If you’re not looking to date this Valentine’s Day, be grateful.

It’s a disaster out there.

Pair the lingering effects of the sexual revolution, of a world where too often sexual pleasure is prioritized over relationships founded on love and giving, with Big Tech’s noxious dating apps, where algorithms seem far better at perpetuating singledom than finding people soulmates, and you’ve got a hellscape.

Yes, conservatives—and all Americans who value the family—rightly fret over the state of marriage in the United States.

The number of 40-year-old Americans who never have been married is higher than ever at 25%, according to Pew Research Center. The number of births per woman has plummeted to 1.6. Nor is that because women want fewer children: Almost half of women want three or more children, according to Gallup.

For conservatives, who rightly view the family as the foundation of society, these numbers are horrifying—and a siren that our culture is languishing, our social ties dissipating. Loneliness is on the rise, and unsurprisingly, so are addiction rates and suicide rates.

But as an unmarried woman in my 30s, I also realize there’s no quick fix to this situation—and that married Americans are often unaware of how bleak the current dating landscape can be. Ultimately, if we’re going to have more healthy marriages, we need to change our dating culture.

Take this new lawsuit, which highlights just how insane the current dating world is.

The plaintiff, Nikko D’Ambrosio, alleges he was defamed in a private Chicago Facebook group for women, called “Are We Dating the Same Guy?” Facebook groups with this name began sprouting up in 2022, allowing thousands of women to swap information—rarely of the flattering variety—about local single men.

Although this seems like a recipe for idle gossip, it was also a way for women to warn other women of the bad behavior of particular local men so they could avoid them.

D’Ambrosio says he was defamed in the Chicago Facebook group, but was unable to join it to defend himself or get the moderators to remove the posts about him. In one post mentioned in his lawsuit, a woman wrote: “Very clingy very fast. Flaunted money very awkwardly and kept talking about how I don’t want to see his bad side, especially when he was on business calls.”

Another woman wrote: “I went out with him a few times just over a year ago—he told me what I wanted to hear until I slept with him and then he ghosted … I’d steer clear.” (The term “ghosted” refers to when a romantic interest stops responding to all forms of communication without announcing a breakup or an end of contact.)

According to a 2023 study, almost two-thirds of Tinder users are either married or in a romantic relationship. (Photo: Getty Iimages)

These Facebook groups of women who warn each other about bad men are hugely popular: Over 200 such groups with 3.5 million members exist worldwide, according to a GoFundMe by Paola Sanchez, the founder of this network of groups (and a defendant in the lawsuit).

The groups’ wild popularity is just another sign of the desolate dating landscape in modern times. Online dating apps promise a world of romantic fulfillment and the ability to find a soulmate who shares your values, lives locally, and may be contacted from your living room.

But instead of romantic fulfillment, online daters are finding disappointment—and betrayal. According to a 2023 study, co-authored by Stanford University professor Elias Aboujaoude, almost two-thirds of Tinder users are either married or in a romantic relationship. (Tinder, an extremely popular dating app known for promoting casual flings, disputes the findings of the survey.)

Even when would-be partners aren’t married or hiding a girlfriend, it doesn’t mean they’re exactly pure of heart, seeking to find meaningful romantic relationships. Online dating has spurred a plethora of phrases to describe bad behavior.

In addition to “ghosting,” there’s “lovebombing,” which refers to a man or woman being effusively romantic and/or discussing a long-term future, before abruptly and suddenly withdrawing contact. There’s also “breadcrumbing,” which is when a person tries to keep a romantic interest engaged by sending very occasional messages without committing more fully.

Or there’s also the awful experience of being sent, to use a popular crude term that aptly describes it, a “dick pic.” According to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey, 56% of women and 25% of men ages 18 to 49 say they’ve received an unsolicited, sexually explicit image or message.

Bring on the wedding bells, am I right?

It’s no wonder that millions of women are trying to avoid emotional pain and find out whether other locals on Facebook can speak to a man’s character. (Although men have formed some groups of their own to judge women’s character, those groups appear far less popular.)

But of course, it’s not that women are necessarily always being fair or honest, either: Are the men they are bashing on these groups always guilty? Is crucial context being left out?

The outcome of D’Ambrosio’s lawsuit isn’t certain. (In the interim, D’Ambrosio was convicted for tax fraud.) And although I don’t think that that these women’s Facebook groups are the answer to today’s dating woes, I do think they highlight just how awful things are right now.

But even if two people are able to find each other and start dating, it’s a more complicated path to marriage these days. Searching for monogamy? You might be surprised by a romantic partner’s desire to explore polyamory—after all, a third of singles have been in a nonmonogamous relationship, according to a 2023 survey by the dating site company Match.

Nonmonogamy isn’t the only way the zany ethics of the sexual revolution continue to infect romance. Pornography is changing men and women and what they sexually desire.

In her 2022 book “Rethinking Sex,” columnist Christine Emba recounted attending a holiday party and being asked by another woman, whom she hadn’t met before, what she thought about choking during sex. The woman was struggling because she liked everything else about the new guy she was seeing—he was attractive, had a good job, and was smart—but she couldn’t seem to shake the unease she felt about being choked during sex, even though she had consented to it.

