Whatever Happened to Courtship?

with Elizabeth Marquardt | August 13, 2007

Elizabeth Marquardt, a vice president of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, talks to Dennis Rainey about the research she's done with college students about their dating habits and the interesting findings she's discovered there.

Elizabeth Marquardt, a vice president of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, talks to Dennis Rainey about the research she's done with college students about their dating habits and the interesting findings she's discovered there.

Whatever Happened to Courtship?

With Elizabeth Marquardt
|
August 13, 2007
| Download Transcript PDF

Elizabeth: One of the things we asked these young women is "How do you get a boyfriend?"  And, generally, the answer was something like, "Well, I don't know, because you could kind of, like, hook up, or you could, but that doesn't really" – and, basically, they had no answer.

 So when I talk about men being passive in this scenario, it's a passive kind of power, and what you see is that in the hook-up culture, the men still have a lot of power, whereas in the dating culture of an earlier time, they did have power, but they were also a lot more vulnerable.  They had to take the risk of rejection, they had to ask, and then she decided.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 13.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We're going to talk today about dating, about hooking up, and about what life is really like on today's college campuses.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  You are at a point in your parenting where you are past the college years as a parent.  All of your children have graduated from college, right?

Dennis: That's right.

Bob: And so you don't really have …

Dennis: Pardon me, while I just jump up in the air.

Bob: While you celebrate this moment.

Dennis: Click my heels.  We had six go to college, five graduated, and there still may be a possibility of having six out of six someday, but the point is, is we ended up being able to graduate five of them with no debt.

Bob: That's amazing.

Elizabeth: Wow.

Dennis: And I think, for the most part, without any major moral uprising, I don't know exactly how to say that, because I don't know everything our kids did at college, but I think, for the most part, they navigated the treachery of college, the college days, quite well.

Bob: I have two that are out of college, my two oldest, my girls.  I have a son who is in college, and I have two more who are headed in that direction, and you read about what's on the college campus today, you read reports like what we've been reading, and it's troubling, it's alarming, as a parent.

Dennis: It really is.  When our kids were in high school, I had to learn a new vocabulary.  I had to learn that "going steady" was nowhere on the horizon.

Bob: Yeah, they don't use that phrase anymore.

Dennis: They don't use that phrase anymore.  You don't take rings and wrap yarn around it when the guy gives the girl the ring.  It's now called "going out."  And if you're going out, you're an item in high school.  And I know some of the single people are listening to me right now who listen to FamilyLife Today and go, "What century were you born in?"

 Well, it was the previous century, but when our children started going to college, a phrase began to be used that, frankly, I started kind of throwing around and quickly misused it, all right?  It was called "hooking up."

Bob: Right.

Dennis: And I thought I knew what it meant.

Bob: It sounds innocent enough, right?

Dennis: It does.  You know, you think you know, and so we decided we'd get a researcher that has done almost 18 months of research on the subject of hooking up on the college campus – bring her in here, she's no stranger to FamilyLife Today, she's been here before – and invite her back to help us all be educated about what "hooking up" means. 

 Elizabeth Marquardt joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Elizabeth, welcome back to the broadcast, good to see you again.

Elizabeth: Thank you, it's great to be back.

Dennis: Elizabeth is the director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, which is a nonpartisan think tank focused on children, families, and civil society, and you did a research project a number of years ago. 

 You had a batch of students, I guess, researchers, help you with this, but you went on the college campus, and you came up with a report that was called "Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right."

Elizabeth: That's right.

Dennis: What motivated you to want to do a research project on college women, on dating and mating today?

Elizabeth: Many of us had heard some of the kinds of stories you'd heard – some of us – at the time, I was not a parent yet, but some of us were, and had heard this thing called "hooking up."  Didn't really know where this idea was coming from, what it meant, how it might relate to larger concerns.  One of the things we do where I work is study the culture of marriage and where it's going.

 It used to be that studying what is called "courtship" in the academic literature was a primary focus in sociology in the '40s and '50s.  Plenty of researchers were studying courtship.

