The End Of Dating Is What Happens When Social Contracts Die

When we can’t agree on what to expect in return, we all get nothing.

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about the dating scene. A lot of women who are looking for marriage feel like they’re getting short-changed.

Not only are women expected to look good, and thoroughly vet guys to make sure that we don’t end up with a rapist or an axe murderer, but we also have to deal with the act of actually showing we’re enough for men these days.

The double standards are staggering and so is the audacity women face in dating:

  • Women risk their lives meeting up with a stranger, but if they ask for the guy to pay for the first date, they’re "entitled."
  • If a woman gets assaulted or cheated on, she’s going to be blamed for it.
  • Women are told not to have sex, then are pressured to have sex, and then get devalued for doing what they thought would make their date happy.
  • Women are told they get to choose who they date, but if they reject guys, they have to brace themselves for a litany of abuse.
  • When women say they want equal rights, some men claim that this means they should get the right to hit them.
  • Women still do the vast majority of housework, childcare, and emotional labor in a marriage … but they’re somehow still the ones who should be begging for a wedding ring.

To men’s shock and dismay, women have been starting to realize that marriage doesn’t serve them anymore. And, as a result, they’ve been decentering men in their lives.


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This issue is a perfect example of what a dying social contract looks like.

In order to live in society well, we all take on certain social contracts. Social contracts are unspoken rules that we all follow, mostly dealing with what we do and what we get out of it.

In other words, it’s an unspoken rule about the many transactional behaviors we have as a society.

When social contracts are upheld and are generally beneficial for all parties, society blossoms. It’s because everyone is working with everyone else for the common good — or at least, the general benefit of everyone. It’s reciprocity and the understanding of it.


A good example of a modern social contract is the roles of parents with kids. There is an unspoken understanding that kids will love their parents, help them when possible and that parents can rely on them more as they grow. Parents are expected to protect and provide for their children.

What happens if that contract is broken? Well, the child suffers, but so does the parent. Being a deadbeat parent is extremely stigmatized in America — to the point that it can actually end a career. I know a lot of people who just refuse to speak to deadbeat dads and the like.

A social contract basically is the thing that happens when you have a rule that goes, "You have to offer some kind of reciprocity or do your part. Otherwise, you’ll get shunned."

In the case of marriage and dating, social contracts are dying out because too many people are bad actors.


What’s a bad actor? Well, in relationships, it’s a matter of a person who is gaming the system for their own advantage by not holding up their side of the bargain — or assuming that certain things should be theirs when they are not.

I’d say this is a list of examples of people who are bad actors in dating:

  • The guy who begged for kids then abandons the mom after she gets pregnant.
  • The woman who married for money, refuses to do chores around the house and doesn’t emotionally support her man.
  • Men who dangle wedding rings in front of women like a carrot on a stick, knowing they’d never really marry them.
  • Women who get pregnant on purpose to keep a man.
  • Men who expect to own a woman’s sexuality in exchange for marriage.
  • Slut-shamers and virgin-shamers.
  • The man who buys dinner thinking that this entitles him to sex.
  • Abusers.
  • People who marry just for the alimony later on.

Every society has a certain number of bad actors. In a healthy society, that number is very small and people who act as bad actors are not praised. They are seen as outcasts and are avoided at all costs.

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Today, it seems like bad actors are more common than good actors in marriage or dating.

This makes the risk of dating something that people are increasingly uninterested in mitigating. I mean, who hasn’t gone on a bad date and had a horror story to tell?

Perception-wise, we all know that dating is a bit skewed. We’re hearing more horror stories than good stories because good stories don’t make good gossip.

However, that uptick in bad stories and bad actors is enough to make most people rethink dating.

I mean, who wants to risk marrying someone who will bail when you get old and sick? Who would want to have a kid with someone they can’t guarantee will help out? Who wants to risk being assaulted on a date and being told it’s their fault?


Unsurprisingly, a lot of people are now sure that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Too many bad actors aren’t getting their comeuppance and too many people can’t agree on what is reasonable in dating.

When one group feels reciprocity is not coming, the social contract dies.

At the beginning of each date, we don’t know what the other person sitting across the table will do. We have to take a huge risk — and often bear the brunt of being told we’re "entitled" for asking for what we feel is reasonable.

The dating market is falling apart because so many people feel like it’s better to extract what they can out of their dates than to make it a two-way street. We have to put up safeguards and trust our guts in a way that we never had before.


In other words, you really have to want to get married and find The One to put up with the dating scene. Because it’s a huge liability these days — it’s something you actually have to financially plan for and put up safety rules for. That’s kind of sad.

Since we can’t trust dates or romantic partners to treat us well, the contract is dying.

At this point, women are no longer willing to risk engaging with men because they’re terrified of being left alone, abused, harassed, or otherwise used. Men are no longer willing to risk it for similar reasons.

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It’s hard to tell what this means for us because something has got to give.


So, like with any contract that’s ended, both parties are going to have to figure out what they want.

Too many guys are no longer willing to hold up their end of the bargain, nor are they willing to treat women as equals rather than objects.

Too many women are burnt out from overwork and are no longer willing to take any more abuse for it.


Until we as a society figure out what we think is fair for all genders in the dating scene, we’re not going to see a population boom.

Quite the opposite — we’ll see the institution of marriage and dating fade away into the background until it’s almost nonexistent.

Believe it or not, I’m actually kind of okay with this. I think lots of us feel like we were given a false belief of what’s out there. I feel like marriage and dating have cheated a lot of us out of happiness and peace that we could have otherwise had.

The smartest thing we can do is prep for a future with fewer people in it and drop the stigma behind singledom. We need to create a new system that makes it easier for people to find their chosen squad or support system.


On the other hand, we all need families. What happens when a family is no longer nuclear or linked by marriage? Marriage and dating were a cornerstone of this institution for a while, but that’s not as clear as it was anymore.

I’m just curious what’s going to happen next.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others.