Dating is an amazing and surprising thing.
OK, sometimes dates themselves are not always so amazing, but the freedom embodied in the idea of dating is really incredible. Yet when you stop to think, it's a freedom that's not universal.
A real moment of perspective about dating occurred recently at a charity event we attended. The organizers had arranged a clever little demonstration where all the participants had to carry heavy jugs of water to get a feeling for what women in developing countries must do every day.
One man in the group good-naturedly groaned that he had no idea what he was getting himself into when he volunteered for the event. Somehow as we bantered, that comment lead to a hilarious discussion about online dating.
In no time the dating horror stories were flying, and everyone had something to contribute. One person had a date that showed up over an hour late. In a situation so familiar it's almost cliché, a woman had a date show up looking absolutely nothing like his online picture. Another woman described going on a date with a man who was more interested in his smart phone than her. We joked about the not-so-subtle hint we got from a friend who sent us the link to a dating site especially for humanitarian workers.
As you're reading this, we're sure you're remembering your own tales of dates gone horribly awry -- embarrassing and awkward at the time, now ripe material for a comedy script.
But as our group at the event laughed, it was hard not to notice the nearby jugs of water and think about the women whose labour those jugs represented. In many countries and cultures, the conversation we were having would never occur because the freedom to seek romance with whomever you choose simply does not exist.
It's all around us. A close friend of ours, whose family comes from a very traditional culture, fell in love with a man of a different nationality. She has had to deal with the disapproval of her family and face the arduous task of seeking permission from both families to pursue the relationship.
According to statistics from the UN, an estimated 55 per cent of marriages in the world are arranged. Family involvement in choosing one's partner is common in many parts of the world, and many young people in those cultures welcome the involvement of their elders in finding a partner.
However, there are also many cases where the family elders do not give their children a choice in the arranged marriage, moving into the realm of forced marriages.
In Afghanistan, 70 to 80 per cent of marriages are forced.
For some cultures, there are strict prohibitions about dating those outside of one's own nationality, religious group or social caste.
There are countries where dating is illegal. Unmarried men and women may never be alone together.
A few months ago we wrote about the plight of child brides. Ten million young girls every year who will never get the chance to go on a date, who don't get to pick who they marry, and who don't even get to grow up before they become wives and mothers.
Perhaps that is why dating has become a centerpiece of our western pop culture. It's a symbol of personal freedom.
In 2010, the online dating service industry reportedly generated more than $4 billion.
There are sitcoms whose entire plotlines revolve around dating, not to mention the game shows and reality shows. How many people had a pool going over who The Bachelor would pick?
We are in love with dating.
When we're dating, we can pick who we go out with. We have the ability to walk away from a date gone bad. If we don't like the other person we don't have to date them again, and we certainly don't have to marry them. Seeking permission to date or marry from your partner's parents is a quaint old-fashioned custom, rather than a strict social requirement in the Western world.
Dating is freedom. It's the freedom to choose one of the most personal aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, like many freedoms it's not available to everyone.
It's a worthwhile perspective to keep in mind as you dig into that tub of ice cream the next time Mister or Miss Right turns out to be Mister or Miss Horribly Wrong.
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