Credit: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

The truth about our broken dating culture

‘All that glitters is not gold’.

So often in life, Shakespeare’s maxim turns out to be true. Our human nature often makes us drawn to shiny and beautiful exteriors, only to learn the hard way that such appearances can be deceiving.

Over time, and as we get a bit older, we learn that the things which are difficult (and which are sometimes more modest in appearance) actually possess the substance which transforms them into a type of hidden treasure, often easy to overlook.

The philosophy of seeking for substance over style can particularly be applied, I think, when it comes to romance and relationships. A lot of young women and men sense that there is a crisis in modern dating. More of us than ever before are single. More of us than ever are marrying later in life. Families have shrunk in size. The birth rate has plummeted.

And our dating culture can seem almost non-existent – or even broken. We hear all the time from single friends how hard it is to meet “someone nice”. I can vouch for that being true.

Last week, we learned of the worrying case of Eoin Considine, a young man who was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for the rape of a young female student he met at a bar on a night out. This case, while complicated, highly sensitive and of course, unique, offers a depressing yet important insight into the reality of life for young, single people in this country.

The Central Criminal Court heard how Considine and the victim had been engaged in consensual sex after meeting earlier that night, when the woman withdrew her consent, and begged Considine to stop, as per the Limerick Post.

The 24-year-old law graduate did not stop, however, and continued having sex with her because he thought “she liked it,” that he’d had a previous girlfriend “that liked it,” and because she was “so good looking”.

“You took so much from me in just 90 seconds,” the victim told Considine in a direct address.

As my colleague John McGuirk argued in an impactful piece last week, the case points to the destructive influence of porn and porn addiction, and also to a worrying shift in sexual culture which has “not only created, amongst young men, an expectation of sexual availability, but an expectation in many cases that young women are eager to do for free what women in porn demand payment for”.

Research backs the view that pornography plays a huge role in the heartbreak and hurt running rampant in our society at present.

Per research from the United States, 60% of US marriages now end in divorce — with 56% of divorce cases naming pornography as a contributing factor to the divorce. As pointed out here, this would make porn actively responsible for ending a staggering 33 percent of marriages. By all accounts, many men are currently destroying their future relationships before they even begin.

And married men are throwing away authentic love, and in turn, happiness, for something which only mimics happiness – but is purely fantasy, and doesn’t provide sustained happiness. As is often the case with men who leave their wives, they too learn that appearances can be deceiving – but only after making a mistake which seems so much like freedom at the time.

Porn is an undeniably ugly problem. It is not only anti-woman but it is anti-human. It harms the person consuming it, not just other people. It often dulls the natural sexual urge to meet other people; it can make the excitement of a real sexual connection feel dull and boring; and, ultimately, it leads to depression and a lack of self worth.

But as a woman in my twenties – at an age where you can neither run nor hide from the prevailing dating culture – the saddest thing has to be that there is nothing at all surprising about the case of Eoin Considine. Women in today’s Ireland know that this will not be the last case of its kind.

We know that very many women have had similarly horrible experiences, in varying contexts and to varying degrees. The majority of whom will not bring a case because they fear (or know) they will simply not be believed, and/or that there is not sufficient evidence.

Porn, however, is just one dimension to a culture which is rotting at its core in a way which is not one dimensional. Addiction to pornography is a symptom of a culture, which in the context of modern relationships and romance, is self-seeking and selfish and broken.

Widespread addiction to seeing women being degraded and abused is a symptom of a supposedly brave new Irish culture which celebrates open relationships, along with promiscuity and the wound of divorce, as a form of progress and ‘self-care’. Our culture also teaches that abortion is compassion, when in reality it is seen by some men as a method of absolving themselves of any responsibility — a way to abandon others.

Considine’s victim’s impact statement makes for upsetting, but sadly entirely unsurprising reading. The victim said she found it difficult to move on from the idea “that my primary worth only goes so far to provide sexual gratification” and as a result, she became “hypersexualised”.

How many young women in Ireland have had this experience? How many feel as though their primary worth only goes as far as providing sexual gratification – How many have become hypersexualised and incapable of loving one person as fidelity demands? And how many have had their self-esteem so deeply damaged by bad, unloving men that they have become wholly incapable of loving themselves? I can assure you, there are many.

Young women have never been more depressed, with startling recent research from the CDC showing that 30% of teen girls said they considered dying by suicide – a percentage which has risen by almost 60% in just ten years. As per a particularly worrying 2019 EU study, young women in Ireland are the most depressed in Europe.

That report from Eurofund found that 17 percent of young Irish women aged 15-24 were at risk of developing symptoms associated with depression (almost double the rate for young men). And new figures from as recently as March have shown a significant spike in rape and sexual assault cases in Ireland.

We are in a crisis of identity, a crisis of self-esteem, a crisis of morality, which manifests itself so visibly in our dating culture, which comes down to the way we treat other people, and how we allow ourselves to be treated. I know we are all imperfect, but I can say with confidence that women are crying out for decent, kind, loving and good men. I’m sure men are crying out for authentic and loving women too.

But our culture is so starved of authentic masculinity – those who are meant to be the pillars and protectors of our society – in turn helping to create more broken and bruised young women. Women who are unable to love themselves, let alone anyone else. Our dating culture is toxic and depressing and dire as a result.

But this is where today’s celebrated female journalists and establishment Ireland miss a trick. When statistics inform us that reports of rape and sexual assault have spiked nationally (sexual assault reports were 8% higher last year than in 2022; the number of rapes reported rose by 13%), the broadly proposed solution in the mainstream Irish media is – wait for it –  more consent classes for boys, and more access to abortion for girls.

In my opinion, this is a harmful lie. It is nonsense. And it is a nonsense that some of the most platformed and popular social and media commentators in Ireland are not able to tell you that women do not feel respected, or loved, or cherished, and that no amount of classes on consent, nor no amount of birth control and abortion, is going to fix that.

Women are being told they need to ensure consent – often from a man who doesn’t even know their name — but not that they also deserve respect.

The real problem is that we have traded love for lust, joy for pleasure, fulfilment for satisfaction, and the narrow path for the wide one. Our throwaway popular culture has conditioned us as young adults to choose self over others, the short-term over the long-term, the moment over the bigger picture.

As women, we’ve been conditioned to believe that receiving the bare minimum from a man is fantastic – as though he is giving us the world. We can’t see that this is pathetic. We have a disordered view of dating which starts with sex and ends in heartbreak.

Without meaningful connection, lust reigns, and it means that most relationships are built on sexual desire and gratification, but are devoid of friendship or sacrifice or staying power. People say they are in love, but in truth, that love is wholly conditional. We do not know what it means to love unconditionally.

Few young people know how to build a relationship which will withstand the inevitable storms of this life, so, inevitably, we see a rise in divorce permeating our society.

Love is not a feeling or an appearance, but a witness. It should sadden us that so many young women are selling themselves short, when in truth, it’s better to be lonely than to be used.

The remedy for our broken dating culture is authenticity and real love and connection. We are in a culture which is in acute need of men who will not abandon women when the going gets tough; who will not use people as though they are things.

And we need women who know their worth, their value and their identity – who will refuse to settle for the crumbs. Personally speaking, the one thing that makes this possible is loving God, because if you love God, then you are capable of loving not only others without condition, but yourself, too. You know your identity. You will not settle for less than you deserve.

If we can relearn what it means to love, I think we have a shot at mending our broken dating culture. I think we could bring back real romance. Just remember, all that glitters is not gold.

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