Nor is this woman alone in her quandary. A fifth of women said they’ve been choked during sex. You know what wasn’t in the fairy tales I read growing up? A discussion between Cinderella and her fairy godmother about whether she should overlook the fact that Prince Charming could be turned on only by acting violently toward her.

Yet, in our porn-saturated world where men (and yes, some women) seem to need more and more extreme and horrific sexual actions to feel pleasure, this is where we’re at.

Of course, I’ve sketched a bleak picture—and to be fair, some singles are still finding love and pursuing marriage in today’s world. Among adults who are married or in a serious romantic relationship, 10% of them met that person online, according to Pew Research Center.

Yet overall, the dating landscape desperately needs improvement if we want to improve marriage rates.

For instance, even for singles who reject dating apps, the apps still have infected today’s dating world. Online and app dating has made it less likely that a young adult will approach another young adult who is a stranger; after all, the norm increasingly is that you meet someone online, not in real life. Approaching someone in real life can be seen as being “creepy”—which is unfair and awful, but I understand why some are reluctant to do it.

If you are living in a “Benedict Option” world, as writer Rod Dreher advocates in his popular book, there’s no guarantee of finding a spouse. In religious circles, women tend to outnumber men.

As former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican known for championing family values, said during a recent Heritage Foundation panel on working-class Americans: “I wish I had a nickel for every young woman I know who’s just amazing—in their 20s and 30s and they can’t find a marriageable man. It’s pathetic. It’s awful. We’re just destroying our own culture, and we don’t talk about it. We as conservatives don’t talk about it.”

We don’t.

Of course, based on anecdotal evidence, marriageable single men are out there, but they can be hard to find—and, frankly, are too few.

Furthermore, religious men and women aren’t immune from the temptations of porn and other scourges of modern life; it’s not clear, even if such people are single, whether they are in a state to be a good spouse.

Of course, none of this is to claim that every single person is perfect and has zero responsibility for remaining single. Some are too picky. Some women, no doubt, place too much emphasis on height and income, while some men place too much emphasis on looks.

Both sexes struggle with the Hollywood-popularized idea of soulmates. It’s easy to think, particularly with the seeming abundance of matches on dating apps, that someone out there has the perfect personality, body, and temperament that will make you optimally happy. This is a noxious myth that forgoes the real joys of marriage for a fantasy of happily ever after.

And of course, there’s also a noble tradition in Christianity of being single for the sake of leading a life more focused on God. While marriage is a good for many, I’d never claim all people should strive to get married.

The number of births per woman has plummeted to 1.6. But that’s not because women want fewer children: Almost half of women want three or more children, according to Gallup. (Photo: Getty Images)

So where does this leave us?

As conservatives look to advocate marriage, it’s not enough to talk about its importance. We need to talk about healthy marriages. We need to talk about how porn warps imaginations (and hearts). We need to look at the bruised, wounded singles of today and not say, “Why aren’t you married?” but “Is there a way I can help?”

Maybe it’s married couples setting up mutual friends. Maybe it’s all of us praying. Maybe it’s helping a friend who is struggling become a better person—which will benefit the culture whether he ultimately gets married or not. Maybe sometimes it is, if asked for advice by a single friend, to gently nudge them away from excessive pickiness. Maybe it’s married couples with decades of success mentoring younger couples, helping them learn how to communicate and love in a healthy way.

Maybe it’s criticizing the dating landscape of today and saying, who is happy? Can sexual pleasure really be worth all this? Maybe it’s showing there can be a different way where you prioritize a selfless love, not just sexual pleasure. Maybe it’s more recently married couples, who survived today’s dating landscape, sharing how they kept hope and persisted.

Maybe it’s married couples being more honest about what each has compromised on for a spouse instead of furthering the soulmate myth with gauzy social media photos and holiday cards. Maybe it’s them talking more vulnerably about dating, about how sometimes an amazing love story starts not with fireworks, but with a slight interest that then blossoms into something greater—and perhaps more enduring than fireworks.

We don’t want people to slap a ring on it just because they hear marriage is good. We’re not looking for more divorces and lonely marriages and toxic marriages. We’re not looking to bring children into bad situations.

Instead, we need to present something more compelling: an alternative vision. Not talk of marriage as it is in fairy tales and in Hollywood movies, but as it is in real life. We need to talk about the beauty and the growth in a marriage where each spouses prioritizes the other one, where they tackle real challenges by honest conversations and genuine goodwill. We need to talk about how sexual pleasure is often found more in marriages and relationships that follow traditional norms, not in sleeping around.

And we need to build up singles who are trying not to cave into the wretched norms of the 2020s and yet who perhaps feel they are looking at never getting married as a result.

It’s so, so ugly out there in dating today.

That’s a tragedy—and it’s going to take more than singles to fix it. If we want a culture with more and better marriages, we need to work together to make dating better.

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