 That really fell by the wayside since the 1960s, and we really don't know much about what – you know, before young people are thinking seriously about marriage, before they're getting married, before they're having marriage problems, we don't know much about how they get to that point; how they think about marriage long before they do it; how they think about how do you meet someone and what's the right way to meet someone and what's all this for before marriage?

Dennis: And I want to stop you there, because one of the points in your executive summary was why courtship disappeared, and you tied it to a lack of parental involvement.

Elizabeth: Very much so.  I think that the generation – I'm 36, my parents are in their 50s – and I think the baby boomer generation that raised me and those younger than me, no longer knew what to say.  Many of them were divorced, and I don't think that makes you unable to say something to your child at all about dating and relationships, but it seems to make a lot of parents reluctant to share their own experience, because they're not sure – they feel like they've made mistakes or it didn't work out right for them so what can they say?

 And also just the norms have just continued to change just so fast.  Parents don't even know we're – you know, it was crazy enough for them in the '60s, and now you've got whole 'nother thing going on.  They don't know what to say to their kids, so they say and do nothing often when it comes to marriage.

 And, even moreso, especially for our most high-achieving students with the highest aspirations, the advice that they tend to get from their parents and the culture and their guidance counselors is when it comes to marriage the advice is, "Don't get married too soon.  Keep your options open.  Don't think about that right now."

 So if they say, "I want to be a lawyer," well, everybody will say to them, "Okay, you want to be a lawyer, this is how you do it, you need to do this and take this test and go to this school and focus on these priorities, and that's how you get to be a lawyer someday."

 But if you say, "I want to be married," everybody falls silent.  They don't know what to say.

Dennis: I really appreciate research like you've done.  We must have scholarly, airtight research that's done by quality principles and great people and commissioned by think tanks like you work for.  But I want to be quick to add we do not need research to prove the truth of the Bible.

 The Bible stands on its own as being the truth.  Now, I'm not putting your research down.  Hear me on this – I think we need that research, it's going to take us into realms where we may not be able to lead with the Bible.  But what I want parents to feel is you know what?  The truth is the truth, and you just need to teach that truth from the Scripture in every way possible with your children because in their soul and in their hearts, they need that guidance.

 This culture is a culture that takes no hostage.

Bob: I thought it was real interesting, as I looked through your report, in addition to Mom and Dad not being proactive and engaged on this issue, there was another major factor that took place that changed the courtship culture on the college campus, and I thought about this in relationship to my son who is in the honors dorm at his college campus, and the room next door is …

Elizabeth: Has a really cute girl living there.

Bob: It's a suite of four girls.

Elizabeth: No temptation there.

Bob: I remember moving him in and thinking, "Boy, this is different than when I went to college."

Dennis: You're not in Kansas …

Elizabeth: You're not the only dad who thought that.

Dennis: Not in Kansas, Toto.

Dennis: And, of course, where I went to college, there was a bathroom down the hall, and we all shared that bathroom.  Now everybody's got their own bathroom, and so you think, "Okay, this is really no different than a hotel, this is no different than apartments."

 But what it's led to is a very different courting culture, hasn't it?

Elizabeth: It has.  One of the things we identified in this report – we only talked to the women, so that's the caveat.  We did not talk to college men for this report, and I'd love to do a follow-up with the men.  But what the women tell us is that college men today seem passive; that they don't ask you out on a date; that they are reluctant, after you've been hooking up or hanging out for some period of time, they're reluctant to define the relationship.  When a woman wants to know what kind of relationship they're in, she has to initiate the talk, and it's a funny kind of passivity because when she initiates the talk he gets to make the decision.  So it's kind of a passive power.

 But one of the reasons it seems that they might be passive is that they don't have to do much to get a girl.  You know, you don't have to tuck in your shirt and shave and walk out and identify one and say, "She's the one I want, I'm going to pursue her," because you're living in a dorm with all these women all around, and you're all hanging out often as friends in very nice ways, but when you want to pursue a relationship with someone, you can kind of just hook up with the girl who lives next door.

 And, it's funny, because students will say – they have all these words like "dormcest," you know, and supposed rules about you're not supposed to "hook up" with someone who lives in your dorm, because then it gets really messy after because then you see each other all the time, even when you're not hooking up anymore.

