still very few girls who would ask a guy out on a date.

Blair Alexander, an 18-year-old Morehouse College freshman from Maryland, thinks that as a guy, he should pay for the date even if the girl initiated it. “It’s about chivalry and it’s just the polite thing to do. I believe this because this is what I was taught by my father,” he said.

Marie Smith agrees. “I expect to be approached, which is a dangerous and unfruitful game, but I’m kind of old-fashioned,” she said.

The shift of the gender roles also leaves both guys and girls unsure of who should make the first move — which often results in no one making a move at all. New York University (NYU) senior Karim Hamadi, who is from Maryland, says: “I sometimes will make that first move if I am interested, but I am the kind of guy that genuinely appreciates and loves when women make the first move.”

Not all girls share in the hesitancy of approaching someone who interests them. NYU sophomore Caty Wagner, of Connecticut, has no hesitation about asking a guy out. “I am a big believer in not letting life pass you by, and if I see someone I think can be ‘the one,’ I’d really regret not going for it.”

To approach or not to approach? Is it a relationship or a hookup? Dating may have become more casual in recent years, but it is no less complicated.

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