Time to go to dating school

Teenagers in America have been told to define whether they were "just texting, casually hooking up, friends with benefits or monogamous" as part of a new schools program that aims to minimise the harm caused by bad dating habits.

They are also advised on why ending things face-to-face is better than simply changing Facebook statuses to 'single', and how to read signs a relationship may become abusive.

OK.

Such wisdom should not be restricted to American teenagers. Such hot tips could help matters here too.

And when I say help, I’m not just talking horny teens.

Australian adults, by and large, are terrible at ending relationships. Almost as terribly handled? Getting one going in the first place.

In other words, Aussies need help.

I suppose I should explain myself.

Problem one. There is no mature, mainstream dating culture in this country.

Yes, there are plenty of businesses devoted to helping us all each find The One. Yes, there is a nightclub scene where pants-parties are frequently found at the bottom of beer glasses. But it’s not really a culture inasmuch as the status quo.

And fair enough – Rome wasn’t built in a day. Western singles have only had a few generations to go from tight-laced English match-making sensibilities, to today’s ‘wanna get a beer?’ ‘Orright then’. ‘Wanna shag?’ ‘Sure, no worries’.

Or, in the words of my Italian-stallion friend, "Aussies don’t date, they just mate".

“Australian men are not elegant with women – they are brutish, like boys – and they don’t take charge,” he said in response to questions about why he was more successful with local ladies than fellows born and bred.

And while he was less ready to criticise Australian women (“but I love the ladies!”), he did say that, compared to the bella signorine of his homeland, dames from Down Under weren’t “real” women.

“Sophia Loren, she is a real woman,” he said, by way of example. “Australian women – they are less... sophisticated.”

Gross generalisations aside, his insight raises another reason as to why we struggle when it comes to the arts of seduction and swashbuckling. We lack a culture of romance.

In Australia, unlike Italy for example, the cultural credo otherwise vested in legendary lovers, artists and poets is lavished on murderous bushrangers, boozy larrikins, or some such scoundrel battler.

Oh worse, we roll the ideals into one, big, great, reef-n-beef-style monster notion (how else do you explain Shane Warne?).

Which brings me to my final reason we need help: Shane Warne.

But what's to be done?

We can’t exactly mandate every grown person capable of engaging in a romantic relationship, or ending one, first complete a certificate in best practice.

We could have better sex and relationships education programs at schools, but that would require strong government unafraid of backlash from the chastity police who fear condoms and believe homosexuality is contagious.

We can try and be better on a personal level. And thanks to organisations like Relationships Australia (OK, OK, federally funded), various Family Planning sites, and – hey – even the Australian Sex Party, there’s plenty of material out there which might be helpful.

But not everyone thinks there’s a problem with how we are doing it down here.

“What’s wrong with Australia? Nothing,” says my girlfriend, a long-term, happy single-sort-of-looking, emphatically.

“Yes, men don’t ask you out on the street, but who wants that? Yes, online dating is not all it’s cracked up to be, but that’s hardly unique to Australia.

“And sure, most people are asked out through friends of friends, which does create problems for when you break-up. But that’s just the way it is, why should it change?”

Why indeed.

What do you think – do Australians know how to start, or finish, relationships? Are we clumsy maters or elegant daters? How do we compare on a world stage? And what are your pet loves/loathes about how we say 'yes' or 'no' to love?

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kfeeney@fairfaxmedia.com.au

The story Time to go to dating school first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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