The Disappearance of the First Date Among Today’s Teens

My husband and I are the parents of two teenaged daughers, one nineteen and one fifteen. We discovered about five years ago that the time-honored tradition of going out on a ‘first date’ with a young man has, sadly, become a thing of the past. Well, to be perfectly frank, my oldest daughter, while a middle school student, did have what we believe was actually a ‘first date’ with a young man. The two of them were fourteen at the time; the young man, a brilliant student who was fuzzy adorable in that way that teenaged boys with freshly-scrubbed skin and hair can often look, was the son of European-born parents.

My daughter, who up until that time had gone out with a group of friends, both boys and girls, was literally overcome with shock – to say nothing of a really bad case of the nerves! The parents were taking the young ‘couple’ out for dinner; we brushed up on table manners, which fork went with which course, etc., to the point that my daughter was STILL nervous but could at least function. In retrospect, it was a charming evening, marred only by my younger daughter, who was a youngster of nine at the time, and one of her friends, who hid in the bushes by our front door to watch the ‘couple’ head out, giggling at them the entire time. (The young man in question has since gone on to graduate from Choate and attends Yale; perhaps we should have taken that first ‘date’ more seriously!)

What we have found over the years is that teenagers no longer go out on formal ‘dates’, except for the (relatively) rare special occasion, such as a prom, semi-formal dance or holiday event. They go out in groups. My younger daughter, now fifteen, has her first boyfriend – we think. She ‘travels’ with a group of delightful girls her own age to the movies, to the mall, to the local pizzeria – together with an equal number complement of boys. My husband and I are dying to know which young man is our Karen’s; we may never know until she sits down with us to go over wedding invitations one day in the far future. Since she is at that age where she would rather chew glass than discuss her social life with her parents, we hesitate to address the situation head-on for fear that this simple question – are you ‘going out’ with so-and-so? – would completely unhinge the fragile communication pipeline that we’ve been able to work out.

These kids seem happy with this arrangement, although I’m somewhat at a loss as to how, financially, it works out. And while some of her friends appear to have more identifiable boyfriends, the idea of her going out with a group of kids her own, rather than being tied down to just one guy, has an awful lot of appeal to us as parents. The girls seem to love it, spending much of their time pre-going out primping, curling hair, trading makeup, rummaging through each other’s closets (especially that of my oldest daughter, who has an affinity for Abercrombie & Fitch, Burberry, Free People, Miu Miu, Miss Sixty, Seven and Lucky brand jeans) to accessorize and in some cases completely rearranged their looks. The boys eventually roll into our driveway, getting out with the nonplussed look of young men who just happened to be driving by, before knocking on our kitchen door for entry. We welcome them in, go back to whatever we were doing, and listen to the chatter, chatter, chatter of the girls as they make plans – punctuated occasionally by the deep-throated rumblings of the young men. In addition to no longer going out on ‘first dates’, the concept of ‘going steady’ has apparently also gone the way of the dinosaur as well. We love knowing that our daughter is going out with a group of friends, that she has support and caring people with her if she needs them, and that while two’s company and three’s a crowd, eight or ten kids together makes for a really, really fun time.

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