Dating Rules May Change; Dads Don’t

My husband loves to tell a story about his buddy, Dave. Dave's daughter had a date with a new boy. When the young man arrived, Dave greeted him at the door. “I'm working on something in the kitchen,” he said. “Come on in.”

The boy followed Dave, only to discover that he was in the midst of cleaning his shotgun.

Being an avid outdoorsman — not to mention the father of three girls — Jim appreciates the not-so-subtle message in his buddy's welcoming gesture.

In fact, Jim promises our daughters he'll be similarly occupied when some brave boy rings our doorbell. Usually, his fantasy of intimidation generates sighs and eye rolling.

Or this: “That's great dad. Threaten the first guy who finally asks me on a date.”

Our girls just don't understand how hard it is to be a dad to a daughter.

On the one hand, dads of daughters feel immeasurable pride in the lovely, talented young women growing up under their roofs.

On the other hand, dads know what boys have in mind.

Recalling the lewd and lascivious ideas that occupied their own thoughts when they were teens, they can't bear the notion that their innocent, unspoiled girls might play the starring role in some boy's dream of romance.

In my husband's case, the idea that our daughters will one day end up in the arms of some undeserving boys makes his face scrunch up in painful horror.

Of course, as our girls often remind Jim, this isn't something he needs to worry about yet.

It's not that they wouldn't enjoy being asked to school dances, movies or casual restaurant dinners. It's that high school dating — in the manner my husband fears — doesn't happen much anymore.

I'm convinced the last time a boy actually called a girl on her home phone and, with voice cracking and palms sweating, invited her to a school dance, was in the 1973 classic movie American Graffiti.

What does happen is this:

A school dance is announced, and right away, the guys and gals who already are “coupled” make plans to go together. (Even though this is something they obviously will do, an elaborate asking scenario is required, involving surprises left in lockers and announcements made in public.)

In the few weeks leading up to the dance, the “single” crowd starts jockeying for position. (Note: Single used to refer to people who were unmarried. Hollywood has redefined it to mean “romantically unattached.”)

The process of pairing off needs encouragement, so girls make their preferences known, sending signals by telling a few key people — the ones everyone knows can't keep a secret. Naturally, these revelations always are preceded with the words, “You can't tell anyone…” Yeah, right.

The boys are supposed to hear these rumors and act on them. Under the current dating mores (if you can call them mores) it's considered rude to ask a girl to a dance who doesn't already want to go with you.


In the end, there are couples who go to dances as “couples” and some who go as “friends.” (What else would you be?) Then there are couples who go to dances as “friends” and end up as “couples” by the end of the evening — elevating their relationships to the status of “going out.”

Of course, there's a whole subset of couples who go to school dances: the ones generated by girls who don't wait to be asked but instead take matters into their own hands.

In our post-feminist culture, the rules about who asks whom to a dance are irrelevant because anyone is free to do the asking. Girls who ask boys to dances run the risk of being labeled as “spoilers,” though, because they aren't necessarily in the loop on the whole “sending-out-signals” thing.

In fact, there aren't any rules anymore about dating. Traditional assumptions about who makes the plans, who drives and who pays for the outing are as outdated as the notion that you need a date for a dance in the first place.

You don't. You can just go with a group of friends.

Confused yet?

It gets more complicated. Teens today wouldn't go on a “date” as we adults know it. This is because dating is something you do with someone with whom you're already “going out.”

Let's review: You don't go on a “date” unless you're “going out” with someone, and you don't “go out” with someone you're not “dating.”

Chicken? Egg? Anyone?

In an effort to get a better handle on high school dating, I even did an Internet search. I figured there must be some new rules for the current generation of teens. Sadly, the responses I got on a search for “teens and dating” almost all dealt with sex.

No wonder Jim's face contorts at the thought of our teenage girls going out on a date.

Suffice to say because our daughters are “single,” my husband doesn't have to make any immediate plans for his shotgun other than the deft and determined killing of waterfowl.

Then again, when the opportunity finally presents itself to open our front door to a young man whose intention it is to spend an evening with one of our girls, that boy had better be prepared to talk hunting — or be hunted.

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 19 years and mother of four children from fourth grade to senior year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage