Dating and Consumerism

I’ve been talking to my friends a lot about dating lately. Many of my friends are married already, and some are engaged and then there are the few that are still in the dating process. For those of you that don’t know, the dating process is when you are looking for a mate. You weigh out the pros and cons. You make sure they fit your personality. You make sure that they fit into your dreams. You make sure that you like them and that you can see it working in the end. Most of us went through this process, and so its not to debunk the process, but after going through it, being hurt by it and just at the tail end of it, I think the process is a small sign of how our culture as infested itself into all aspects of life.

Dating is not much more than consumerism of people. Basically it is just looking for the best possible deal. If it breaks or goes wrong you can always take it back and get a new one. You see how the product best matches your needs. You need something that can laugh at your jokes, take care of you when your sick, satisfy you sexually and of course we all want something that is smart. We check out the different stores of school, church and work and we find out what is available. Sometimes we test out the product in the store never really committing to buying it. Much of dating has been reduced to how we feel. We want to be around those that make us feel great and we usually would choose those who make us feel the best.

I’m not sure what a good alternative is to this, but I do know that dating the way it is now doesn’t make that much sense. It is self-focused and consumerisitc. At least in pre-arranged marriages you were forced to learn to love someone, something that happens anyway in dating but we think its easier for some reason when we pick someone based on looks and personality types. There is no trick in pre-arranged marriages, you realize that the person in front of you is the one you will spend the rest of your life with, when you like it or when you don’t and you need to learn to love them. Dating gives the false impression that you can leave and come back at your own will. It makes us think that the relationship is for us and making us happy. It makes us think that our love for someone is based on some sort of criteria that we have made up ahead of time. So what happens when they fail to pass the criteria in the future? With dating, like pre-arranged marriages, you still need to come to the decision that you will love the person no matter what, even if everything you discovered in the dating trial ends up being different or changes in the future. You aren’t choosing to love a package of options that you have decided upon, you are choosing to love a human being and they change, get better and get worse.

Dating is not like test driving a new car. I’m not even sure what analogy to use to describe it but we need to get out of our consumerisitc approach to absolutely everything we do. Love is different. I’m not sure how yet, I’m very new at this, but I know its different. I know that the check list that Rachel passed when we first met isn’t going to hold in five years and I know that all the things that Rachel loves about me may come and go over time and some new things will come up and vice versa. Love isn’t like dating. Love is permanent, love is a choice and the checklist doesn’t exist, so why should it exist in dating? Is it because we want to marry the person that is going to make it the easiest to love them? So where do we go from here?

10 Comments

  • Hey Nathan.

    I liked this post. I can’t say I have anything really great to say, but I think you’re on to something. It has often bothered me how a process that is so obsessed with benefiting oneself,
    fits into a Christian context.

    All I want to say is I don’t think there is anything wrong in realizing that someone you’re dating is not someone that you should marry. But I think that consumerism lies more in how we treat and look at that person, then in that process itself. At the root of consumerism, in my opinion, is a preoccupation with self. In my experience, we are much more prone to be selfishness in a dating relationship than a friendship (where the sole objective is not getting that person to date you. :)

    Therefore, I’m pretty convinced that if you formed authentic relationships with the people some of these problems are solved. (I suppose this is hard, especially if you like someone, to put your mind in check to not start forming a friendship as a means to an end.) But, I think if you had a genuine friendship with someone, you are much more prone to see their worth as a person, and not view them as product to benefit you. Then, if you start dating someone who is already very important to you, as a person and as a friend, that will influence how you treat that person.

    If you already ‘love’ this person for who they are, and have a genuine relationship with them, then I think it is much easier to be unselfish in the relationship. Even if you end up breaking up, I think you’re are much less likely to make that decision based on superficial reasons, as if you were buying a car. Besides, I think the process we go through in judging people’s personalities and appearances is a different problem in itself, where we are not looking at people the way God sees them, and this permeates our lives in every way.

    Anyways, not sure if that makes sense, or addressed anything, but its what came to mind.

