Many millennials prefer not to know too much about the person they’re dating, and that actually could be a romantic hangup given the ubiquity of the Internet.
“The less I know, the better. … Everyone is just so lame on the internet,” a 25-year-old man said about the women he would date. Knowing too much can damage the romance of a slow reveal, his comment suggested.
This thinking reportedly contributes to a novel dating trend in the Internet Age — making the mention of a last name taboo.
“Many millennials say asking directly for a last name on a first date feels awkward, and signals too obviously they intend to scour the internet for biographical information. Others say that downloading a date’s entire digital footprint—armed with the full name—can stop a relationship from developing organically,” the Wall Street Journal‘s Nicole Hong reported.
Hong opened her article by discussing a 21-year-old young lady who lamented that when she gave her last name to a young man she was dating, “He now knew me as a whole person.” The plethora of information about her available on the internet removed the possibility of secrecy, and removed the very give-and-take of a natural romantic relationship.
“As online dating has proliferated, so too have an array of norms that might seem bizarre—or downright counterproductive—to generations who didn’t rely on their phones as a way to meet people. Among them: a reluctance to ask for surnames until the relationship has progressed to a more serious level,” Hong explained. “Asking for a last name ‘is definitely a modern social cue’ that trust is building in a relationship.”
In his Friday podcast “The Briefing,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued that this constitutes “an effective depersonalization of other human beings.”
“You’re talking about a new understanding of dating, of courtship, of marriage, and of relationships that isn’t based upon, at least upfront, really knowing the person, but rather investing hope that what you eventually learn won’t be devastating,” Mohler argued.
The seminary president added, “No doubt you know we are living in strange and tumultuous times and this has had ill effects upon romance and courtship, not to speak the even more fundamental damage made to marriage in this time and in this context, but now you can see that the problem appears to be even worse than we first understood.”
“America is becoming the kind of culture in which young people not only delay adulthood and then delay romantic involvement, we’re not saying they delay sexual involvement, they delay marrying and then delay having children, now we know they even delay asking one another for the last name,” Mohler said. “When just knowing a last name is considered a no-no, this is a society in big trouble.”
Is it? The seminary president has tied together issues that don’t necessarily fit. Young people do indeed reportedly rush to have sex, and that is a problem. If men and women have sex without knowing each other’s last names, that is a problem. If not knowing the last name enables young men and women to lie to one another in romantic relationships, that is a problem.
To some extent, these things will happen. Even so, romance does involve a slow learning about another person, and the desire to avoid rushing into knowing too much too early may be a healthy thing.
The internet does allow young men and young women to do research on their dates, and that may help verify that their romantic partners are telling the truth. Internet relationships have a stigma for good reason — people can lie on dating apps.
Even so, young people should trust each other when they date in person, and if they do trust one another, they will be able to embark on a process of mutual discovery. This learning in tandem is an important part of romance, and the internet can indeed cut it short.
Naturally, if young people are mature enough to understand this, it should not matter if they know the last name of their dates or not. Youth should engage in self-restraint, refusing to Google a date even knowing his or her last name.
To some extent, the taboo on last names does suggest a wide distrust among romantic partners, or perhaps that young people themselves distrust their own ability to restrain themselves from performing in-depth research.
The Internet Age is creepy, and dating is complicated even without dating apps and online services. The last name taboo might reveal widespread distrust, but it might also reveal a surprising kind of maturity among an albeit slim minority of young people.
Millennials and the generation behind them need understanding and advice, not judgment. They should learn to trust one another. They should also learn to restrain themselves from performing creepy research on the one hand, and from jumping in bed with someone they don’t really know on the other. (Ideally they shouldn’t jump in bed until they’ve “tied the knot.”)
Weird social trends don’t necessarily imply “depersonalization” — ironically, the last name taboo may enable real romantic personalization, if used rightly. Even so, Mohler and others are right to note that this taboo opens a new can of worms, even if not all of the results prove problematic.