 But, still, they do it because, you know, the dorms are filled with alcohol, often, and men and women, you know, things happen.  And so …

Bob: And there is a direct correlation between alcohol and the culture of hooking up, right?

Elizabeth: Absolutely.  Everybody says the agreed-upon definition of a hook-up is when a girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and don't expect anything further.  And people broadly agree that alcohol is almost always involved in this – other drugs, maybe, but alcohol primarily.

Dennis: I could be as little as kissing.

Elizabeth: Yes, it can be kissing, it can be sex, it can be sex in various ways that our presidents and others have described it.  So it can be ambiguous, but it's something physical.

Dennis: Okay.  The other thing I wanted to ask you about, and this was a hot-button for me – it seems as though what your research was saying was that wherever co-ed dorms went, men stopped being men, and they became passive, and you heard one school who gave you the lame excuse for why they had moved to co-ed dorms.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Dennis: Share that with our audience, because I found that to be unbelievable – that this was their solution to a problem on their campus.

Elizabeth: Yes.  One school with which I was quite familiar was having this dorm – they had this dorm on campus, a male dorm, just young men living in it, and it was getting trashed all the time – pulling sinks out of the walls and throwing sofas out the second-story windows …

Dennis: Because young men lived in it.

Elizabeth: Because young men lived in it, doing what they do, especially if you throw in some beer.

Dennis: Back to what Bob was saying, "Young barbarians."

Elizabeth: "Young barbarians," God bless 'em, I'm raising one now, and I love – men are great, but they need help.

[laughter]

Dennis: And so this dorm was getting …

Elizabeth: So this dorm was getting trashed much to the consternation of everybody involved.  Nobody liked – you know, this makes the neighbors of the college angry, the custodial staff don't like it, the parents, when their kids get in trouble about it, they don't like hearing about it.  So it's a problem for everybody.

 So the solution was to make the dorm co-ed because they know, administrators know, that the women, at least to some extent, civilize the men simply by their presence and also by them just being – I mean – you should hear women talk about what it's like to share a bathroom with a man, a college guy, and just how gross these guys are.

 So women, to some extent, civilize the men.

Dennis: I've got to stop you, I've got to stop you.  There are a lot of wives right now …

Elizabeth: Who are saying, "Yeah, it doesn't change," yeah, "You wouldn't believe how my husband leaves that bathroom in the morning.

 So the women civilize the men, even if they don't clean up after them, just by wrinkling their noses and saying, "That's gross," it helps to some extent, and the administrators know this, and it's cheaper, I think, it's pretty clear, to bring in college women to help civilize the men rather than deal with the problem in other ways.

 And for someone like me it's funny.  I was actually raised as a feminist.  I was a feminist at age 6, and I look at this, and I think, "Okay, here are these young women" – first of all, their test scores are higher to get into school, because we can talk about the sex ratio in a minute, but the sex ratio is uneven.  There are more college women now than college men, and the people who are getting affirmative action now are young white men who can get into this college with lower scores because administrators are doing what they can to help prevent the sex ratio from being even more skewed.

 So you have college women who have worked harder, on average, to get into school, and they're paying the same tuition, under the same expectations, and with no recognition and no payment, or, you know, reduction in the cost of their own housing or anything else.  They are there to civilize the men, and I think it's a funny situation that we've entered into.

Bob: A sad, funny situation.

Elizabeth: A sad, funny – not funny ha-ha but funny strange.

Dennis: Well, and what is really tragic is where all this is going to take us, because on the college campus, young men are not asking young ladies out in a traditional way that brings nobility to a woman, you know, that sets her apart and treats her with respect, as I've tried to train my daughters to expect from a young man.

 But, instead, they kind of expect to just kind of slide into relationships and not define those relationships and participate in those relationships and maybe even some things that were meant for marriage without any commitment.

 And as a result what we're seeing emerge on the college campus, and your research documents this, is a whole generation of young men who are even more passive than their predecessors.

Elizabeth: Yes, I mean, the thing about the older dating culture, a lot of times people look at that, people out in the culture, and say, "Well, that was oppressive because men had all the power, they did the asking, and they were in charge, and women, you know, had no power.