  • The hard question to ask now is whether there is any area of our society that has not somehow been afflicted by consumerism. Religion, charity, it’s hard not to find an area where consumerism is not the mentality. Is this because most of these things are now, in some way, mediated by the market? We can buy project (red) at the Gap, we can sign up for online dating, we can buy all kinds of religious texts. Everything in our lives is now mediated by a corporation. Perhaps this is how we are getting this consumerist infestation. Just a thought…

  • Nathan, your analogy between dating and consumerism seems to fit. But I disagree with you when you say that dating doesn’t make sense.

    There’s a reason we choose our mates instead of just getting stuck with someone through pre-arranged marriages. I mean, yes, when you get married you DO have to decide that you’re going to love and stay with the person for the rest of your life, even if you change as people. But you do that after you date them and realize that you CAN promise to love them and stay with them for the rest of your life. You have to be in a relationship with someone, a relationship that isn’t permanent and allows you to leave if things go wrong, before you can promise to marry them. You DO have to discover whether you fit or not. And honestly, you generally can’t do that in a relationship that is strictly friendship. Yes, you will change down the road. But that doesn’t change the fact that some people are a better fit than others, and that others just shouldn’t be together. How can you discover that without dating?

  • Maria, I think that’s wise.
    Even though everyone made fun of ‘so i kissed dating goodbye’ when i was in high school, i think the whole concept of courting has a lot of validity, even if its at least before you decide to date someone. How messed is it that we like someone before we know them?

    Lauren, what is the reason we choose our mates now as opposed to the good ol’ fashion way? It certainly doesn’t show to be a better way in the divorce rates? All I’m saying through this post though is not to throw out dating, but there is def value in understanding it better and not just as another consumerist approach. We need to beware of these cultural ideals seeping into our ways of life as Dan pointed out. I guess though, to go on your comment, if you need to be with them to learn that you can love them, what makes us able to love someone and not love someone else?

  • Dan, in answer to your question:

    “The hard question to ask now is whether there is any area of our society that has not somehow been afflicted by consumerism”

    And the answer to that of course is the church.

    This answer was brought to you in part by God himself.

    Jesus – just do it!

  • What makes us love one person and not someone else is a combination of chemistry and a personality fit. There is a definite chamistry between some people, and a definite lack of it between others. And even though that “butterflies in your stomach” feeling fades with time, you still have that basic personality fit, and you still have the memory of the butterflies.

    And regarding your comment on the divorce rate… you can’t use that as an argument for an old fashioned way of choosing a mate. During the “old fashioned way of choosing a mate” divorce was nearly impossible to get and you were basically shunned from society for getting divorced. So people stayed in horrible marriages because getting a divorce just wasn’t in the realm of possibility. You don’t know what the divorce rate would have been back then if divorce had been a viable response to a bad relationship.

    Who knows, maybe the divorce rate would have been HIGHER back then if divorce was as accepted and easy to get as it is now.

  • Ron,

    Alas, I wish it were so. While I believe that church has been established by Jesus, as a body of human beings, it is open to the afflictions of our age, just as it was to the afflictions of other ages. The church erred in Paul’s time and it can do so in ours.

    When people look to change to another church, they seem to go with a shopping list mentality. I cannot help but see this phenomenon around me.

    This is not say that everyone does this, or that a true encounter with God has been rendered impossible, it’s just that I cannot deny seeing consumerism creeping into church. I wish it were not so.

  • Hey Lauren, I guess we just disagree, I don’t believe love is based on chemistry and personality, it may certainly make it easier for some, but is not based on that, its based on a decision.

    Good point about the divorce rate.

  • Ah, we’ve actually discussed this before. See, there are two different kinds of love. There’s love as a choice, and love as a feeling, as in “falling-in-love.” I believe in both. And I believe that a great marriage NEEDS both. You need to have feelings for that person, and feelings are based on chemistry and personality. Then you also need to choose to love your spouse for the rest of your life, because you will always fall in and out of love with that person.

    So we don’t entirely disgagree. I believe the most important love is love as a choice. But I also think that you should be with someone who you can be “in love” with. And you can’t be “in love” with just anybody.

  • I’ve written about this many times before, pointing out the obvious “shopping” experience of scrolling thrrough hundreds of faces and profiles on the online dating services. And E-harmony isn’t much better, although it claims to be so much more spiritual. In their case, it’s just personality characteristics and “values” (like I can really express my values by checking a little box?) that you’re shopping for.

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