Stories by MELLY LING

Remember the good old days of love letters and chasing butterflies in the park, when a guy would spend months courting the girl of his dreams before finally meeting her parents – only to ask their permission to take her out?

Well, we sure hope you still can, because it seems the rules of “traditional” courtship are now being redefined in this new age of technology.

A recent article in The New York Times talked about the “end of courtship”, brought about by text messaging, social media, mobile dating apps and a general shift in culture. According to the article, traditional notions of dating and romance are now passé, replaced by the millennial generation’s new rules where dating is, really, just hanging out.

Romance, where art thou?

“I remember going out with this guy without even knowing we were actually ‘dating’ because the two of us hardly had dinner alone,” said Pamela Lee, 23, an advertising account executive. “Most of the time we would be hanging out with his friends instead.”

Lee had met the guy through mutual friends at a party in the first place. They didn’t talk much because it was a loud party, but as with so many courting couples these days, things got started with a Facebook friend request. From there, they started chatting online, which led to a last-minute invite to “hang out”.

Overwhelmed with excitement, Lee agreed even though it was an eleventh-hour thing. She got all dolled up and sped off to see him, and she walked into the bar, looking gorgeous for what was supposed to be her first date, only to find the guy hanging out there with a bunch of friends – all dressed in football jerseys.

Deciding to be polite, she joined them anyway, feeling awkward for the rest of the night. But it only got worse, when the guy said everyone was going Dutch that night.

That scenario seems to echo the opinions offered in the New York Times article, where writer Alex Williams wrote: “Traditional courtship — picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego.

“Not so with texting, e-mail or Twitter […] In the context of dating, it removes much of the need for charm; it’s more like dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble.”

Many of the young Malaysians we spoke to seemed to agree that dating is, rather unfortunately, heading in that direction. Guys are putting less thought into their dates, because technology (particularly social media and the many mobile dating apps out there) has simply made things too convenient. If a girl turns down whatever now counts as a “romantic” gesture, you simply move on to the next Facebook profile.

“People now are becoming complacent when it comes to dating,” said barista Sam Phua, 19. “Why take the hassle to get to know someone on a proper date, when you have Facebook to tell you everything you know about that person?”

Phua has never been on a date before, but he’s had a few online relationships, which he believes work better for him. “You don’t feel the pressure of commitment. I can be comfortable just being myself.

“I am currently chatting with this girl I got to know on Facebook. She added me randomly, and because of our common interests in music and art, our connection just grew organically. We just knew we were into each other.”

Taking it easy

Patrick Teoh, 56, is one of those who remembers the good old days, and fondly too – despite having been repeatedly rejected by the girl of his dreams when he was younger.

Teoh pursued the girl for over a year before she finally agreed to go out on a date with him, to watch a live band. Though the girl would later move overseas for work, Teoh was undeterred by the distance, keeping the romance alive through what we now call “snail mail”. Today, they have been happily married for over 20 years.

“Courtships these days are so easy compared to the old days. It required so much effort to win a girl’s heart because there was no technology back then. It was all letters and postcards,” said Teoh, who works in the IT industry.

For most young people, however, there’s nothing wrong with the laid-back, technology-driven approach to courtship these days.

“Online dating isn’t really a relationship. It’s about learning more about someone – their background, personality, education, interests, etc. It’s the same as a traditional date, just that you’re not meeting face-to-face,” said mass communications student Julian Cheong, 24.

As long as you play it safe and be wary of fake accounts, freaks and scams, Cheong believes it is possible to “find love and have a loving relationship online”.

There are, however, those who still only insist on having things the old-fashioned way.

“I enjoy taking a girl out to a nice restaurant,” said media executive Aaron Huang, 22. “It might be awkward sometimes, but I think that’s the best part of it. Besides looking at your date all dressed up, you get to know her better on a personal level.”

Marketing executive Azleen Asyqin, 23, said: “Every girl enjoys having a romantic treat, even if they refuse to admit it.”

Don’t believe it? Well, take it from a man who has been happily married for over 20 years. “Young men should put more effort into courting a woman, so she knows that she is being respected and appreciated,” said Teoh.

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