 Well, it is true that there were abuses in that environment, but the older dating culture required a lot of men.  First of all, the risk of rejection was high, and that's hard for anybody to take.  One thing that the men now avoid in the hook-up culture is the risk of rejection, because if you're not clear about what you want and who you want, and you don't do things to make your intentions clear, you also don't get rejected.

 For some reason, young people today, I think, are extraordinarily afraid of being rejected, and this hook-up thing, which is fueled by alcohol, is a way to get around that.  It's a way – you know, you don't have to make your intentions clear and put yourself out on the line and be vulnerable and say, "I, me, I like you.  You are the one I want, and I'm going to do what I can to just let you know that in every way possible, and then the ball is in your court."

 They don't do that anymore.  Instead, it's kind of, "Let's get drunk, and we'll do this thing, and then we'll pretend that it didn't happen the next day we see each other on campus.  We'll ignore each other, and maybe if we do this thing enough times then we'll say maybe we're going to kind of enter into a relationship or something," and I'll stop there.

Dennis: Well, the thing I wanted you to share with our audience, though, is how prevalent is this hooking up?  I mean, now, as an older generation listens to you describing this, they're thinking, "Oh, yeah, that's 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent of the college campus.  It's rampant on the college campus, right?

Elizabeth: It's rampant, although it's not – it's an interesting question.  It's not the majority of students who engage in hooking up, yet it has – it's the only thing on campus about which everyone can agree what it is and how it's done.

 So let me be more clear.  In our national survey of college women, 40 percent had hooked up at least once.  Only 1 in 10 had hooked up more than six times.  Interestingly, those from divorced families were much more likely to hook up more frequently and say this as someone, myself, is from a divorced family – young women from divorced families, 37 percent had hooked up more than six times compared to 23 percent of those from intact families.

 So it's a lot of numbers, and just to kind of clarify it, what I mean is that most don't hook up.  The ones who do only do it once or a couple of times, and then decide "Hey, this isn't for me."  But there is a core subset of those who hook up a lot, and that's how they primarily engage with their peers.

 But the point is that hooking up is the only thing on campus that everybody can kind of agree on.  This is the only socially normed kind of relationship way of engaging with the opposite sex on campus.

 It kind of shapes the whole campus culture, even though most people don't do it, and others are making their choices in relation to hooking up.  So, for instance, on the one end you have this kind of – this very low commitment thing called "hooking up."  But what you also hear students engaging in is something that we kind of call "joined-at-the-hip" relationships.  And this is when a girl and guy get together and very quickly become and item, sleep together every night in each other's dorms, study together, do laundry together, you never seen them without – you know, you never see one of them without the other one.  It almost becomes a joke.

 And they're kind of referred to almost like a married couple, you know, their friends might say.  So you have these folks on the other end.  These folks want to be together.  They generally love each other and all that, but, a lot of times, young women will say, "You know, you get into one of these intense relationships, and you have no time for yourself anymore, no times for your friends, and you're together all the time, and then when you break up it's so hard because you were so close."

 And they say, "I don't want to hook up because hooking up makes me feel bad, and I don't want to do this joined-at-the-hip thing again, because I got hurt by that, and I had no time for anything else, so what do I do?  What other choices are there for me?"

 And the question that we had, as researchers, especially researchers thinking about marriage, was most of these young women say they want to be married someday.  They say it's a very important goal for them. Many of them say they'd like to meet their future husband at college.  Not necessarily get married in college or even right after college, but this is a good time to meet a nice young guy, you'd think.

 What is this environment doing to prepare them for marriage?  It seems to be doing almost nothing.

Bob: And, in fact, seems to be working against that as a goal or an objective, right?

Elizabeth: Yes, this environment seems to be hampering their ability to form a lasting, trusting, healthy marriage in the future.

Dennis: And back to how we started this broadcast – if there has ever been a time when parents don't need to back out, if there has ever been a time when parents need to be there, be all there, be engaged, and discussing these matters, and talking about them and giving their children, giving their adult children the freedom to have different ideas than we had, you know, and that's so difficult.  I mean, that's not easy, for a parent to watch a child reject the faith they grew up in and begin to explore and venture out.

 But to be able to offer them grace and forgiveness and a listening ear but, at the same time, hold the standard high.  Because what I hear you saying, Elizabeth, is these young women needed somebody with a compass – "Point me in the direction of how do I begin to establish a relationship, because ultimately I do want to be married; I do want to have a family."

Bob: And you are probably going to have to prepare your daughter, if she's headed to college of if she's in college, that these are going to be lonely, uncomfortable years when you're going to be out of the social norm, if that's what you want and if you want it to be a healthy situation on the other end.  You're going to be out of the mainstream, and you're not going to like it.

Dennis: You could give Laura, our most recent graduate from college, a call at this point.  Now, I can assure you, she would tell you it was very …

Bob: She would affirm that.

Dennis: … very lonely.

Bob: Yes, because if this is the dominant culture, and you don't fit in, it's going to be hard for you, and I think having a copy of your research findings, which are available on our website at FamilyLife.com.  You can download them as a PDF file and print them out on your computer. 

 I've taken this home and talked about it with my wife and with our older children, because I think this is some stunning research that should open dialog between parents and older teens.  And, as I said, this report is on our website at FamilyLife.com. 

 If you go to our home page and click the red button that says "Go," that you see on the home page right in the center of the screen, that will take you to an area of the site where you can download the PDF file that we've talked about, and where you will find a variety of resources for older teens and for young singles on the subject of sexual purity.

 Things like Joshua Harris's book, "Sex is Not the Problem, Lust Is."  Or Elizabeth Elliott's classic book, "Passion and Purity."  We also have copies of the books, "Every Man's Battle," and "Every Woman's Battle," that deal with sexual temptation in the area of pornography or in the area of unhealthy relationships for young women.

 Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, and click the red "Go" button that you see in the middle of the screen, and you might review some of the resources that I've mentioned here just to see if any of these would be appropriate for you to send to a college student or a young single to go through, or if you have a high school junior or senior, you might want to get copies of these and start going through them now in preparation for the time when you will launch your son or your daughter to the college campus.

  Again, the website is FamilyLife.com.  Click that red "Go" button that you see in the middle of the screen, or, if you'd prefer, you can call 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Someone on our team can let you know about what resources are available from us here at FamilyLife, and we can make arrangements to have things sent to you.

 Well, I think some of our listeners, Dennis, know, by now, about the Challenge Fund that has been established during the month of August.  Many of our listeners are calling or going online to make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and they're taking part in this Challenge Fund to try to encourage other listeners to join with them in helping to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and it's kind of fun to see some of these challenges.

 For example, we heard from a man who wanted to encourage all dads who want to become the kind of men and husbands and fathers that God intends for them to be.  This man made a donation of $33 and said, "I want to challenge other dads to make a $33 donation as well. 

 We heard from one listener who said, "I want to challenge those people who live next door to a family with teenagers, and I want to challenge you not just to donate, but I want to challenge you to introduce your next-door neighbor to some of FamilyLife's resources that are aimed at helping teenagers.

 And I'm thinking about the report that we talked about today.  That would be something that you could print out and share with a neighbor if they have teenagers.  They made a $20 donation and challenged other listeners to make a $20 donation.

 And then heard from a listener in California with a $200 donation challenging the rest of the listeners in the state of California to do the same, and a listener from the Kansas City area, who made a $70 donation and wanted to challenge Kansas City area listeners to the same thing.

 If you can make a donation to help the ministry of FamilyLife Today during the month of August, we would love to hear from you, and we want to encourage you either to respond to a challenge or to issue a challenge of your own, and you can do that online at FamilyLife.com.  As you're filling out the donation form, there is a space there for you to issue a challenge.

 Or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone, you can offer a challenge as well, and let me say we appreciate your financial participation, your support of this ministry, and we really appreciate hearing from you.

 Tomorrow Elizabeth Marquardt is going to be back with us as we continue to look at what's really happening on college campuses and this whole culture of hooking up.  We'll hear more about the research that she has done on tomorrow's program.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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